In case you hadn’t heard, DC is no longer a city of overcooked steaks and wilted salads. The capital’s formerly stodgy dining scene has evolved into a foodie paradise—the best restaurants in DC are now some of the best restaurants in America. Inventive new DC restaurants have taken root across the city, from posh Dupont Circle to industrial-chic Navy Yard (and the DC bars scene is coming along too). The wide range of eateries offers everything from luxurious tasting menus in some of DC’s best American restaurants to chic small plates and swimmingly fresh sushi in DC. Eat your way through the bounty with our list of the best restaurants in DC.
Best restaurants in DC
Local chef Aaron Silverman’s two-story Barrack’s Row joint is worth every little bit of the buzz it’s getting. Rose’s doesn’t take reservations and a line forms at 4pm on weekends for a 5:30 seating; but don’t let this be too offputting. Rose’s menu is Southern meets Jewish meets Japanese meets French meets Thai meets your grandmother’s home cooking, and changes often. If you manage to get inside, immediately order the cocktail made with apple cider and brisket fat-washed moonshine (yes, you read that correctly), then wrap your hands around a bowl of Silverman’s pork and lychee salad. The Southern-style fried chicken drizzled with honey and doused with sesame seeds is crisp, moist, delicious, and our new best friend.
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/T. Tseng
Johnny Monis is gathering quite a following for himself in his tiny Dupont Circle restaurant. Komi’s low-key dining room, a straight shot from front window to kitchen window, is home to some of the most adventurous eating in the city; the youthful chef is essaying New American cuisine with nods to his Mediterranean heritage and whatever else strikes his fancy. But neither he nor his staff of personable, fashionable servers is lacking in discipline; just as his talent is for showcasing unusual ingredients without showboating, theirs is for putting guests at ease with the ever-changing menu. Foodies will be talking about Monis’s suckling pig for years. See also Power Points.
When chef Fabio Trabocchi opened Fiola in 2011, he quickly established his new trattoria as the place to go in Washington for exquisite, sumptuous Italian. Pastas, naturally, are the stars of the menu, especially the tender pappardelle with bolognese ragu. But seafood plays a strong supporting role, and the bar offers a serious cocktail menu, including six different variations on the negroni. An order of bomboloni—Sardinian-style ricotta donuts—is a fitting end to a decadent evening.
Johnny Monis was just 24 when he opened Komi, the Greek-inspired restaurant that vaulted him to culinary stardom. For his second place, Little Serow, he took inspiration from northern Thailand. As at Komi, there is no menu; $45 gets you a family-style meal of about seven dishes. Flavors are bright and bold, and the heat can be intense. The menu changes weekly, but dishes might include snakehead fish with bamboo shoots and rice powder or pork ribs with whiskey and dill. The restaurant can only accommodate groups of up to four and doesn’t take reservations, but the staff will text you when a table frees up.
Marcel’s is the kind of restaurant that you’d expect to find on Pennsylvania Avenue: exquisite food, beautifully served in a sumptuous dining room by adept professionals. Chef Robert Wiedmaier’s Flemish-inflected French fare manages the classical balance of taste and textures: subtle versus sharp-flavored, savory versus sweet, generous versus leaving you wanting more. Boudin blanc with black mushroom truffle purée and truffle madeira sauce is exemplary, and a gratin of mussels with Chimay, salsify and bacon is a blast of intense flavors. The servers get extra points for friendliness: even if you’re not one of the place’s traditional, old-money clients, they’ll still treat you as if you were.
Rasika brings the delicacy of upmarket Indian cooking to Washington. One of restaurateur Ashok Bajaj’s empire, which also includes the Oval Room, Bombay Club, 701, Ardeo+Bardeo and Bibiana, Rasika is under the creative eye of Vikram Sunderam, who ran the kitchen at London’s Bombay Brasserie for 14 years. Grouped into categories including "chaat", "tawa" and "tandoor", the menu covers much ground, with ample choices for both vegetarians and carnivores. Whatever you do, try the palak chaat, a signature dish of crispy baby spinach leaves dressed with yogurt that melts on the tongue.Other locations: Rasika West End, 1190 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, at M Street, Foggy Bottom (1-202 466 2500).
From the globe lights overhead and the wood floors underfoot, to the woven bistro chairs and the curieux that adorn the walls—most everything you can touch or see or even hear in restaurateur-impresario Stephen Starr’s brasserie is literally imported from France itself. Even with so many great raw bars around town, les fruits de mer are not to be missed. Nor is the steak tartare de parc, which features a tender, sweet filet chopped fine and topped with salty capers and a velvety quail egg. For entrees, the grilled loup de mer is lightly seasoned and served overtop a rich, buttery tapenade and hearty, oversized white beans. If its simple bistro fare you cherchez, the steak frites is a wise choice. Note that your inner-Francophile may have to wait one month for a weekend reservation. In the meantime, hit up Le Diplomate’s brunch, when seats are less in demand, but the food is just as good. C’est bon.
Hip twentysomethings squeeze into this tiny spot to slurp big bowls of ramen in rich, house-made broth. The dumplings are great, too—we especially like the grilled pork ones—and there are more than 20 kinds of saké available. The space is decorated with graffiti, skateboards and comic books, and for dessert, you can dunk warm chocolate-chip cookies in a glass of milk. What’s not to like? Just one thing: the wait for seats can take a couple of hours. There are no reservations, but you can hang out at the bar downstairs until the staff text you.
Izakaya Seki is tucked into an unassuming and narrow, two-floor row house. Choose to eat upstairs in the dining room or downstairs at the chef’s bar. Either choice is equally no-frills; coat hooks are just about the only décor. Once seated, you’ll be hard-pressed not to salivate, either over plates arriving at neighboring tables or by what the robata cooks behind the bar are turning over a low flame. The chef’s rotating sashimi selection is explosively rich (note: the wasabi here is fresh), and the seasonal miso soup (recently served with assorted roasted mushrooms) is not to be missed. From the main menu, order the slow-grilled octopus. The salmon roe hand roll—with its barely warm rice and fresh roe—will put you in a state of nirvana. In short: Izakaya Seki deserves a deep bow of respect.
Unless you score a reservation at this Capitol Hill sushi restaurant, there’s a slim chance you’ll find yourself eating dinner here. Not only is the restaurant teeny, but the secret is out about its incredibly fresh fish and masterfully prepared rolls at bargain prices. Our advice: Ask your waiter to pick your dishes rather than opting for the omakase (chef’s menu). He or she can tell you exactly what they got in that day and what’s worth trying. Also, we’d recommend waiting for a seat at the bar where you can watch your food being prepared instead of sitting at a table.
Best restaurants in DC by cuisine
Desperately seeking seafood restaurants in DC? Peruse our list of the capital’s best restaurants specializing in oysters, crabs and fish. Since cocktails and oysters are a natural match, some of them double as standout bars. And let’s not forget the best spots for sushi.
From dollar slices to gourmet versions in the finest Washington DC restaurants, pizza is ubiquitous, but which places really stand out? When the craving strikes, see below for the best pizza Washington, DC has to offer. If you’re still craving more, consult our picks of the best Italian restaurants in DC.
Authentic Indian food is a cuisine that tends to divide diners. Some are committed to the hunt for the best Washington DC restaurants serving dal, fiery chutneys, chat and thali, while others are content to munch dense samosas and neutered chicken tikka. Here are our picks for the best of the bunch.
French restaurants in the capital range from casual bistros to white-tablecloth temples of gastronomy, and serve everything from authentic classics to Gallic-accented American cuisine. For more European flavors, check out our list of the 40 best Washington, DC restaurants.