The Washington D.C. Guide
Locals say the vibe in DC, from popularity of neighborhoods to the real estate market, changes depending on the administration. While we can’t tell for sure, we do notice a palpable shift in fashionable areas of town as this term comes to a close. A previously hot Georgetown seems to now have more cupcake shops than restaurants, while an edgier U Street and the urban Chinatown/Penn Quarter area boom. Check out the best of DC’s most happening neighborhoods plus our new and classic favorites from all around the nation’s capital.
Jaleo480 Seventh St. NW, Downtown | 202.628.7949
José Andrés laid the foundation for the Chinatown/Penn Quarter dining scene, with a number of unique restaurants within just a few blocks. (Mediterranean Zaytinya and Mexican-inspired Oyamel have also become neighborhood favorites.) Jaleo introduced authentic Spanish tapas to the city when it originally opened in 1993. The impressive menu remains, with a slight revamp including additions like black-footed Spanish pig’s feet and six new types of gin and tonics (one of Andrés’ favorite drinks). Barcelona-based designer and architect Juli Capella’s goal was to express the meaning of Jaleo (translation: merrymaking and revelry) and she succeeds. From the bright pops of color to copious beaded curtains, all that’s missing is Almodóvar.
Ben’s Chili Bowl1213 U St. NW, Cardozo | 202.667.0909
D.C. natives will tell you that Ben’s Chili Bowl is the most D.C. place in D.C. They have multiple locations (including one in the Ronald Reagan airport, at Nationals Park, and FedEx Field) but the original one is on U Street. It’s the kind of beloved dive spot where you order at the counter (although table service is available for parties of five ore more), and you don’t come for the salad bowl. As the name suggests, it’s all about the chili dogs, chili burgers, and chili fries. That said, there are a lot of veg-friendly options, from vegetarian chili to veggie burgers.
Marvin2007 14th St. NW, Cardozo | 202.797.7171
With a soundtrack of funk, ska, and jazz created by a member of Thievery Corporation, a menu that blends Belgian classics with the flavors of the neighborhood (think fried chicken with Belgian waffles), and a very happening year-round rooftop beer garden, Marvin is one of the coolest places on the block. Go upstairs on the weekend to party or downstairs for a relaxed meal during the week.
Taylor Gourmet1200 19th St. NW, Dupont Circle | 202.775.2005
Taylor Gourmet is the blood, sweat, and tears of two Philadelphia transplants who opened the chain’s first deli after determining there wasn’t a single good Philly-style hoagie spot in all of D.C. Today the chain is many locations strong, making it a lunchtime staple for everyone from college students to President Obama. The salads are perfectly suitable if you’re trying to keep lunchtime healthy, but the real order here is anything on their freshly baked bread (which gets delivered daily). The Italian sandwich and the Philly cheesesteak are obviously excellent, though anything involving their fried chicken cutlets is also worth a try. They're expanding fast, with locations in Mount Vernon Triangle, H Street Corridor, and Cardozo.
Makoto4822 Macarthur Blvd. NW, Foxhall Crescent | 202.298.6866
Makoto is some of the best and most authentic Japanese in D.C., and perhaps the country. The multi-course tasting menu is a relative bargain for the gastronomy that arrives before you, course after course, in this shoebox of a space. The no-shoe rule means you can get a good look what socks the senator next to you is wearing. This is a true experience.
Little Serow1511 17th St. NW, Dupont Circle
This is the little sister to Dupont Circle’s acclaimed Komi, which is also very much worth the visit if you have the budget. It's just as ambitious, though more affordable, and teeny tiny, where they offer a set $49 Isaan-style dinner, which is less of a tasting menu than it is a family-style meal. The menu changes weekly, and they only accept walk-ins.
Central Michel Richard1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Downtown | 202.626.0015
This French-American bistro comes from one of DC's most celebrated chefs. Here, you'll find a more casual experience than MIchel Richard's formal flagship without compromising craft or quality. Central serves everything from French classics like frog’s legs, to playful takes on American comfort foods, to whimsical creations like the “faux gras,” made of chicken livers. The upscale bistro features lots of wood, pale leather, and exposed wine racks, and is almost always bustling. It's perfect for a fun lunch or celebratory dinner.
Minibar405 8th St. NW, Downtown | 202.393.0812
As a study in avant-garde cooking and molecular gastronomy, Minibar highlights Andrés’ time with Ferran Adrià of famed (and now former) El Bulli in Spain. Meals here are a delightful combination of imagination, science, and technique (and perhaps a bit of magic). Over the 27 courses you may try anything from cotton candy eel to popcorn blasted with liquid nitrogen. As weird as the dishes may sound, the inventiveness does not compromise taste. It’s not easy reservation to get and is pricey, but it’s more than a meal here—it’s one of the most exciting dining experiences around.
Bourbon Steak2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, West End | 202.944.2026
Bourbon, located in the Four Seasons, serves some of the best steak in the city, from a 50-day dry-aged ribeye to a wagyu flat iron and more. But what makes this Michael Mina restaurant a standout is also the incredible seafood, from local oysters to his signature lobster pot pie, and impressive new American dishes. The trio of duck fat fries and black truffle rolls, compliments of the chef, foreshadow the decadence to follow. Cocktails are particularly well-made using small batch cordials and homemade bitters, making the bar and lounge great for an evening drink and small bites if you don’t have the expense account for a full meal.
Restaurant Nora2132 Florida Ave. NW, Dupont Circle | 202.462.5143
Organic dining pioneer Nora Pouillon opened Restaurant Nora in 1999 as America’s first certified organic restaurant. The fantastic seasonal menu, which remains unflinchingly devoted to organic and biodynamic practices, attracts politicians and environmentalists alike. Get the four-course tasting menu (vegetarian option also available) and let chef decide for you. You won’t be disappointed.
Kaz Sushi Bistro1915 I St. NW, Downtown | 202.530.5500
It’s all about the incredible sushi here, a fact that the business-heavy lunch crowd appreciates. The best seat in the house is the sushi bar, where you can watch the chefs preparing the excellent and inventive nigiri like the outrageously good seared salmon belly with sweet soy lemon or tuna with foie gras miso, and many more. They even blend their own low-sodium soy sauce, mixing in mirin and dashi. For what you get, the prices are great, and it manages keep a pretty low profile.
Montmartre327 7th St. SE, Capitol Hill | 202.544.1244
Though the eponymous neighborhood is in Paris, the hearty French comfort food at this cozy bistro tucked away in Capitol Hill is decidedly from the South: succulent braised rabbit leg to classic cassoulet and more. The atmosphere is true bistro—intimate, inviting, and casual, which also describes the prices. The excellent brunch features mussels done four ways and a killer Eggs Benedict. For a perfect D.C. outing, pair with a pre-or-post stroll through nearby Eastern Market, which is full of farmer’s market stalls and local artisans on weekends.
Rasika1177 22nd St. NW, West End | 202.466.2500
This is the second location of the popular Penn Quarter original, and it's stunning, from the teal booth pods to the giant glass walls and 3-D wooden ceilings, while remaining elegant and understated, quite like the excellent modern Indian menu. Don’t miss the super tasty Palak Chaat, crispy baby spinach, or the Dal Dhungaree, smoked lentils, which you’ll need a lot of buttery nann to soak up.
The Tabard Inn1739 N St. NW, Dupont Circle | 202.331.8528
The brick-walled garden patio in this historic hotel is perhaps the most romantic dinner setting in town. The New American menu features local and seasonal ingredients, with a focus on fresh seafood and meats. Brunch in the garden on a sunny day is particularly pleasant, including the waffles and homemade donuts, and crab cakes and oysters.