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Chez Billy: 3815 Georgia Ave. NW; 202-506-2080; chezbilly.com. Average entree: $21 to $30 ($$$). Open for dinner daily, with late-night dining Friday and Saturday.Del Campo: Pan con Chicharron
Most of the selections at chef Victor Albisu’s South American-style grill — think: monster 48-ounce rib eyes, mouth-watering veal sweetbreads and three kinds of chorizo (house, Argentinean, blood) — would likely make a vegetarian feel woozy.
But we’d like to believe the multilayered masterpiece that is the pan con chicharron would bring tears of joys to the eyes of even the most seasoned meat-eater.
The two-handed sandwich is modeled after Peruvian street food but built to Albisu’s specifications. His modifications include using a brioche-style bun brought in from Lyon Bakery, packing it with huge chunks of unctuous pork belly braised in aromatics for several hours and then deep fried till crisp and then tugging the taste buds in different directions by layering on a dulcet sweet potato emulsion and house-made relish fashioned from pickled chili peppers, raw onions, rocoto peppers, lime juice and olive oil. Each bite truly is sublime.
Del Campo: 777 I St. NW; 202-289-7377; delcampodc.com. Average entree: $21 to $30 ($$$). Open for lunch Monday through Friday, dinner daily.Garden District: Whole Smoked Pig’s Head
“That. Looks. Awesome,” said one stunned gawker.
“I’m so jealous,” chimed in another, who virtually leaned into our lap to snap a pic with his iPhone.
Believe it or not, ordering a whole pig’s head gets people’s attention.
The mesmerizing meal remains one of the hallmarks of chef/founder Tad Curtz’s barbecue-beer-garden operation on 14th Street Northwest. Staff said the smoked skulls are typically only served on weekends, and they routinely sell out.
The anticipation is murder.
Staff offers guidance (“Have either of you ever eaten a pig’s head?” our server inquired), but as with most primal experiences it’s best to dive right in. Mounds of burnt-ends-like flesh can be plucked from the neck region, while ribbons of succulent meat candy reside in the hollows beneath the eye sockets. One companion enthusiastically ripped off a jerky-like ear, while another dedicated himself to unearthing the fork tender splendor of the hidden jowl meat. Each head could easily serve four and is best enjoyed with those who appreciate the hands-on nature of urban barbecue.
Garden District: 1801 14th St. NW; gardendistrictdc.com. Average entree: under $12 ($). Open for dinner and late-night dining daily, lunch Saturday and Sunday.Jaleo: Secreto Iberico
There’s ham. And then there’s iberico de bellota.
As part of his crusade to have everyone worship at the altar of Spanish gastronomy, cheflebrity José Andrés has woven different parts of the fabled pigs, which dine almost exclusively on nuttiness-imparting acorns, into the fabric of the Jaleo menu.
The “secreto Iberico” may be our favorite form of edible diplomacy.
The 8-ounce to 10-ounce skirt steak is flash grilled (6 or 7 minutes) on each side, and plated with just a smattering of flaky gourmet salt by its side. The incredibly well-marbled meat is then surrounded by crusty bread smeared with pulpy tomato sauce, herby salsa verde and surprisingly sweet whole grain mustard aioli.
The succulent pig proves slightly less nutty than its heavily cured counterparts but is still ravishing, tender and sheathed in a veil of strategically trimmed fat.