There is a lot to consider when perusing through the best restaurants in DC: what cuisine are you in the mood for? Is there a specific neighborhood you're looking to visit? Chefs whose creations you'd like to taste? Are you searching for old-time classics or new restaurants that recently garnered national attention?
That is all to say that the capital's culinary culture is varied and interesting, slowly ticking its way up the list of national gastronomical cities that foodies from all around the world should consider visiting. The best part? Tourists get to eat well and visit world-renowned attractions (White House! Martin Luther King Memorial!) and museums (National Air & Space Museum! National Archives!) while in town.
Ready or not, food worthy of a President is ready to be served all across 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 CC/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.
This pearl of the Georgetown waterfront comes from Fabio Trabocchi, the same deft chef behind Fiola and Casa Luca. It’s hard to focus on your meal with welcome distractions like docking boats or glistening chandeliers in the opulent dining room (maritime kitsch need not apply). But dishes like olive oil-poached Maine halibut and a whole dole carved tableside hold your attention. For the full rigmarole, order a seafood tower that puts Pisa to shame. The stack is brimming with cooked and raw shellfish, bivalves and more served chilled atop crushed ice. This is definitely the place for a special occasion—with a price tag to match.
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.
Bad Saint, which opened officially in early September 2015, was destined to be a hit: It specializes in so-hot-right-now Filipino food; it comes from the same venerable team behind Room 11; and the tiny space—decorated with flea market finds and mix-matched China—is impossibly cozy. (Some may even say cramped. Tables are limited to parties of four or fewer.) Filipino food-lovers will appreciate both the classics, such as lumpia and bitter melon salad, as well as lesser-known dishes, like tuna jaw with calamansi.
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.
Chef Jeremiah Langhorne (formerly the chef de cuisine at the much-lauded McCrady’s in Charleston, S.C.) takes a near-obsessive approach to local sourcing at his long-awaited mid-Atlantic restaurant in Blagden Alley. His dishes come steeped in history and are made primarily using produce grown (and foraged) nearby, including the rooftop garden. The interior feels almost barn-ish—albeit much more chic—with dark wood floors and tables and rafted ceilings. The open kitchen is anchored by a wood-burning oven that churns out new dishes on a daily basis.
The sister joint to Jose Andres's minibar, barmini offers a robust lineup of 100 cocktails on its menu at any given time. Roughly half of that space is allocated to classics, with the other half showcasing original concoctions by the bartending team. The funky, modern and bright environs perfectly complement the venue’s fun and creative vibe, where anything from vapor clouds to liquid nitrogen, from leather bota bag aging to sous-vide cooking and color changing cocktails are put to use for your entertainment.
Sushi Taro underwent a major renovation in 2009 and has reborn as an upmarket Kaiseki-style traditional Japanese restaurant, under owner Nobu Yamazaki. In a kaiseki-style meal, diners don’t order off a menu. Instead, the chef presents a succession of complementary dishes. The Suppon Kaiseki Tasting focuses on the very traditional soft-shell snapping turtle. There is also an excellent saké selection.
The breakout star of 2016, this modern Japanese restaurant packs big flavors into a tiny space—just 24 seats in total, to be precise. Chef Kevin Tien blends Latin American and Southeast Asian flavors with Japanese ingredients for explosively delicious dishes. The menu changes almost daily to reflect fresh cuts of fish, but you can always expect the main attraction: a buttermilk fried chicken thigh with a Korean glaze and kewpie. Drinks, courtesy of beverage wiz and co-owner Carlie Steiner, are equally playful: think gin and tonic with fresh lavender, a rosé mule and white rum with lime, seaweed and sea salt.
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.
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 entrées, 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 are 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.
Everything about this bistro is inviting—the relaxed, almost rustic decor that evokes an upscale farmhouse, the welcoming service and, most of all, the satisfying French-American comfort food, often presented with an inventive twist. You could easily make a meal of starters such as escargot hushpuppies and bacon-and-onion flammekuche, or dig into a wood-grilled bacon cheeseburger, President Obama’s pick when he dined here. But it would be a shame to miss out on entrées like the tagliatelle bolognese or roasted pork for two. For dessert, try the dreamy brownie sundae or the apple tart à la mode.
Thank goodness chef Katsuya Fukushima was never told to stop playing with his food. (Or if he was, thank goodness he didn’t listen.) The former culinary director at Jose Andres’s ThinkFoodGroup has so many good ideas he opened two restaurant concepts under one roof. Downstairs: a Sapporo-style ramen shop set to a soundtrack of ’90s music and satisfied slurps. Upstairs: a fast-paced izakaya with clever small plates (like cod roe spaghetti and a grilled avocado) and inventive cocktails (like a spherified sake bomb floating in a glass of Sapporo beer.)
Cozy doesn’t begin to describe this rustic corner bistro in Bloomingdale. It’s essentially one huge hearth, thanks to the wide-open kitchen’s Argentine-style grill, which runs on 100 percent Virginia oak. Most of the Italian-leaning dishes make a pit stop in the fire before hitting your plate, including the chicken with kale, fingerling potatoes and currants. Best of all is chef Michael Friedman’s handmade rigatoni with sausage ragu, which will have you throwing all your carb cares to the wind.
Quickly after Pearl Dive Oyster Palace opened in 2011, restaurateurs Jeff and Barbara Black’s fifth restaurant became the Delta prize of Logan Circle. And it’s not hard to see why: Weathered wood floors, busy fans hung from whitewashed ceilings, too many mermaids to count, and a thick, coiled rope chandelier make up just some of the décor. When the weather’s nice, the building’s old garage door by the bar can be flung open, allowing drinks and light fare to be enjoyed curbside. (A little secret: When the garage is open, it’s a nice spot to grab a quick beer and order a bucket of fried chicken to go.) Pearl Dive has a menu that really struts its Gulf Coast roots. The Blacks hail from the South and were some of the first restaurateurs to tap into Washington’s bivalve addiction. Pearl Dive offers a variety of both East and West coast oysters, all of which come expertly shucked (read: you won’t mistakenly find any shell fragments in your mouth) and served with a cilantro-jalapeño “dive sauce.” For a real treat, ask for a list of the premium oysters available. Corn muffins that accompany the complimentary bread basket are perfect for soaking up the belly-warming seafood gumbo, which is loaded with oysters, Louisiana shrimp, local crab, Tasso ham, okra and more. But perhaps Pearl Dive’s most popular dish is its messiest: the C.E.B.L.T. po-boy—a B.L.T. dressed with a lightly battered-and-fried catfish and an ooey-gooey egg served between two slices of toasted French bread. Order it.
This 14th Street tapas joint is regularly packed to the brim and for good reason. The menu reads like a grazer’s dream with a host of traditional Spanish snacks perfect for sharing—cheeses and meats, toothpicks called pintxos stacked with anchovies, olives and chorizo, fresh figs stuffed with cheese and wrapped in jamon, and croquetas in mushroom or jamon. Vintage World Cup soccer games play on TVs over the bar. Don’t miss the "slushitos," boozy frozen slushies that change flavors to suit the season. Feeling daring? Order wine out of a glass porron. The traditional Spanish wine spouts will have you dribble vino down your shirt at least once, depending on your learning curve, but they make for great fun.
Though you’re likely to eat your face off at 2 Amys, consider grabbing a snack beforehand: The secret is out on this Cleveland Park restaurant, and wait times can stretch over an hour. But the Neapolitan pies, which meet Italy’s precise Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) standards, are worth it. 2 Amys tends to draw a family crowd, so anticipate a seat next to a marinara-flinging toddler. Otherwise, enjoy pies like the puttanesca (tomato sauce, rapini, mozzarella, sliced garlic, anchovy and hot pepper) and stellar calzones distraction-free.
Bombay Club evokes not the multihued Mumbai of today but India in the time of the Raj, when English gentlemen could sit in restrained, masculine dining rooms and, presumably, cherry-pick the best of the subcontinent’s cuisine. Decorous waiters in penguin suits warn against the supposed heat of a non-threatening lamb vindaloo (thali platters, tandoori meats and Goan curries are also on offer); the menu offers discreet explanations of the various regional styles.
For their newish 14th Street darling, Amy Morgan and Peter Pastan teamed up with David Rosner and Tad Curtz of the ever-so-successful Garden District. Small plates shared amongst friends is the name of the game, which is a good thing as you’ll be hard-pressed to choose just one of the displayed antipasti you’ll spot on the way to one of the restaurant’s 42 seats. Not to mention the entire space radiates warmth (from the oak-fueled fire in the corner) and aromas of freshly milled flour (from the large hand-crank grain mill at the back of the restaurant). A charcuterie plate of house-cured meats pairs well with specialty cocktails crafted with house-made vermouth. With fluffy-yet-flat crust, a slight char and fresh toppings, the pizzas here are easily the best in the neighborhood.
From the same chef behind Adams Morgan haunt Mintwood Place comes Convivial, an American-French restaurant at City Market at O. Like Mintwood, Convivial has a French accent, though it’s a bit thicker. Dishes are hard to pronounce, like the squash vadouvan and boudin noire raviole. (The fried chicken coq au vin is not to be missed and a little easier to say.) If you get tripped up, your friendly server will help you decipher. The restaurant is, after all, called Convivial.
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.
Inspired by her extensive travels with her husband, an NPR reporter, Rose Previte opened this neighborhood spot to bring global flavors to curious DC diners. The menu reflects the stamps on her passport, taking cues from international street foods. Since day one, the breakout star has been the khachapuri (a popular dish in the country of Georgia), essentially a canoe-shaped piece of bread filled with melted cheese, butter and egg. The space itself resembles a garden patio, where patrons are encouraged to linger over destination-driven cocktails like the Lost in Venice (Bluecoat gin, cynar, vermouth rouge and balsamic shrub).
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. The spot doesn't take reservations, but you can hang out at the bar downstairs until the staff texts you.
What started as a humble farmers' market stand in 2013 has since blossomed into a wildly popular taco empire. Founded by Suzanne Simon and Bettina Stern, the new vegetarian taco restaurant in Georgetown includes the same beloved tacos served on hand-pressed tortillas. (Fillings included mushrooms with feta cheese and creamy kale with potato.) New at the space: rotating sides like sweet potato gratin, as well as wine and beer on tap. Visit on the weekends, when you can add an egg to any taco for an additional charge.
If you’re looking for a decadent splurge and a high probability of a celebrity sighting, head to this modern restaurant inside Georgetown’s Four Seasons hotel, where steaks are poached in butter and movie stars and power players rub shoulders. California-based chef Michael Mina opened a branch of his contemporary steakhouse as part of a very posh makeover of the Four Seasons. Steakhouse classics such as an aged porterhouse, creamed spinach and wagyu beef are joined by locally sourced fare such as Virginia swordfish, plus a shellfish and caviar selection. The complimentary fries that land on the table are crisped in duck fat and very addictive. The swank bar is a regular hangout for VIP guests and, true to its name, offers a nice selection of rare bourbons and Scotches.
Created by Jose Andres (Zaytinya), Jaleo focuses on tapas: garlic shrimp, chorizo with garlic mash, salads of apple and manchego cheese and marinated mushrooms—to name just a few. Don’t miss the date and bacon fritters or the patatas bravas, a steaming hot bowl of potatoes with a spicy sauce.
You can see why Michel Richard’s effusive Pennsylvania Avenue brasserie wins raves. The playful menu fuses American and French classics with Richard’s signature whimsy. There’s "faux" gras (made from chicken liver, not foie gras), a towering lobster burger, a spin on fried chicken and a monstrous banana split sure to attract any nearby spoon.
Far from fine dining, Donburi is cramped, often loud and always cheap. But the informal tone is exactly why people flock to the Japanese rice bowl joint. Owner and chef James Jang keeps energy high with chef’s counter seating that puts the harried kitchen on display. There, cooks churn out karaage (golden fried chicken), sashimi and vegetable tempura. The star, though, is the restaurant’s namesake dish, made with rice and your choice of topping. Barbecued eel (unagidon) blow-torched before your eyes is a fan favorite.
The menu changes constantly at Peter Pastan’s prix-fixe-only, reservations-required townhouse, depending on what’s fresh and what catches the chef’s fancy. But you can always count on an array of antipasti; pasta, meat, cheese and dessert courses; and exemplary service. Squab makes regular appearances—it’s worth the awkwardness of dealing with the tiny bones—as do seasonal vegetables and fish. Nominally Italian, the cooking is both catholic and classical. The wine list is extensive, the breads baked in-house, the atmosphere unpretentious.
Don’t let the name fool you: Nothing about this humming Dupont Circle pub resembles a grocery store. Rather it has whitewashed brick walls, London street signs and a front patio strung with café lights. The short and sweet menu changes daily and is inspired by East London’s eclectic restaurant scene. That means you’ll find catfish banh mi mingling with a Za’atar-spiced eggplant sandwich and a curried vegetable bowl. The most popular dish by far is the proper burger, made with Angus beef, melted Gouda, sweet chili sauce and arugula.
Vegetarians may want to sit this one out. Chef Ed Witt’s menu includes more than 30 types of charcuterie (all made in house at the adjoining Red Apron Butcher) and two-plus pages of pork, beef and chicken dishes. Salami at various stages of curing dangle from the ceiling, and even the French fries are cooked in beef fat. If an ingredient can be made from scratch, chances are Witt has taken the time to do it, including the pork fat biscuit crust for his rabbit potpie and the salsa verde he serves with roasted pig’s head.
Best restaurants in DC by cuisine
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