Where to find the most delicious potato pancakes in the District
By Dorie Chevlen
This time of year, the holiday getting all the buzz is obviously Christmas. It’s easy to find eggnog, gingerbread or any of the other holiday treats traditionally associated with Saint Nick. (You can even be gifted with the same fruitcake you gave someone else last year!). This easy acquisition of festive foods is not true of a lesser-known holiday treat: the humble latke. Amid the constant carols on the radio and the twinkling lights adorning so many homes, you may even have forgotten about that other wintertime holiday—Hanukkah—and perhaps even the scrumptious potato pancake enjoyed during its 8-day duration. Luckily, you need search no longer: I’ve rounded up the best spots for latkes in the city, so you can just focus on gobbling them up!
Pearl Dive Oyster Palace
You wouldn’t expect an oyster joint to offer the pinnacle of Jewish cuisine, but Pearl Dive Oyster Palace happily plays both sides of the culinary street. Available only during brunch, their potato pancakes stand apart as being one of the least expensive items on the (otherwise wallet-denting) menu. Still, despite their low price, you won’t feel as though you’re depriving yourself; Pearl Dive’s latkes retain all the elegance of their other menu items. They’re even served with a sweet peach butter and creamy chive créme fraîche. And if that’s not chic enough for you, Pearl Dive also offers a slightly more substantial latke, served with capers and lox. But we highly suggest that, should you go down the lox route, you do it at DGS Delicatessen.
If the idea of a Jewish deli conjures images in your mind of greasy corned beef hunks and dirty counters, DGS is the place to prove you wrong. The Dupont Circle spot offers all those time-honored classics—matzo ball soup, noodle kugel and the like—but with panache. Take their selection of latkes, for example. There’s the classic crisp potato pancake served with sour cream and applesauce for the traditionalists, but also a French-style version with poutine, gravy, cheese and green onion. The best of the best, though, is surely their mouth-watering “Benedictburg.” Two latkes topped with poached eggs, hollandaise sauce and house-cured smoked salmon … even bubbe would approve.
The latke, in all its divine perfection, is not just a Jewish food; based on a vegetable unknown in the Old World before European discovery of America, it may be claimed by chefs from Peru to Prussia. That’s why, despite all its Christmas decorations and pork dishes, hole-in-the-wall Cafe Mozart also fries up a mean potato pancake. Served the right way (with sour cream and applesauce), theirs are perfectly crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside. What’s more, you can enjoy them while being serenaded by the jovial accordion music of Sylvia, who plays tunes from the old country most nights (and also orchestrates Mozart’s sometimes-drunken patrons into sporadic German toasts of “prost!”)
Loeb’s New York Deli
It’s a rarity and delight when you can find a place in D.C. which serves delicious food free of pretension, and thankfully Loeb’s is one of them. This no-frills Jewish establishment has been a pillar of the dining community for over five decades, attracting a mix of suited-up business men and casual folk alike. Beyond employing some of the nicest people on the planet, their latkes are great too; they’ve certainly had enough time in the business to get the recipe right. Loebs’s latkes come in sets of two, and while you might be tempted to devour them both on your own, we like to think it’s nicer to take them to go and share them with someone you love (even if that someone is just Netflix and a snuggly blanket).
Dacha Beer Garden
Dacha may be better known for its huge selection of local and international draft beers and its frequently Instagrammed mural of Elizabeth Taylor, but the Shaw spot also fries up a latke to be reckoned with. As this is a German beer garden, you’ll have to order them using their impossible-to-pronounce German name—kartoffelpuffer—but luckily the staff is friendly enough to not laugh in your face when you fail. Dacha’s latkes come with onion marmalade and peppercorn sour cream, and they’re made even tastier when washed down with a tall German beer (which, if you’re in the real festive spirit, you can even order poured into a glass boot.)
Your very own home
But really! I fully believe in you here. There are a thousand theories on what’s the best way to make a latke (sweet potato vs Russet potato, canola oil vs olive, etc., etc.). Of course, my mother’s recipe is undoubtedly the best of all of these, but she imposes strict control over her intellectual property, and won’t let me share it here. Ah, but figuring out your own favorite iteration of the latke is half the fun! Here’s the recipe I use to fill my kitchen with a heavenly aroma, and my family and friends with spuds made divine. Happy frying!
1 pound of potatoes (we like redskin best, personally, but any old kind will do)
½ cup finely chopped onion
A pinch of salt
Oil (we like canola)
-Peel and coarsely grate the potatoes, and squeeze moisture out between paper towels.
-Mix the now dry-ish grated potatoes, onion, salt, and eggs, in a bowl.
-Heat oil in large skillet on medium heat.
-Spoon out about 2 tablespoons of the potato mixture per latke into the skillet, flattening it slightly into 3-inch rounds with a fork.
-Cook about 5 minutes on each side, or until browned.
-Serve with sour cream, apple sauce, and friends (menorah optional)
(Makes about 12 latkes, and takes around 40 minutes total.)