We Love Food: Hank’s Oyster Bar

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Hank’s Oyster Bar has all the makings of being my go-to secret neighborhood joint — that perfectly undiscovered gem, with amazing food and an owner who remembers me so I never have to wait for a table. In a perfect world, yes, this would be the case. But this is not a perfect world and the rest of Washington has discovered Hank’s. There’s usually a wait, and to make matters worse, it’s not even in my neighborhood. But it almost was my neighborhood. I looked at an apartment in the Cairo building, and while I was thrilled with the opportunity to live in a haunted former brothel, I was even more excited about the possibility of living within viewing distance of the line at Hank’s.

After much deliberation, I didn’t move in with the ghost whores, so I still long for Hank’s. Don’t get me wrong, I make it over there quite frequently, but it’s not enough. In the end, what calls me to this little spot on Q St. is the lobster roll. It may not be the most perfect variation (I’m sure I’ll get email from all the Maine descendants out there) but it is reliable and always delicious. So full of meaty, lobstery, mayonnaise-y goodness, I have a really tough time ordering anything else on the menu. And the fries are the perfect accompaniment to my buttered roll full of sinful seafood. At $23, it isn’t exactly burger-and-fries cheap, but it’s delicious and completely worth it.

If I don’t get the lobster roll, and those are only on days where I’m trying to be dainty and actually eat with a fork instead of my man hands, I stick with the specials on the side of the menu. It’s always fresh, always delicious, and the dishes always highlight the ingredients in a simple but inventive way. One time when I decided to stray from the roll, I ended up with pork belly and apple-vinegar braised cabbage. It may be one of the better pork belly dishes I’ve ever had, and to say that about a dish from a seafood restaurant seems downright sacrilegious. But if it’s wrong, I don’t want to be right.

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But if you’re not exactly a seafood fan, don’t worry, you can still find something delicious here. Even if the pork belly isn’t back on the menu, Chef Jamie Leeds prepares a meat eater menu item for each day of the week. We’re talking braised short ribs, chicken schnitzel, flat iron steak and fried chicken.

But you’re not going to come here if you’re in the mood for steak, right? You’ll come for oysters. I can say here, in this circle of trust, that I am not a fan of raw oysters. Before you turn your nose up at me, I’ve tried them plenty of times and just can’t get on board. I can say, after conferring with my oyster-loving friends, that this is the place they like to go. A chalkboard on the wall tells you what they’ve got in that day, and the waiters and waitresses are more than qualified enough to explain the intricate differences between your Blue Points and your Kunamotos. I definitely don’t know the difference, since I had to check about two hundred times to confirm how to spell Kunamoto.

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As you will come to discover very quickly at Hank’s, they don’t serve dessert. No skin off my nose, but I know it’s a sore point with a lot of diners. I think their little bowl of dark chocolate chunks is actually the perfect way to end my meal — a little something sweet to go with my coffee. It’s also a nice little parallel to the tiny bowl of Goldfish Crackers you’re served when you sit down. Now if they could just get some Dunk-a-roos or Gushers, I’d really have something to write home about.

While Hank’s has plenty going on nightly, they do have some big changes afoot. In May, they will take over the storefront next door and double the size of the restaurant. The plan is to open a more extensive bar and lounge, with a bigger drinks menu and late night service (2am on weeknights and 3am on weekends). With the expansion, they’ll also double the size of their outdoor patio. That’s fine by me since it seems even better to chow down on a nice lobster roll in the fresh air. And on April 16th, both Hank’s locations will host Oyster Fest, with all you can eat oysters and other menu items including BBQ oysters, french fries and onion rings. Make it all you can eat lobster rolls and I’ll be the first one in line. Well, I might be the first one in line anyway.

Hank’s Oyster Bar has two locations: 1624 Q St. NW and 1026 King St. in Alexandria. The Q St. location is close to the Dupont Circle Metro Station (Red Line), while the Old Town location is close to the King St. Metro Station (Blue/Yellow Line). For more information call 202-462-4265 or 703-739-4265.

Ashley Messick

Ashley is a born and bred Washingtonian who left for college but came running back to the District as fast as her little legs could carry her. By day she is a Capitol Hill brat, but by night she is a lean, mean, eating machine. It’s her goal in life to steal Anthony Bourdain’s job…by whatever means necessary. Contact her at Ashley (at) welovedc (dot) com or follow her on Twitter.

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