Food & Drink

DC's 10 Most Underappreciated Restaurants

Published On 05/04/2015 Published On 05/04/2015
Laura Hayes/Thrillist
Laura Hayes/Thrillist
Baan Thai
Laura Hayes/Thrillist
Laura Hayes/Thrillist
Laura Hayes/Thrillist
Laura Hayes/Thrillist
Eric Gronning
Firefly
Laura Hayes/Thrillist
Laura Hayes/Thrillist
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1. Smoke & Barrel 2471 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20009 (Adams Morgan)

Smoke & Barrel has meat that is smoked with reclaimed bourbon barrels. In fact, not only do they have great smoked meats but they also have a great beer selection (25 cans and another 25 drafts) as well as 45 bourbons and whiskeys (not to mention their beer/shot combo "boiler crafters").

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2. Baan Thai 1326 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005

Baan Thai dares to go where other DC Thai places don't, in terms of heat and tang. The concept, housed inside Tsunami Sushi, evolved out of staff meal where more authentic dishes were devoured by Thai employees. Leading the charge is a chef whose name is as awesome as her food: P’Boom. You need to try her crispy rice cakes with chicken and shrimp, chicken stuffed in tapioca skin, stir-fried pork picnic, and coconut griddle snacks for dessert.

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3. NoPa Kitchen + Bar 800 F St, NW, Washington, DC 20004 (Penn Quarter)

The chef helming this Penn Quarter brasserie comes from Manhattan's Japanese/Peruvian Nobu 57, so you know you're getting more than your go-to American or French cuisine here. Chef Matt Kuhn puts an Asian twist on staples with dishes like carrot-infused spaghetti, farro and black quinoa risotto, chilean sea bass, and pork shoulder cassoulet, all served in a chic, industrial setting with whitewashed brick and dark wood walls, plush red velvet chairs, and comfortable leather booths.

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4. Ristorante Posto 1515 14th St NW, Washington DC, 20005

A step into the threshold of this more-casual sibling to Ristorante Tosca and you’re hit with the smell of smoky embers and tomato sauce that’s been building flavor all day. The picante pizza and spugnole pasta featuring morel mushrooms and ramps are the best bets.

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5. Bar Pilar 1833 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009

A pioneer of the 14th Street restaurant boom, this comfortable, nautical-themed spot is inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s boat, Pilar, and divided between a downstairs bar that fills up quickly on the weekends, and a low-key restaurant upstairs, where outstanding small plates take center stage (from honey-roasted beet salad to lamb belly bolognese). The 20 or so beers are well-curated but a tad overpriced, so you’re better off opting for a craft cocktail, many of which are mixed with house-made sodas and even include adult slushies, such as the "Violet, You’re Turning Violet," which swirls jalapeño tequila, wild blueberry, pineapple, allspice dram, and ginger into a spicy and sweet concoction.

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6. El Chalan 1924 I St NW, Washington, DC 20006 (Foggy Bottom)

El Chalan is a downstairs den buzzing with authentically accented servers who’ve been bringing ceviche, aji de gallina, and cinnamon-topped Pisco Sours to tables since 1981. A meal among black-and-white photos of Lima, Cusco, and Machu Picchu begins with dense, warm bread and hot sauce, before accelerating into soul-satisfying entrees like Peruvian seafood paella or lomo saltado. After the traditional Pisco Sour, try something more adventurous like the Chicha Sour made with the syrup and juice from purple corn. Only three dishes surpass $20.

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7. Maple 3418 11th St NW, Washington, 20010 (Columbia Heights)

The lamb ragu alone makes Maple worth a visit. Co-owner Lori Robertson says customers would riot if the dish ever vanished. The neighborhood restaurant’s rustic Italian menu is reminiscent of The Red Hen, and also has a few surprises like a gourmet panini bursting with short ribs, Fontina, and pickled onions. Spend date night on the Maple patio sipping on build-your-own flights of wine or an "Italian Shandy" made by spiking Port City Optimal Wit with Aperol and lime. Pro tip: bottles of wine are half-off on Tuesday.

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8. Firefly 1310 New Hampshire Ave NW , Washington, DC, DC 20036 (Dupont Circle)

A few paces into Firefly and you’ll feel like you’re entering the woods that serve as the backdrop to a fairytale. That’s because of the tree in the center of the dining room and charming back-to-nature décor. This American comfort food spot that doubles as a date night no-brainer gets creative with food and cocktails.

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9. Keren Restaurant & Coffee Shop 1780 Florida Ave NW, Washington, DC 20009 (Adams Morgan)

This family-run Eritrean spot, located at the foot of Adams Morgan, might just be the happiest restaurant in DC -- everyone is smiling, even those eagerly awaiting a table so they can chow down on the soft and sour injera, or a piping-hot, fan-favorite bowl of ful (a garlic-laced fava bean mash topped with garnishes reminiscent of American chili). The warm and welcoming staff will make you feel right at home while they serve it to you. A bonus? You'll find some of the cheapest beers in town here.

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10. Jardenea 2430 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC, DC 20037 (West End)

Jardenea is a slice of "farm-to-fork" fanciness that gets its name from the French word for "garden," and is located in the Melrose Georgetown with grey banquettes, paintings that don't even need walls, and chandeliers that look like jet engines.

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