WASHINGTON — On March 15, a couple hundred people crowded under red paper lanterns and alongside platters of kushikatsu at Zentan in Thomas Circle to get a taste of a traditional Osakan festival.
The restaurant’s executive chef, Yo Matsuzaki, teamed up with Nobu Yamazaki of the Michelin-starred Sushi Taro for the event that highlighted a popular part of Japanese culture: street food.
“You’ll see things like takoyaki — that’s a very traditional street food. It’s a savory octopus kind-of puff. And katsu — you put a bunch of ingredients on a skewer and fry it,” Matsuzaki said, describing some of the most common foods served in his hometown of Osaka.
Matsuzaki is one of a handful of D.C. chefs putting street food in the spotlight. James Beard Award-winning chef Vikram Sundaram, of Rasika, recently opened the Cleveland Park restaurant Bindaas to showcase Indian small plates and snacks.
On T Street, Compass Rose features street eats from countries around the globe, including lamb kefta from Lebanon and khachapuri from Georgia, and food stalls and trucks throughout the city are packing big, bold flavors into handheld wraps, pockets and buns.
Matsuzaki, who dedicates Mondays at Zentan to a street-food favorite — karaage, or Japanese fried chicken — says he isn’t surprised that the casual culinary category is having a moment. Street food is approachable and it allows diners to experience exotic flavors in an informal environment — often times without a plate.
“It’s not expensive; it’s not stuck up. It’s relaxed and fun,” Matsuzaki said. “It’s simple food and it’s not too heavy.”
The next time you want to explore a corner of the globe without leaving the city, check out these local spots serving street-food favorites and let your taste buds do the traveling: