How's this for bad timing? Makan had been open for just 1 week before all restaurants in Washington, D.C., were forced to close in March 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many neighboring eateries never reopened their doors. But Makan has not only survived—it's thriving, a testament to the extraordinarily high quality of the food.
The cuisine is Malaysian, a complex blending of influences from all the cultures on and near the Malay Peninsula: Chinese, Thai, Indian, Indonesian, Filipino, and Bornean. Middle Eastern spices brought in by Arab traders and contributions from Portuguese, Dutch, and British travelers are also part of the mix.
At Makan, that melding translates into tables laden with vindaloo curries, satays (broiled meats with peanut dipping sauce), rice noodles with Chinese sausages, and crisply fried chicken sided with salted egg yolks and pickled chili peppers. Vegetarians have many choices, including comforting kerisik, which is dry shredded coconut pounded with fresh coconut into patties and fried, before being placed in a tangy coconut curry.
Chef/owner James Wozniuk scours markets up and down the East Coast to find the fresh pandan leaves, bilimbi (a sour fruit), dried Malaysian anchovies, and other spices and produce that go into his dishes.
Two warnings: Take your server seriously if she tells you the dish is spicy. A few of the plates here will burn your tongue off.
And be sure to get two servings of the sago (pictured below), a vegan dessert that mixes coconut cream with tapioca and palm sugar into a dish so well-balanced and refreshing you won't want to share (plus, the portion is on the small side).