Washington, DC, is a great restaurant town with options ranging from old standards and next generation upstarts, plus a plethora of ethnic restaurants. And, there’s also Ben’s Chili Bowl.
Here’s our favorites:
Rasika is a modern, sensuous restaurant in the Penn Quarter that serves inventive Indian cuisine in a vibrant, hip setting. Chef Vikram Sunderam has been nominated for numerous James Beard Awards and has won local “Chef of the Year” honors. In 2014 he was awarded the James Beard award for best chef in the Mid-Atlantic region. The food at Rasika showcases many styles of Indian cuisine and includes Tawa (Griddle), Sigri (open Barbeque) and Tandoori cooking. Attention to detail is evident in everything from the fragrant rices to the fresh vegetables to the perfectly spiced sauces. The cocktails at the modern bar are expertly prepared, and the wine list is quite large. Service is attentive, dependable, and friendly. The restaurant is often named as one of the best Indian restaurants in the country. It is notable that, unlike many highly-regarded restaurants, the prices at Rasika are reasonable. A trip to Rasika is not complete without getting their signature dish – the Palak Chaat. Tasting menus with optional wine pairings are available – read more here (Photo by Shashi Bellamkonda)
2. Rose’s Luxury
Rose’s Luxury brings excellent, innovative food, along with a very genuine attitude of caring for the diner and the dining experience, to Washington’s Barracks Row neighborhood. The eatery opened up in 2013, and, in 2014, Rose’s Luxury won the award for the Best New Restaurant in America 2014 from Bon Appétit. The success is no fluke – Chef-owner Aaron Silverman spent time developing his craft under the tutelage of such celebrated chefs as David Chang of Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York, George Mendes of Aldea in New York, and Sean Brock of McCrady’s and Husk in Charleston.
The food is innovative Southern fare with global influences, and it’s served family-style. As part of the dining experience, the servers are permitted to deliver complimentary dishes to diners, and there are also off-menu items and goodie bags offered. The extras are listed on the check as “from us.” Rose’s Luxury is only open for dinner and does not take reservations – waits for the limited seating can be as long as to 2.5 hours. It is best to get there before opening time. The ten coveted spots at the roof garden table can be reserved, but they sell out weeks in advance – read more here (Photo by T.Tseng)
3. Old Ebbitt Grill
Old Ebbitt Grill has been a quintessential meeting spot for DC insiders since 1856. It is reputedly the oldest saloon in town, and it has played host to such dignitaries as Presidents Grant, Cleveland, Harding and Theodore Roosevelt. The restaurant has been at its current location since 1983, and it is still a thriving DC institution. There’s four bars at Old Ebbitt. The Oyster Bar being the most famous and specializes in oysters and a great wine list. The Old Bar features mounted game trophies and a long, dark mahogany bar. Upstairs is the Corner Bar and Grant’s Bar. The Main Dining Room resembles a turn-of-the-century dining parlor, and the Atrium Room allows for the feeling of outdoor dining year round. Guests will discover dark wood decor, velvet booths, marble and brass, antique gas chandeliers, plus a walrus head bagged by Teddy Roosevelt – read more here (Photo by Jay Cross)
4. Ben’s Chili Bowl
Ben’s Chili Bowl has been open most hours of the day and night since it opened back in 1958, and the legendary eatery is still a must stop for both tourists and locals, as well as some celebrities. In its glory days, the diner was a vital part of the U Street corridor’s hallowed “Black Broadway,” with frequent visits by celebrities such as Duke Ellington and Martin Luther King, Jr. After the race riots of the late 60’s and the drug dealing in the 70’s, the neighborhood lost its luster. Lately, U Street has experienced a resurgence. President Obama has been a big fan of Ben’s chili while in office, and Bill Cosby is a regular. The iconic restaurant won the ‘America’s Classics’ Restaurant Award from the James Beard Foundation and has been featured on Oprah and the Today Show. Ben’s Next Door is a more upscale soul food restaurant that opened in 2009 and serves the same menu as Ben’s – read more here (Photo by T.Tseng)
Zaytinya restaurant is operated by celebrated chef José Andrés and offers an innovative menu inspired by Turkish, Greek and Lebanese cuisines, all served up in a sleek and modern setting. Upon opening in 2003, Zaytinya was soon written up by the James Beard Foundation, Conde Nast Traveler and Food and Wine magazines as a must-try restaurant. The gushing accolades have continued ever since, and José Andrés has continued to expand his empire throughout DC and beyond. Small plates (called “mezze”) of authentic and innovative Mediterranean cuisine are served with creative cocktails and obscure Mediterranean wines in an airy blue-and-white space with a soaring ceiling. It is typical for each person to order two or three of the plates and share. The menu is quite large, so there’s plenty of dishes to try – read more here (Photo by Jing)
6. Founding Farmers
Founding Farmers is a rustic Foggy Bottom farmhouse restaurant specializing in upscale comfort foods served in a cozy space with friendly servers, fresh ingredients, and communal tables. The popular restaurant is frequented by everyone from hipsters to lobbyists, and everyone is made to feel welcome. The service is excellent and unpretentious, and the decor is comfortable and warm. With all of the attention paid to details, Founding Fathers has managed to accumulate local awards for such items as “Best Bloody Mary,” “Best Sunday Brunch,” and “Best Cocktail Selection.”
As the name suggests, Founding Farmers takes seriously the sourcing of their ingredients. The restaurant is actually a coop that is owned by 42,000 family farmers of the North Dakota Farmers Union, and many of the ingredients are bought from local farmers while others are bought from some combination of the best and the most sustainable producers. The beef is 100% all natural, grass-fed. The chicken is free-range and stress-free. The fish and seafood are wild line-caught or sustainably farmed. Everything is hormone and antibiotic free. The fresh, locally-grown, seasonal produce is delivered to the restaurant daily except on Sundays. The restaurant is also the first LEED Gold Certified restaurant in the city – read more here (Photo by Davis Staedtler)
7. Le Diplomate
Le Diplomate serves classic French bistro fare such as escargot, oysters, steak frites, and omelets in warm setting made to feel like an authentic Parisian cafe. Noted Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr spent upwards of $6 million refurbishing the 14th Street space to his liking, and he left no detail to chance. The wood floors are weathered, the tin ceiling looks as if it were stained by years of cigarette smoke, and red awnings covers the small cafe tables on the sidewalk. The fresh flowers and French baguettes on the table certainly foster the perception that the diner is in Paris and not DC. Don’t expect innovative dishes – the mission is to perfect the classics. The menu starts with a large raw bar section of oysters, shrimp, and clams, and the hors d’oeuvres includes foie gras parfait, onion soup gratinee, and escargots. Seemingly all of the traditional French entrees are present, including steak frites, trout amandine, and moules frites. The food is accompanied by an enticing list of specialty cocktails and a well-curated wine list – read more here (Photo by Ted Eytan)
BlackSalt is a restaurant and fish market that serves fresh seafood – with an emphasis on sustainability – in a the Palisades neighborhood of northwest DC. The casual upscale restaurant takes the sustainability of fish and shellfish seriously, but they also could an expert job creating exquisite seafood dishes flavors from around the world. Guests enter the restaurant through the fish market in front, which offers a testament to the freshness of the seafood served inside. A raw bar offers an enticing selection of oysters and drinks, and, beyond that, the warm and polished dining room fronts the open kitchen. The food is impeccably cooked and the menu meanders from fry baskets to stews and cioppino to innovative fusion dishes. Also, be sure to save room for dessert – BlackSalt has their own pastry chef. For those wanting to indulge, the Chef’s Tasting menu is sure to please. On the other end of the spectrum, the happy hour bar menu is a great way to sample the food and drinks without shelling out too much money – read more here (Photo by cdorobek)
9. Compass Rose
Compass Rose is like Epcot for food – if Epcot were a hole-in-the-wall tavern on 14th Street that served international street food. The idea was Compass Rose was formed when owner Rose Previte took 3 years off and traveled the world with her husband. Together, they visited over 30 countries and came to love sampling the local food and drink. An idea was born. We they got back, Rose partnered with local restaurateur Mike Schuster to open Compass Rose.
Of all the foods offered on the menu, the Georgian khachapuri is the crowd favorite. It’s a crusty flatbread saucer filled with a rich mixture of egg, cheese, spices, and butter. All the dishes come in small tapa-style portions so there everyone can sample. The bars offers an awesome cocktail menu liquors from around the world and obscure Georgian wines – read more here (Photo by Sergey & Jenia)
10. 1789 Restaurant
1789 Restaurant serves elegant American cuisine in a gorgeous, historic Federal period rowhouse in residential Georgetown. The restaurant’s origins date back to 1960, when Richard J. McCooey, a Georgetown alumnus bought the home, which dates back to the mid-1800s. He opened a burger and beer restaurant called The Tombs in the basement. The Tombs became a gathering spot for students and faculty from nearby Georgetown University, and McCooey subsequently turned to upstairs into a nicer restaurant that he named the 1789 Restaurant. The 1789 originally served classic French cuisine and was considered one of DC’s best fine dining restaurants. Over the years, the restaurant has adapted and become a little less formal, and the menu has evolved into more classical American regional cuisine. The hiring of Chef Samuel Kim in 2014 brought renewed vigor to the historic surroundings.
The setting and decor are as impressive as the menu at 1789. The pub room in the front of the house, which is said to be the Clinton’s favorite room, features a pendulum wall clock and an antique wooden puppet hanging from the ceiling. 1789 is a perennial favorite politicians and foreign dignitaries – in 2011, President Obama dined there with German Chancellor Angela Merkel – read more here
11. The Gibson
The Gibson is a prohibition-era speakeasy in Washington’s U Street corridor that is accessed through a simple black door next door to a liquor store. Inside the black door, a staff member will escort guests down a dark hallway into the bar. Old Edison-style filament bulbs lend a bit of light to the two-room lounge. There’s a total of about 50 seats at the black leather and wood bar, in the cozy booths, and at the white marble tables. There are also a few seats on a back patio. A chalkboard lists the drinks, and black-clad servers are helpful with advice. The drinks are made by bartenders who take pride in their craft, and they can mix up something according to your likes if necessary. The Gibson is dark and romantic, making it a great spot for a date. However, the music can get a bit loud late at night. The cocktails are deservedly the star of the show, but a few bar snacks are offered. Cocktail prices are in the $12 range, and the menu changes regularly to keep things fresh – read more here (Photo by John)
Jaleo chef José Andrés brought the concept of small dish dining to America when he opened his tapas restaurant in the Penn Quarter neighborhood in 1993. This original location was recently renovated after 20 years in business, and the new look incorporates furnishings and artwork from some of Spain’s most notable contemporary designers. The bold, festive decor brings new energy to this landmark restaurant. Enjoy sangria or one of the fabulous cocktails before delving into the tapas and paella.
José Andrés is a native of Spain who now oversees a small fiefdom of restaurants in Washington DC ,Beverly Hills, Las Vegas, South Beach, and Puerto Rico. His influence in the culinary world would be hard to overestimate – his awards include “Chef of the Year” from Bon Appetit, Outstanding Chef (2011) from James Beard Foundation, and one of the “World’s 100 Most Influential People” (2012) from Timemagazine. In addition to Jaleo, his restaurants in DC are minibar, Zaytinya, Oyamel, Beefsteak, China Chilcano, and the Pepe food truck – read more here (Photo by Jan Mark Holzer)
Komi is an intimate Dupont Circle restaurant with 12 tables and no menu – diners get a multi-course dinner beginning with numerous small, light courses and culminating in larger and more robust dishes. The cuisine is upscale Mediterranean. Chef-owner Johnny Monis wows diners with roughly 15 courses of revelatory small dishes, starting with raw seafood and culminating in a roasted meat feast of baby goat or suckling pig. The plates get larger and more complex with every course, and the creativity of the chef is apparent with each dish. The entire meal makes for a wonderful evening and an indulgent, very memorable dining experience. Service is attentive, friendly, and informative. In 2012, Komi was ranked at #13 on the list of the “The 100 Best U.S. Restaurants” by Forbes. It has also been named as one of the Top 10 “Best Places for Pasta” by Gourmet magazine – read more here (Photo by Elvert Barnes)
Estadio is a small and stylish Spanish restaurant in the Logan Circle neighborhood serving tapas and drinks from Spain. The cozy, festive space is loft-like and comes with wood and stone, Spanish tiles, an open kitchen, and a large central bar. Chef Haidar Karoum runs the kitchen and offers a lengthy and enticing menu of tapas, cheeses and charcuterie influenced by the traditional cuisines of the Basque and Catalan regions. For drinks, there’s has an enticing array of slushitos, Spanish beers, wine and sherries, sangria, and a list of specialty cocktails. Be sure to save room for the Manchego Cheesecake with Quince Jam and Raisin Granola. Estadio doesn’t take reservations, so plan to arrive early or spend some quality time in the bar. The wait for a table can be up to an hour on busy weekend nights – read more here (Photo by stsnck)
Obelisk is a tiny Dupont Circle restaurant that offers five-course, authentic Italian dinners with wine pairings. Obelisk is located in a rowhouse – a tiny sign on the door leads diners to Chef Peter Pastan’s 30-seat dining room, and the handwritten menu showcases items made in-house using seasonal local ingredients. This is slow dining in intimate surroundings at its best – read more here (Photo by Seth Woodworth)