501 Florida Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001 | Cuisine: Colombian | $$ | ★★★★☆
As a small restaurant tucked into a townhouse at the center of the historic Le Droit Park neighborhood near Howard University, The Royal brings together Colombian-inspired eats and inventive craft cocktails to give diners an affordable trip around the world.
The Royal was founded in the summer of 2015 by restaurateur Paul Carlson at the site of a previous business, Royal Liquor Store, from which the restaurant gets its name. The son of an American diplomat in Latin America, Carlson found inspiration for The Royal during his many travels, incorporating items that he collected throughout the years into the restaurant’s rich decorations.
With the food reflecting what Carlson and his family love to eat at home, The Royal aims to share with its diners a personal and intimate experience. Carlson also co-owns the restaurant with his sister Katrina, his father Ron and his mother Gloria, whose childhoods in Colombia influenced the many Latin foods that can be found on the menu. Although the menu does feature predominantly Colombian items, dishes have influences from different parts of the world, such as Scandinavia, North Africa and Japan.
When my party arrived at the restaurant, we found it teeming with hip twenty-year-olds sipping cocktails with fashionable names such as “Rum for It!” ($12) and “The Monks Made Me Do It” ($12). The Royal does not offer full table service, so we went up to the crowded counter to place our order before finding a place to sit at the bar, where we were served our meal.
The deliciously filling hearts-of-palm arepa ($11) proved a great way to start off our culinary journey. Pan-fried hearts of palm were packed along with cotija cheese into the arepa pocket, covered with a spicy chipotle mayo. I expected the arepa to be soft and its contents to fall out at every bite, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a good amount of crunch without too much of a mess.
Other items that my party sampled included the delicious sauteed squid and shrimp ($16), featuring a trendy skillet filled with large squid and shrimp dressed in a perfectly balanced amount of citrus. The dish was topped off with a large piece of toast that could be used to collect the leftover juice at the bottom of the skillet.
However, the next few dishes proved not as tasty as the first two. The empanadas ($6) looked like fluffy little clouds of pork but felt like a corndog with the corn breading overpowering the meat inside. The cheese arepa ($9) was also bland and disappointing. Despite unexpected disappointments given the good start, we did end on a good note, with the house fries smothered in aji amarillo mayo. The large-cut fries came with a side of ketchup and presented the perfect amount of crispness — not so strong as to cover each ingredient’s taste and not so bland as to go unnoticed.
Although the restaurant describes itself as a “bar and kitchen,” it focuses mainly on drinks. The place is often praised for the quality of the liquor and the simplicity of the drinks.
Open at 8:00 a.m., The Royal offers an assortment of breakfast arepas, sandwiches and “house creation” coffees. One such coffee is called the “Cold Hearted” ($4.50), a concoction made up of chilled espresso, vanilla, steamed milk and cocoa drizzle. With the excellent ambience and array of caffeinated beverages, the place is a great destination for students looking for new hangouts to spend hours working on their homework or studying for their next test.
Overall, I had a very good experience at The Royal. The great hours, the overall delicious food and the crafty drinks really speak to the foodie hidden in all of us. Despite being a bit of a drive from campus, about 20 to 30 minutes, any Georgetown student who has the time and a pretty penny to spend should definitely check it out.