Chef Edward Lee is always on the go. The James Beard–nominated chef splits his time between DC and Louisville, Kentucky, overseeing and cooking at his four restaurants, 610 Magnolia, MilkWood, Whiskey Dry, and Succotash. When he's not in the kitchen, he's working on other projects, like his Emmy-winning TV series The Mind of a Chef or his new documentary, Fermented. He's also written two books. So we wanted to know, when Chef Lee isn't writing, cooking, or filming, what does he eat? Where does he go on those rare nights off?
His Night-Off Manifesto
"A night off for me is a meal that I know will always crush it. I am not one of those people that has to order the same thing every time. I want variety, but I want a point of view and a delicious and innovative approach to food."
How He Gets the Most Out of His Nights Off
"My nights off are all about spending quality time with family and friends. I like to get a bunch of people together and meet at a favorite restaurant. I always let the chef guide the menu. And I love doing it family-style so we get to try a lot of different dishes. Most of the time I won't even look at a menu. I love being surprised. And not making any decisions at all."
His DC Picks
"Chiko is sort of a fast-casual place, but the food is definitely not. It’s creative, fresh, healthy, and spicy. The menu changes all the time, but the chopped brisket and the cumin lamb stir-fry are my favorites. It’s the kind of meal you crave after a few days of not having it."
"Centrolina is an intimate restaurant with a small but focused market in the front. I am at the market all the time for a bottle of Italian wine, a hunk of salami, or their addictive olive oil cake. Chef Brandwein’s pastas are excellent, and they come served without any fuss or pretension. Her tagliolini is my go-to, but the simple wood-fired grilled fish of the day is always remarkable."
"Succotash is my restaurant in the heart of Penn Quarter. We are in a beautifully designed former bank building—everyone walks in and gasps a little when they see our high ceilings and wrought iron chandeliers. We take Southern classics and present them with a twist of creativity. Think thinly sliced Chesapeake Bay catfish filets dusted in cornmeal and fried until golden brown and served with sliced grapes and mint-jalapeño aioli. And of course, everyone digs in to our fried chicken served classically with bourbon-maple syrup or with a Korean-inspired chili-honey sauce. Don't forget our coconut cream pie, which is deceptively simple but addictive."
"Tom Cunanan is cooking some of the city’s best food in this tiny outpost dedicated to the cuisine of the Philippines. Yes, you have to wait on line and yes, the place is crowded and tight, but one bite of the food and you will forget about any inconvenience it took to procure your seat. If you are curious about Filipino food, then this is the place to get schooled on its addictive flavors."
Florida Ave Grill
"The oldest soul food restaurant still running in America, Florida Ave Grill is a landmark treasure that is covered in history: black-and-white photos line the walls of every important person from the last 50 years. All too often restaurants like these are amazing relics but the food is just not up to par. Not so at Florida Ave Grill. The fried chicken is spot on; the collards are dripping with funk and flavor. But my favorite dish, hands down, is a plate of boiled pig’s feet, the fat cartilage and flesh literally sliding off the bones. All it needs a generous splash of hot sauce and a side of cornbread and you are in hog heaven. I feel lucky to live in a city where a restaurant like this is still relevant and vibrant."
His Louisville Picks
"In Louisville, I have my deeply entrenched favorites that I have guarded after 15 years of living there. Ask anyone in Louisville about Vietnam Kitchen, and they will hug you. It’s been a staple for over 30 years, and it is still the best Vietnamese in the city. The pho is great, and the spring rolls rock, but my must-order every time is the bun bo Hue, a dizzying spiced-noodle soup overflowing with beef shank, pig’s blood, and pork feet. This dish always completes me."
"I live one block from the greatest beer bar in the world. Holy Grale is where I go to educate myself on craft beer, and also where I go for piping-hot pretzel bread and beer cheese, Belgian-style mussels, and a bratwurst that literally bursts with juices. It's loud and crowded and dark, and it's exactly what a neighborhood beer bar should be."
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