Old Town Alexandria is a popular tourist destination. There are peak times – summer and the holidays. But since the Civil War drama Mercy Street has been playing on PBS, the crowds seem even bigger. Residents are often stopped and asked for restaurant recommendations. And while we have many we enjoy, lately we find ourselves telling visitors about Hank’s Pasta Bar.
Old Town already boasts Hank’s Oyster Bar on King Street, as well as three other restaurants in D.C. – Hank’s Dupont, Hank’s on the Hill, and The Twisted Horn. We are longtime fans of Hank’s Oyster Bar which serves some of the best seafood in the area. And now an Italian restaurant with the unlikely name of “Hank’s” has become our go-to place on weekends.
New restaurants often enjoy a honeymoon period after opening, with the crowds either increasing or thinning out soon after. Hank’s Pasta Bar is in the first category. The restaurant has become a neighborhood favorite and is fast becoming a destination. Since neither of Hank’s restaurants in Old Town take reservations, on our first visit we found the wait time would be more than 30 minutes. While there is ample seating in the restaurant, as well as tables in the bar area and the outdoor patio, Hank’s popularity requires some patience from diners. Not wanting to wait, we grabbed a seat at the bar and now we wouldn’t sit anywhere else. The mixologists are expert and efficient, yet always have time to discuss what goes into one of their signature cocktails, recommend an excellent wine, or discuss the menu.
Sitting at the bar invites sharing. For starters, the antipasti boards are a good choice. Hank’s offers a nice variety of cured meats including prosciutto di Parma, mortadella, speck, and capicola. For small plates, we’ve enjoyed the grilled baby octopus, marinated white anchovies, and beet salad with red wine vinaigrette and goat cheese.
Pasta is the big draw and Hank’s prepares these dishes very, very well. In fact, we believe the chef’s linguini with clams to be among the best we’ve had. (And that takes in some very impressive places in New York and Italy.)
Bucatini ala carbonara, a dish that often disappoints, never does at Hank’s. We also enjoyed a special pasta one evening, tubular pasta served with vegetables. The lasagna, served in a ramakin, is stick-to-the ribs rich.
And that brings up a good point about pasta at Hank’s. The portions are very generous and while it’s tempting, and totally understandable, to devour the entire thing in one sitting, a better strategy is to share the pasta with your partner and then share a main course.
While the pastas get main billing, Hank’s main courses are wonderful. Seafood is always fresh and well prepared. No surprise given the link with Hank’s Oyster Bar. Grilled shellfish is often featured as a special and is not to be passed over. One evening the star was grilled prawns. On another occasion, a mixed seafood grill. And there’s always the fresh catch of the day.
Our favorite for meats is the braised veal breast, a dish not often found on menus. Hank’s version is tender and juicy and served with sauteed greens. Side dishes can be enjoyed either with a main course or as an appetizer. Chilled white beans with cheery tomatoes, celery, and shallots are best with some of Hank’s crusty bread.
For dessert, Hank’s key lime pie is a winner. (It’s also served at Hank’s Oyster Bar.) For a chocolate fix, try the chocolate budino, layered with dark chocolate and heavy cream. Rather than sweets, Hank’s also offers a nice selection of cheeses.
If you want to linger, the mixologist will happily run down after dinner drinks, including a limoncello liqueur which can be seen fermenting in bottles on shelves high up on the bar.
Hank’s will take reservations for parties of 6 to 12 people. So gather your friends and plan a visit. You’ll want to return.
Hank’s Pasta Bar
600 Montgomery Street