Baby It’s Cold Outside..Best DC Area restaurants to Recover From Black Friday

empanadasAfter braving the holiday crowds, you deserve a quiet place to recover from all that bargain hunting.

One of my favorite restaurants to casually catch up with friends or spend the day huddled comfortably with my laptop is Cosi. One of the best reasons to settle into a comfy couch in Cosi is to order S’mores. This is where the fire is brought to your table—literally. The friendly staff at Cosi lights up a small flame in their little, round S’more station, hand you a long fork, and you’re roasting marshmallows right at your table. Next unwrap a fresh Hershey Bar, put the marshmallow between that and a graham cracker…Well, it’s not quite camping, because it’s a lot more comfortable. Cosi has some tasty hot drinks like caramel apple cider, raspberry chocolate mocha and Chai tea latte too. Order one of their filling sandwich-melts like pesto chicken, or their aromatic tomato basil soup, and you’re set.

If you’re in the mood for some French specialties like French onion soup, Croque Monsieur, Quiche Florentine, Spinach Pouchette or crepes, La Madeleine is a great place to meet a friend or even read a book. They offer trays of free bread, butter and jams which you can enjoy with your French Roast coffee. You can see the French know a thing or two about ambiance, so here’s another French treasure to warm your soul. Le Pain Quotidien is a cozy and welcoming place to sip café au lait and shake off the snow. Settle in by their fireplace while you sample boulangerie fare or freshly baked croissants.

The empanadas at Panas Gourmet Empanadas  are a jubilation of flavors. Often these cresent-shaped pastries are made with lard and deep fried, but they still appeal to almost all the senses—they look, smell and taste binge-worthy. Found in many cultures, empanadas are popular street food in South America and are gaining a lot of attention in the United States. They are the quintessential portable meal and often contain several critical food groups—veggies, protein, carbohydrates and dairy–in one bite. There is no lard in the dough at Panas, and everything on the menu is baked, not fried. With a 14 different fillings–seafood, vegetables and meats– you will stand at the counter and be racked by the pain of indecision. Which ones should I order?

One way Panas makes it easier to choose is by packaging several on a serving plate shaped like a wooden canoe, which includes signature dipping sauces and baked plantain chips. You can order four, five and seven at a time, allowing you to sample many versions. Some of the best options include the Chipotle Steak empanada–shredded sirloin and onions bathed in a smoky sauce. Although the meat is a bit chewy, the robust flavor erupted from the pastry shell. Or sample the Chicken Pesto—tender slices of chicken subtlety enhanced by the pesto and gaining zesti-ness from tomatoes and onions. The Cuba Nova is my favorite—roasted pork with onions, fragrant with lemon and cilantro. The Cuba Nova filling is literally and figuratively bursting from the pastry. Lastly, cheese lovers or vegetarians will love the BrieArt–a sultry, creamy fusion of cheese, mushroom and artichoke hearts. All of these aromatic combinations are baked in a light, crispy turnover you can pick up and eat with your fingers.

So next time you’re looking for the perfect place to refuel, check out Cosi, Le Pain Quotidien, La Madeleine or Panas Gourmet. With all those savings, it’s time to treat yourself!

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Freelance writer and photographer specializing in vivid, deeply reported stories about food, travel and family.

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