2023: Navigating Restaurants and Cancer

I’ve written year-end dining recaps in the past. They included highlights from my favorite restaurants, reflections on dining trends, and what I was excited for in the coming year.

2023 is far more complicated for me to sum up. Cancer put a wicked spin on my life. It wreaked havoc on my sanity and affected my family and close friends in ways in which I’m probably not fully aware. My leukemia diagnosis in mid-February required a month-long hospitalization, a bone marrow transplant in August, and regular (at times daily) visits to the outpatient clinic at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

As anyone who is reading this knows, a piece of my identity is tied to food and specifically restaurant dining. It took no time at all to trigger concerns about how this life-threatening disease and initial hospital stay would affect my eating. I knew there was no way I could exist on a diet of hospital food, despite a waning appetite and unrelated issues with spicy food that began plaguing me prior to my diagnosis.

My first dinner in the hospital consisted of cold chicken nuggets and soggy French fries. Thankfully this was the only hospital meal, except for breakfasts, I had to endure. A slew of visitors came to my rescue bearing home-cooked meals and dishes from my favorite restaurants.

I was told not to worry about what I ate. There was a concern about weight loss, and it was more important to eat whatever appealed to me rather than focus too much on healthy eating. On the one hand, I interpreted this as an ominous sign. Were they telling me this because I wouldn’t be around long enough to worry about the long-term effects? I tried to shove these thoughts aside and instead followed the doctor’s orders.

I devoured smoked salmon on a flaky croissant from Sunday Morning Bakehouse at Pike and Rose. A crabcake sandwich from O’Donnell’s Market in Potomac had me squealing with delight. I enthusiastically savored wood-fired pita, hummus, and halva chocolate chip cookies from Yellow. I was basically moved to tears when a visitor arrived with L’Ardente’s 40-layer lasagna.

While many people in my situation would dedicate themselves to researching their disease, I chose to let my medical team inform me about anything related to my treatment. It was one day at a time. Online exploration when it comes to medicine (and many things really) is bound to lead to disinformation. As an alternative, my research involved pouring over menus from Baltimore restaurants offering delivery via UberEats. This was an effective coping mechanism and a satisfying distraction.

Kippo Ramen became a go-to for gyoza, avocado salad and classic shoyu ramen with chicken. I eagerly awaited deliveries from Peter Chang’s NiHao, an awesome source for vegetable and tofu soup, lo mein, stir fried beef, and triple mushroom tofu pot.

DiPasquales Italian Market was a favorite, even though they don’t offer delivery. Guy Fieri introduced us to the original location when it was featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” His characteristic over-the-top enthusiasm was a reflection of their arancini and lasagna, crafted with care in-house. We made a pilgrimage there in 2010 and agreed with his assessment. The original location is gone, replaced by gleaming new shops in Harborview and Brewers Hill. The menu is extensive. I revisited the arancini and lasagna, which were still a delight. New discoveries included sweet potato gnocchi, Greco Roman salad, and Italian wedding soup. My husband became enamored with tuna diavolo–a tuna sub accessorized by baby greens, pepper cheese, hot peppers, balsamic vinegar and red onion on a magnificent crusty bread. As my tolerance for spicy food has recently returned, I can now also heartily endorse this sub.

We spent August in a lovely, rented apartment bordering Fells Point and Harbor East as I recovered from the bone marrow transplant. Prior to the procedure, I was told to plan on consuming a bland diet. We filled our freezer and fridge with a variety of homemade soups prepared by friends and family.

An Indian restaurant, Harbor Tandoor, was situated on the ground floor of the building. The pungent aroma of Indian spices permeated the entranceway and even the halls of our third floor apartment. I ordinarily adore Indian food, but I was concerned about the smell under the circumstances. It did bother me, but in order to prove something to myself we ordered from here immediately post-transplant. I ate a few spoonfuls of spiced potatoes with cauliflower, paneer tikka masala (grilled cubes of cheese in a tomato-based curry), rice and naan. The meal made me feel triumphant, which was much needed at that point in time. I hope to return here to fully enjoy the well-seasoned dishes.

Visits to Hopkins were daily for most of the month, but I was progressing well, and was often released just in time for lunch. My husband indulged my every food whim. I sat in the car while he grabbed me a Taiwanese fried chicken bowl from Ekiben one day and a Greek salad and dolmades from Samo’s another. When I desired something with crabmeat–it was Baltimore after all–he waited in line at The Dancing Potato in Lexington Market to pick up a baked potato stuffed with lump crabmeat, crab sauce and mozzarella cheese. Unfortunately, this turned out to be too rich for me to enjoy. Fresh made Berger cookies from Market Bakery were better tolerated. Berger cookies always perk me up. 

During most of the year we commuted from home to Baltimore. A frequent stop became Fryer’s Roadside on New Hampshire Avenue in Silver Spring. Their fried chicken, potato wedges, and soft serve with chocolate sauce felt like a warm blanket, one which I treasured even in the summer. If I had a craving for soft serve and potatoes on Mondays and Tuesdays when Fryer’s was closed, a visit to the McDonald’s drive-through would suffice. It has been at least 20 years since I’ve been to McDonald’s, but damn those salty fries are good.

I had to figure out the best way to navigate DC dining. Carryout worked best. During the month of June, two weeks in July, and again in November, I lugged around a cloth bag containing my chemotherapy which attached to my port through a very long narrow tube. This was with me 24/7. Once I became used to my constant companion, the doors to outdoor dining opened. We returned to indoor dining during the latter months of 2023, but we eat early and seek out tables situated in less trafficked areas, as I’m still immunocompromised.  We primarily patronized our favorite restaurants, which share a common thread of embracing a specific cuisine or point of view, illustrated with artistry and a modern spin.   


Although many restaurants have abandoned carryout post-pandemic, Anju prevails. I am grateful for the option, particularly since I spent so much time last year binging K-dramas, which left me with a serious craving for Korean food. This modern Korean restaurant always brings me joy. Highlights: vegetarian mandu with Impossible meat, branzino with sweet and spicy yangnyeom sauce, bibimbap bulgogi and dosirak salad.

Anju bibimbap bulgogi


Yes, we did spend nearly two hours driving back and forth to pick up food from Daru, which I consider one of the best Indian restaurants in the area. The commute was absolutely worth it. Innovative dishes are a fusion of traditional Indian ingredients with delightfully surprising twists. Highlights: daal burrata, lamb chops with yogurt, wok-fried cabbage, striped bass paturi, smoked eggplant and za’atar olive naan.

Daru carryout


When my birthday came around in June, I removed notifications from Facebook. I wasn’t in the mood for messages. I was, however, very much in the mood to dine out with my husband. Ask me about my favorite DC restaurants and I will absolutely include Lutèce. The petite, and often packed, French bistro is in Georgetown. They have a small outdoor patio bordering Wisconsin Avenue, which was perfect for the occasion. Chef/partner Matt Conroy composes beautiful seasonal dishes, many of which are vegetable-focused. Highlights: fennel with hazelnuts and blue cheese, snap peas with stracciatella, charred napa cabbage, red snapper with artichokes and olives, bread and cultured butter. Dessert knocked my socks off: honey semifreddo with comte cheese by pastry chef Isabel Coss (recognized by Food & Wine as a 2023 Best New Chef).

Lutece snap peas with stracciatella


Lutece honey semifreddo

Oyster Oyster

Oyster Oyster stole my heart when it opened in Shaw in 2020. The restaurant initially featured at-home dinners, due to the pandemic. Chef/owner Rob Rubba’s passion for sustainability, seasonality, and creativity makes his totally meatless tasting menu remarkable and destination-worthy. Oyster Oyster earned a Michelin star in 2022 and Rubba was named best chef in the country at the 2023 James Beard Awards. This makes it challenging to secure a reservation in the 28-seat dining room. Persistence pays off. Our recent dinner was from the Cellar Larder Menu showcasing preserved items from spring, summer and fall. Service here is always stellar, which is one of the many reasons why I love this restaurant so much. Highlights: the entire menu, but I especially loved grilled lion’s mane brassicas, kohlrabi stuffed with winter squash, and maple hmong rice with persimmon curd and harvest granola.

Oyster Oyster kohlrabi


Oyster Oyster lion’s mane brassicas


Executive Chef Masako Morishita’s family owns a more than 100 year-old restaurant in Kobe, Japan where she grew up. It’s astounding to learn that she’s only been cooking full time for two years. Her take on Japanese comfort food is garnering loads of accolades, including Eater DC recently naming her chef of the year. I became a fan after a dinner on Perry’s rooftop in May. My admiration was further cemented after returning in November and then experiencing her Japanese breakfast in December. I enjoy some dishes because they evoke fond memories of our trip to Japan in fall 2022. Others are unique to the chef, who is playing with her food in clever ways. Highlights: garlic edamame dumplings, chilled tofu with pistachio pesto, shrimp katsu burger, and okonomiyaki pancake.

Perry’s garlic edamame dumplings


Perry’s Japanese breakfast


I was declared cancer-free in early November and recently completed my treatment. As anyone who has been through cancer knows, this isn’t over. I’ll still undergo monthly blood tests and visits to Hopkins for the foreseeable future. This doesn’t mean we aren’t celebrating. We took our daughter and son-in-law for dinner at Centrolina, chef/owner Amy Brandwein’s consistenly exciting Italian restaurant in DC’s City Center. We savored every bite and toasted to a brighter and more peaceful 2024. Highlights: verde salad, pasta fiori, branzino, and tower of eggplant chips.

Centrolina pasta fiore


Centroline verde salad

*Worth a mention are these Montgomery County restaurants: Melina for Greek food and Caruso’s Grocery* at Pike and Rose. I also found myself at the new Charley Prime Foods at Rio lakefront a few times for steak frites. The Happy Hour specials are a real deal.


Kippo Ramen, 606 S. Broadway, Baltimore, MD

NiHao, 2322 Boston St., Baltimore, MD

DiPasquales Italian Market, Brewer’s Hill and Harborview, Baltimore, MD

Harbor Tandoor, 803 S. Caroline St., Baltimore, MD

Ekiben, Fells Point, Hampden and South Baltimore, MD

Samos, 600 Oldham Street, Baltimore, MD

The Dancing Potato and Market Bakery, Lexington Market, Baltimore, MD

Fryer’s Roadside, 12830 New Hampshire Ave, Silver Spring, MD

Anju, 1805 18th St. NW, Washington D.C.

Daru, 1451 Maryland Ave NE, Washington, DC

Lutèce, 1522 Wisconsin Ave, NW, Washington, DC

Oyster Oyster, 1440 8th St NW, Washington, DC

Perry’s, 1811 Columbia Rd NW, Washington, DC

Centrolina, 974 Palmer Alley NW, Washington, DC


* My last blog post – written in December 2022- was about Caruso’s Grocery. Read it here. 



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