The Very Best Restaurants in Washington DC Right Now
You’ll find everything in the District, from special occasion spots to cheap fast-casual joints.
“I don’t know. Where do you want to go?” We’ve all had the inevitable discussion-turned-debate over what’s for dinner that’s lasted until everyone involved is just plain hangry. This is an intervention. There are so many restaurants to choose from in Washington DC, with more opening every day, but we’ve got the cheat sheet. So next time the million dollar question comes up, pull out this list. You’ll find everything in the District: from swanky special occasion spots to cheap-but-delicious fast-casual joints. The best part? The list is always up to date with the buzziest new spots as well as the tried and true DC classics that are always worth a visit.
Family-style dining from the chef behind the late Himitsu
Chef Kevin Tien’s third restaurant venture is the one he’s always dreamed of opening. Emilie’s is all about sharing -- from the bread course with assorted dips and spreads on dim sum-style carts to the large-format platters of ranch fried chicken with Texas toast. This kind of communal dining is what Tien remembers most fondly from his own upbringing, and he wants to offer that same experience to guests. The expansive dining room leaves plenty of room for roving carts, but the warmth of the servers make the place feel like an intimate dinner party. Thanks to the open kitchen, guests can watch Tien whipping up his signature crudos, housemade pastas, and whole roasted branzino.
Seafood-forward ramen by the Daikaya Group
The latest shop from DC’s ramen masters takes inspiration from its Navy Yard surroundings. Hatoba is just a stone’s throw from both the Potomac River and Nationals Park, so the Sapporo-style ramen menu highlights seafood (like red miso clam) and the approachable drink program offers canned beer, sake, wine, cocktails, and soft drinks. The precise attention to detail in every bowl carries over from Daikaya’s other shops, as does the playful design sense. The dining room is lined with kitchen equipment like bowls and bento boxes and the restrooms evoke a Japanese baseball game, with the sounds of the announcer and the fans piped in through speakers.
Mid-Atlantic meets Southern France for Jack Rose’s second act
After years of construction and anticipation, the team behind one of the most impressive whiskey destinations in the country has debuted its newest undertaking. The Imperial spans three floors and 5,500 square feet, encompassing a dining room on the first floor, a two-tiered rooftop garden and bar upstairs, and the revived Dram & Grain cocktail bar downstairs (formerly housed in the basement of Jack Rose). The dining room offers a menu of local cuisine with French flair by chef Russell Jones, plus a bar with wine, cocktails, and the largest vintage spirits collection in the region. As before, the beloved subterranean cocktail den is composing creative concoctions, this time with more space to accommodate guests.
Union Square Hospitality Group’s first full-service concept in DC
Danny Meyer’s acclaimed restaurant group has imported a coastal sister to its New York restaurant, Maialino. Located in the Thompson Hotel in Navy Yard, Maialino Mare is helmed by a USHG veteran, chef Rose Noel. The Roman-style trattoria emphasizes seaside fare, featuring pastas like trenette al vongole and bucatini all’Amatriciana, as well as hearty shareable plates like salt-baked sea bass and a slow-roasted suckling pig. Naturally, the wine program boasts a wide selection of Italian bottles. If you go, remember that the team participates in a “revenue share,” and therefore is a non-tipping restaurant.
Brooklyn-born pizza shop expands to DC
The seventh location of Emmy Squared has landed in DC, bringing with it Detroit-style pizzas and famous double-stack burgers. The iconic red and white square pies are known for their perfect blend of crispy and fluffy textures and signature sauce stripes. Exclusive to this location is the EC Shaw Pizza, a white pizza topped with fried chicken, blue cheese, and red onion. The leading burger, Le Big Matt, is stacked with Pat LaFreida grass-fed beef patties, American cheese, greens, pickles, and ‘Sammy Sauce’ on a pretzel bun with waffle fries. The menu also includes salads, loaded fries, and sandwiches -- and any pizza can be made gluten-free.
Fine dining by powerhouse duo Ashok Bajaj and Frank Ruta
Prolific restaurateur Ashok Bajaj and esteemed chef Frank Ruta (formerly the White House chef and chef/owner of Palena) have teamed up for Annabelle, an upscale restaurant with a modern American menu. The concept breathes new life into the historic space that was once home to the pioneering Restaurant Nora, with touches like an Art Deco-inspired peninsula bar, a bay window booth, and a greenery-filled garden room with a glass ceiling. Ruta’s menu highlights locally sourced ingredients in dishes like coffee and cardamom-cured fluke, sheep’s milk ricotta ravioli, and American wagyu beef aged in the restaurant’s cellar. A vegetarian tasting menu is coming soon.
Burmese cuisine rooted in family and storytelling
The mother-daughter team behind Toli Moli is continuing their mission to share Burmese food and culture at their new restaurant. Thamee, which translates to daughter, is Jocelyn Law-Yone and Simone Jacobson’s second project, expanding the “Falooda Nation” they built at Union Market to include a full-service concept serving brunch and dinner. The food and service is built around the stories from Law-Yone’s childhood in Burma, as well as Jacobson’s upbringing as part of a Burmese family living in America. The menu includes specialties like pickled tea leaf salad, white flower mushroom salad, mohinga catfish curry, and drinks made with the color-changing butterfly pea flower.
Elevated pasta in a family-friendly setting
In search of a place where they could enjoy a nice meal with kids in tow, chef Gabe Thompson and pastry chef Katherine Thompson decided to take matters into their own hands. The husband-and-wife duo worked together in New York institutions (Le Bernardin and Per Se) and ran four popular Italian eateries in Manhattan. Now, they’ve returned to Katherine’s roots in Northern Virginia to open the eponymous restaurant. The star of the show at Thompson Italian is Gabe’s scratch-made pastas, which are also available on the kids’ menu. Don’t leave without a slice of Katherine’s famous olive oil cake, topped with crème fraîche mousse, raisin marmellata, and Maldon salt.
Contemporary Korean from the Fried Rice Collective
Dream team Danny Lee and Scott Drewno are at it again with a Korean restaurant and pub in the original Mandu space. Anju is inspired by tradition, from street markets to pub fare to dynasty-era cuisine, but it’s not afraid to bring the unexpected, as we’ve seen with CHIKO. Think spicy snacks and fried chicken along with more refined classics. Early highlights include the tornado potato, pan-fried pork and kimchi dumplings, bibimbap, 100-day kimchi, and Jjamppong-thick noodles and wok-roasted shellfish in a spicy seafood broth. The bar will focus on Korean spirits like soju and makgeolli.
A home-style salute to the Chang women
The latest restaurant in chef Peter Chang’s empire honors the women in the family -- his grandmother, mother, wife and pastry chef Lisa Chang, and daughter Lydia Chang. It’s all about home-style cooking, with comforting, traditional cuisine from the provinces of Hunan, Sichuan, and Hubei. Many of the dishes are ones that the Changs frequently enjoy at home and that have been passed down through generations. Signatures include fish ball soup, farmer’s stir fry, sesame shaobing, green pepper pickled mustard pork, and braised HK pork belly with lotus root.
Haute cuisine and opulent surrounds fit for royalty
At Punjab Grill, the service philosophy is simple: “guest is god.” Everything about the experience reinforces those three words, from the lavish decor to the elevated Indian fare. The restaurant itself was handcrafted in India -- think floor-to-ceiling carved wood screens, a 12,000-pound sandstone wall, and intricate gemstone inlays in marble tabletops -- and then taken apart and shipped around the world to get here. The food is international as well as Punjabi, with dishes like chana masala reimagined as hummus juxtaposed with a classic chicken makhani. If you’re ready to shell out for a night of luxury, book the private dining room lined in thousands of mirrors, appropriately dubbed the Sheesh Mahal, or Mirror Palace.
Caribbean cuisine by a Michelin Bib Gourmand chef
Trinidadian chef Peter Prime, who you probably remember from Spark at Engine Company 12, has struck out on his own to open a Caribbean street food restaurant with his younger sister. You’ll find favorites from Spark like jerk wings and a whole snapper, as well as new specials like an oxtail pepper pot and paratha tiffin boxes, which are stacked stainless steel tins filled with assorted curries and flatbread. Don’t miss the doubles--an ideal street food snack consisting of bread topped with cumin-fried chickpeas. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the crispy chicken feet or the cow heel souse. The drink menu is all about rum, as well as fresh Caribbean juices and ingredients like coconut orgeat, sorrel-basil syrup, and pineapple-habanero shrub.
Shared plates meet tasting menus at this market-driven restaurant
This restaurant’s whimsical name is a nod to its co-founders’ dynamic. Carey and Yuan Tang operate on opposite schedules, but they always come together around the table. Carey, the Rooster, is the general manager and works in non-profit development during the day. Yuan, the Owl, keeps late hours as the executive chef. In their restaurant, they invite others to join them for a social dining experience that’s part shared plates and part tasting menu. Guests customize their four-course meal from a selection of vegetable-forward dishes and then everything is shared with the table. The menu relies heavily on the local market, which means it changes seasonally and lets quality ingredients shine.
A beloved hummus shop returns in a permanent home
What started in the basement of the late DGS Delicatessen now has a life of its own as a fast-casual restaurant. Ronen Tenne, Nick Wiseman, and David Wiseman modeled the new Little Sesame after hummus shops and markets in Israel (where the team traveled for R&D). Think abundant greenery, wood accents, and colorful tile. The menu centers on hummus bowls, with combinations like chicken shawarma, herb tahini, pickled red onion, and fresh za’atar, or roasted cauliflower, tahini, everything spice, and green onion. There are also several pita sandwiches and a selection of salatim -- small, veggie-based sides. One thing you can’t miss? Dairy-free tahini soft serve.
A Jew-ish deli serving bagels, sandwiches, and more
You’ll notice this spot isn’t Jewish, but Jew-ish. That’s because on top of deli classics like bagels and schmear, there are also riffs on traditional fare, like whitefish croquettes and a Philly cheesesteak made with pastrami and brisket. The shop’s bagels are what draw lines down the block, and co-owner Andrew Dana says they’re the result of New York and a Montreal-style bagel having a baby. You can top the rounds with favorites like smoked salmon, cream cheese, and onion, or go crazy with a sandwich like the Rashida, with peanut butter, bacon, honey, and apples. To drink, you can get “just coffee,” which is what happened when Dana asked Lost Sock Roasters to make a version of 7-Eleven joe that actually tastes good.
A steakhouse that’s more than a steakhouse
While there’s no shortage of beef on the menu, St. Anselm isn’t just a steakhouse. Joe Carroll’s American tavern has come alive in DC with the help of restaurateur Stephen Starr and chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley. Everything centers around the grill that is prominently visible in the open kitchen. "Smalls" and "bigs" from the grill include clams with Chartreuse butter, artichoke hearts, lamb sirloin, and pork porterhouse. Cow cuts go beyond the typical steakhouse chops -- think flat iron and hanger steak. You don’t have to sip a bold Cabernet Sauvignon with your steak, either. Carroll encourages you to try pairing it with a light, chillable red or even a Chablis. The quirky décor adds to the unconventional vibe, with fraternal banners and taxidermy.
A Japanese-inspired, no-reservations spot with standing room only
Erik Bruner-Yang and his team have brought the concept of the Japanese Tachinomiya to The Line Hotel with Spoken English. In Japan, these restaurants without seats are typically spots to swing by after work for drinks and snacks. Here in DC, Bruner-Yang has installed two counters in the kitchen where up to 16 guests can enjoy skewers, small plates, and family-style whole poultry. It’s meant to be casual, and guests are urged to share and mingle with strangers. The whole chicken yakitori is perfect for a group because its eight courses of different preparations of chicken, from liver mousse to bone broth. The bar offers sake, beer, and cocktails.
Taco Bamba’s famous fare finds a permanent home alongside upscale Mexican cuisine
District denizens rejoiced when Taco Bamba opened as a pop-up at Del Campo, and now the top-notch tacos are here to stay. The Chinatown space formerly occupied by Del Campo now houses Taco Bamba in the front bar and dining room, and an upscale contemporary Mexican concept, Poca Madre, in the back dining room and patio. Taco Bamba slings tacos for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including an unusual combination, The Royale: a burger patty topped with Chihuahua cheese on a tortilla with lettuce and a mezcal thousand island dressing. Poca Madre transports the best ingredients from Mexico to elevate everything from the simple-yet-astounding made-from-scratch tortillas to noodles made from shrimp and cuttlefish doused in a zippy coconut milk sauce. The bar spotlights agave spirits in a variety of creative cocktails.
Philly transplant where vegetables reign
Philadelphia’s Vedge Restaurant Group has sprouted up in DC with a new concept that’s all about plant-based cooking. It takes after the elegant, chef-driven Vedge, which pushes the boundaries of vegetables, but it also has similarities to the street food at V Street. Expect the unexpected, with unique preparations that elevate produce, like rutabaga fondue or spicy dan dan noodles with Sichuan pepper and five spice glazed mushrooms. The bar is stocked with cocktails, draft beers, and natural wines.
Where ingredients from the Chesapeake region shine
Local food crusader chef Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore lets his culinary philosophy of sustainability take center stage at his first DC restaurant, A Rake’s Progress inside The Line Hotel. From the moment you take your seat and receive a menu kissed with a wax seal, the attention to detail is intensely apparent. Inside the menu, you’ll find an assortment of dishes, most of which come from the wood-burning hearth that runs all evening and then gently cooks potatoes in the dying embers overnight. Everything that hits your table, from the salt and butter on whole-grain bread to the trout on a log is sourced from the mid-Atlantic region. Even sparse citrus at the bar and sorghum (instead of sugarcane) in the desserts are from local suppliers. (Of course, there are rare exceptions, like coffee from Counter Culture and a few international wines, but these are subject to strict vetting.) Make a reservation and get ready for a performance, because many dishes are presented whole before being carved or prepared at the nearby carving station.
All-day café by the Paisley Fig baker in the former Heller’s Bakery space
By day, it’s a counter-service bakery and café, serving coffee, quiche, sandwiches, salads, and a unique selection of sweet and savory pastries and breads, from muffins and meat pies to country sourdough and caraway rye loaves. By night, it’s one of the city’s most inventive restaurants, helmed by chef Brad Deboy. His concise menu always has something funky and fermented, like rotating pickles and kimchi toast, as well as boundary-pushing dishes like cool ranch chicken skins, mushroom ‘liver’ & onions, chickpea ‘sausage’ cavatelli, and more. Desserts are off-the-wall too, like the matcha seme-froyo and the sweet pecorino cake.
Spanish seafood on the Wharf from the Trabocchis
If you thought Fabio and Maria Trabocchi’s restaurants couldn’t get any more opulent, think again. Their latest waterfront property at the Wharf is a glass palace, filled with custom tile work, imported aquatic art, and hundreds of delicate vases. The menu features coastal Spanish cuisine inspired by Maria’s roots. Start with an epic seafood tower presented on a platter shaped like an octopus, then dig in to jamón, pan de cristal, and Mallorcan sobrasada, made according to Maria’s family recipe. The paellas are massive and served tableside for an added touch of class. Pair it all with an artfully infused gin and tonic or perhaps a drink served in a glass sea urchin.
A lively mix of flavors from across the Silk Road
Down an alley off Florida Avenue, Maydan’s unassuming façade hides a world of flavors, smells, and sounds that have landed in DC by way of the Silk Road. Rose Previte’s vision for Maydan was to create a space that embodies the restaurant’s name, a word used across cultures to mean town square. The attention to detail in the two-story space anchored by a massive copper hearth is beyond impressive, with patinaed walls, dangling greenery, and vibrant hues throughout. The meat, seafood, and vegetables come straight from the fire, and are met with fresh Georgian bread and spice-laden condiments and spreads from the Middle East, North Africa, and the Caucasus.
Afro-Caribbean cuisine by the waterfront
After Shaw Bijou -- the restaurant closing heard round the world -- chef Kwame Onwuachi did some soul searching and made a triumphant return to the kitchen cooking food that represents his heritage. At his new digs in the InterContinental Hotel, he’s serving Afro-Caribbean cuisine like curried goat with fresh roti, wagyu short ribs coated in suya spice, and a seafood plateau with bigeye tuna kitfo. He also tips his hat to his family’s culinary traditions with peel-and-eat shrimp made with his mother’s spice blend. Cocktails are all about the rum, so you can toast to the Caribbean.
Hip bistro covered in honeycomb designs and serving crave-worthy pastas
Quirky doesn’t even begin to describe what chef Ryan Ratino and his team have going at their Michelin-starred hotspot on 14th Street. The restaurant subscribes to the Parisian movement of “bistronomy” (bistro + gastronomy), which is what you get when you cross upscale French culinary techniques with a casual bistro. At Bresca, that translates to imaginative takes on classic dishes and out-there decor. So far, the decadent rotating pasta dishes and the unique duck presse have stolen the show. The name literally means "honeycomb" in Spanish, so bees and hexagons are featured prominently inside the place. The interior is sophisticated but kooky, with goldfish heads, preserved moss, and Animorphs-like illustrations adorning the walls.
Towering burgers from around the world
In all of chef Alex McCoy’s global travels, he’s always managed to find a great burger. That’s the inspiration for Lucky Buns, which is influenced by the cuisine of Southeast Asia, the UK, and Australia. This compact burger shop has a laser focus, with an assortment of beef or chicken stacks, chips (aka British fries), and salads. You won’t find any basic burgers though. The buns are loaded with international flavors, like karashi slaw, Sichuan peppercorn spice paste, bacon XO jam, and masala harissa. Fans of McCoy’s previous projects will appreciate the Alfie’s Bun, with a runny egg, pineapple, pickled beetroot, arugula, lucky sauce, and pickled red onion.
Fast, casual, irreplaceable Chinese and Korean fusion
When two of the city’s favorite slingers of Asian cuisine joined forces in the kitchen, magical things happened. Chefs Danny Lee (of Mandu) and Scott Drewno (formerly of The Source), along with Drew Kim (of Matchbox Food Group) formed the Fried Rice Collective to open ChiKo on Barracks Row. It may be a fast-casual joint, but the food is a far cry from a #boringdesklunch. The menu defies categorization, with Korean and Chinese influences and techniques blended together in ways that only Lee and Drewno could dream up. Standouts include the blue catfish fried rice, the double-fried chicken wings, and a rice bowl topped with Wagshal's chopped brisket. You can order a few dishes to try, or make the wise choice and sit at the counter to sample the entire menu for $50.
A cheap place for outdoor vibes, delicious Cuban sandwiches, and coffee
Mixology showman Juan Coronado and his team now have two locations of Colada Shop, one in Sterling, Virginia and one in the city. The urban outpost -- modeled after Miami's ventanitas -- is right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the U Street and 14th Street corridors, but it’s a perfectly private hideaway to refuel with seriously strong coffee, flaky pastelitos, stuffed empanadas, Cuban sandwiches, and plantain chips. The craft cocktails here are on point, and their $8 price tag is a welcome change of pace around these parts.
Carbs are king at this Mediterranean-leaning gathering place
This Michelin-starred restaurant from Komi and Little Serow alums has been turning heads since it opened. The peculiar name is a nod to co-owner Jill Tyler’s childhood home, the US Virgin Islands, where locals distinguish between goats and sheep based on the position of their tails. (Tail up goat; tail down sheep.) The menu devotes an entire course to creative bread preparations, and showstoppers are found in the pasta and entree courses, with impeccable house-made noodles and composed plates.
Shell out for a night of upscale indulgence
With a name that nods to hospitality (the pineapple) and elegance (the pearls), it’s no wonder rockstar chef Aaron Silverman’s most luxurious endeavor is a smash hit. You don’t even have to wait in line, like at Silverman’s eldest child, Rose’s Luxury. The elaborate, wonder-filled tasting menu wowed Michelin -- they awarded Pineapple & Pearls a cool two stars. Of course, it comes at a price. It’s $325 for a parade of courses, inclusive of beverages, food, tax, and tip. If you want to save a little dough, you can sit at the bar and get away with paying $150 for your meal (drinks are extra).
Jersey-style Italian eats that will take you to back to the shore
This neighborhood Italian-American joint comes from the masterminds who brought you The Red Hen and Boundary Stone. Simply put, eating here is like getting a hug from your nonna. Pizza is the focus, and the crust hits all the right notes, striking a balance between sweet and savory and crispy and chewy. Choose from more traditional Italian preparations, or American interpretations. But don’t overlook the ultra-comforting Jersey-style baked eggplant parm or the salumi. Always order dessert, because the sweet treats come from Shaw neighbor Buttercream Bakeshop.
Garden produce shines among luxurious ingredients
Though it often flies under the radar, chef Eric Ziebold’s a la carte restaurant is an impeccable exemplar of fine dining. The menu focuses on the four philosophies of cuisine: craft, history, ingredients, and indulgence. Dishes in the craft section showcase a cooking technique, while dishes in the history section revisit classic recipes. The ingredients section of the menu features a special product, which often comes from Ziebold’s garden at RdV Vineyards. The indulgence section is where you’ll find splurge-worthy dishes, including the iconic Maine lobster French toast.
Filipino gem that draws curious eaters from around the country
Bad Saint opened quietly, but since then, it’s been anything but quiet. The tiny, no-reservations restaurant quickly became a local darling, with daily lines stretching down the block. It also won over the national and international food authorities, earning a Michelin Bib Gourmand award, a spot on Bon Appetit’s Hot 10 list, and a rave review from The New York Times. If you’re trying to snag a table, you’d best show up at least two hours before opening, or try your luck and check for last-minute vacancies around closing time. The hassle will be well worth it once you sink your teeth into a selection of unique Filipino dishes that change regularly.
Hyper-local, hearth-fired fare from the Mid-Atlantic
A champion of Mid-Atlantic cuisine, chef Jeremiah Langhorne opened The Dabney with a mission to define the region’s culinary identity. He’s doing that by focusing on hardcore hyperlocality in the kitchen. For all the extreme measures he goes to, there’s no sacrificing flavor just because you won’t find imported olives or Alaskan king crab on the menu. His dishes sing the praises of seasonal ingredients that can be grown or foraged in the area. Most of the food prepared in the Michelin-starred kitchen come out of the massive wood-burning hearth, which is quite a presence in the dining room.
Out-of-the-box techniques with a sky-high price tag
Already legendary, minibar still manages to up the ante over time. Chef José Andrés added a new jewel to his crown after his extravagant tasting menu experience was awarded two Michelin stars. The fantastical experience starts at around $800 for two diners with drink pairings, but you’ll get your money’s worth, with all the ooh-ing and ahh-ing over what can only be described as a culinary magic show. If you want a sample of minibar’s luxury without the price tag, you can always have a few drinks at barmini, the adjacent cocktail lab.
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