Food & Drink

How DC Is Dominating the Restaurant Scene in 2016 and Quickly Becoming Our Nation's Food Capital

Published On 12/23/2016 Published On 12/23/2016
dc capital food
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Espita Mezcaleria | Laura Hayes/Thrillist
Shaw Neighborhood | Flickr/Ted Eytan
Haikan
Courtesy of José Andrés
Daikaya
Rose's Luxury
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1. The Dabney 122 Blagden Alley, Washington, DC 20001 (Shaw)

Chef Jeremiah Langhorne opened The Dabney to showcase Mid-Atlantic flavors, and he's doing that by focusing on hyper-locality in the kitchen. His food tastes fresh and earthy, and while the menu changes with the seasons, you can expect rustic small plates like charred cabbage, grilled scallops, and whole BBQ Beaver Creek quail, as well as family-style meals like grilled black bass and chicken & dumplings. Most of the food in his Michelin-starred open kitchen emerges from a massive wood-burning hearth, which is easy to spot from the country-chic dining room.

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2. Kinship 1015 7th St NW, Washington, 20001 (Mount Vernon Sq)

A Mt. Vernon Square venture from Chef Eric Ziebold, Kinship boasts an à la carte menu divided into three categories: "Craft," which celebrates a culinary technique; "History," which recreates dishes that Ziebold discovered while traveling; and "Ingredients," which highlights unique elements in the food. There’s also a list of luxurious indulgences, like Ossetra Caviar and white truffle risotto, as well as an expertly curated global wine list. Be sure to make a reservation, as Kinship benefits from the Michelin bump after earning its first star.

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3. Métier 1015 7th St, Washington, 20001 (Mount Vernon Sq)

Tucked below sister restaurant Kinship, Métier is an intimate American tasting room from Chef Eric Ziebold. The seven-course menu features dishes crafted with luxe ingredients such as Ossetra caviar, seasonal morel mushrooms, sea urchin butter, and Kuroge beef. "Métier" translates roughly to speciality, which is fitting as Ziebold is an expert at creating one-of-a-kind dishes. Start your night in the salon with craft cocktails and hors d'oeuvres -- and definitely make a reservation in advance.

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4. Tico 1926 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009 (U Street)

The bright and graffic graffiti murals are the first clues that your visit to Tico, an outpost of original Boston tapas bar, is going to be a colorful one. Inspired by Schlow's travels in Latin America, Spain, and Mexico, Tico offers bold small plates with Latin leanings, like roasted cauliflower with cotija cheese, black bass ceviche, and a velvety tres leches cake for dessert. There are multiple taco varieties too, but what keeps fans coming back for more are the addictive hibiscus margaritas.

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5. Alta Strada 1055 5th St NW, Washington, DC 20001 (Mount Vernon Sq)

Chef Michael Schlow (Casolare, Conosci) cooks Italian food on the premise that less is more. That's why you'll find simple and unfussy dishes like tagliatelle bolognese, thin-crust pizza margherita, and crunchy meatballs in tomato basil sauce at Alta Strada, whose DC location is one of a few across the East Coast. The intimate trattoria is a cozy spot for familiar Italian food, complete with desserts like Mascarporeos, an Oreo-like concoction of chocolate shortbread and mascarpone cream.

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6. Casolare Ristorante & Bar 2505 Wisconsin Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20007 (Glover Park)

Helmed by award-winning restaurateur Michael Schlow (Conosci, Alta Strada), Casolare serves a seafood-centric menu of time-honored Italian fare like grilled octopus, house-made pasta with clams, and branzino with roasted tomatoes, olives, and capers. The menu has Schlow's signature touch of elegant simplicity, with dishes that simultaneously comfort and impress. Beyond seafood, the baked eggplant appetizer, featuring layers of fried eggplant, cheese, and tomato sauce, is a must-try.

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7. Masseria 1340 4th St NE, Washington, DC 20002

Hidden in the rows of wholesale stores surrounding Union Market, you might miss Masseria if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Inside the wooden gate, the warehouse vibe gives way to a stylish courtyard, which leads to an industrial-chic covered patio and dining room. Both the decor and the menu are inspired by Chef Nicholas Stefanelli’s fond memories of Puglia’s idyllic landscapes and welcoming country houses. The tasting menu is the only way to play, unless you take a seat at the bar for small plates. Choose between a three-, four-, or five- course meal -- or splurge on the customized six-course La Cucina menu. The dishes are modern and artistic takes on classics, like the linguine with XO sauce and the tripe topped with lobster. Don’t skip the cocktails, or you’ll miss the smoke show that is the Fumo di Uva.

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8. The Inn at Little Washington Main St & Middle St , Washington, VA 22747

Thick floral curtains, rose-colored silk lampshades, and white tablecloths create a lavish oasis worthy of Downton Abbey at the Inn at Little Washington, where three tasting menus of upscale American fare are served alongside expert wine pairings. Though the dishes change frequently to ensure freshness, the menu is sure to feature some "enduring classics," including bourbon-glazed crispy veal sweetbreads, pan-roasted Maine lobster, and American Osetra Caviar with sweet crab and cucumber rillette.

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9. Centrolina 974 Palmer Alley NW, Washington, 20001 (Chinatown)

Situated in Chinatown, Centrolina is a bright and stylish Italian restaurant with an on-site market, meaning you can either pick up coffee, prepared foods, and specialty groceries for an authentic Italian meal at home, or dine in with refined plates including gnocchi with beef ragu, and pappardelle with roasted mushrooms. The menu's standout items are those that are wood-grilled, such as lamb chops with celery root crema. Expect the utmost freshness at Centrolina, as the roster changes based on seasonal ingredients and the pasta is made in-house daily.

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10. Vidalia 1990 M St NW, Washington, DC 20036 (Downtown)

Led by James Beard Award-winner Jeff Buben, this upscale restaurant in Downtown DC dresses up comforting Southern cuisine with Buben's famous shrimp & grits and reimagined dishes like chicken-fried veal sweetbreads, which sit atop a waffle with bacon fondue and lemon caper veal jus.

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11. Bistro Bis 15 E St NW, Washington, 20001 (Capitol Hill)

Come to this upscale French bistro on Capitol Hill during the day and you'll be surrounded by politicians in suits who give the space a hectic feel. That said, if you're looking for a more relaxed setting for a date or special occasion, stop in at dinnertime, and share a bottle of Côtes du Rhône as you indulge in traditional French dishes like steak frites, bouillabaisse, and beef bourguignon. You might want to share the bill, too, considering the higher prices at this refined restaurant, which sports the warm cherry woods and tiled floors of a classic brasserie.

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12. Woodward Table 1430 H St NW, Washington, DC 20005 (Downtown)

Housed inside the historic Woodward Building, the elegant Woodward Table boasts an expansive dining room and bar warmed by a hearth oven, which churns out rustic plates of artisan flatbreads, house-made charcuterie, roasted shrimp, and cast-iron skillet corn bread. It's hard to resist those comforting options, but the menu also features refined American dishes like potato-crusted Alaskan halibut and cider-braised pork shank, plus chicken & waffles and croque madame at brunch. Adjacent to the restaurant is Woodward Takeout Food (lovingly abbreviated to WTF), a counter-serve offering a huge selection of homemade baked goods, signature sandwiches, soups, and salads.

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13. Bad Saint 3226 11th St NW, Washington, DC 20010 (Columbia Heights)

This tiny 24-seat Filipino restaurant made waves in the restaurant world when it opened in 2016, earning a Michelin Bib Gourmand award, a spot on Bon Appétit’s Hot 10 list, and a rave review from The New York Times. Bad Saint's family-style dishes are hard to describe: they're traditional but different from all other Filipino food that classifies as traditional. The menu -- split between vegetables, fish, and meat -- changes often, but expect to find ukoy shrimp fritters, ceviche-like kinilaw, and air-dried cured beef with a runny farm egg. Getting a table at the no-reservations spot is historically not easy (on peak nights, you have to stand in line for more than an hour) but the experience is worth it.

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14. Thip Khao 3462 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20010 (Columbia Heights)

Named for the basket used to make Laotian sticky rice, Thip Khao comes from Chef Seng Luangrath (of the famous Thai-Lao restaurant Bangkok Golden in NoVa), who brings Southeast Asian cuisine and expert cocktails to DC with this sleek Columbia Heights spot. On the concise menu, you'll find specialties like grilled chicken thigh skewers with lemongrass and snakefish head steamed inside banana leaves with red curry. To cut the spice of your meal (feel free to let the waiter know how much heat you can tolerate), order the Phak Tai, a Laos-inspired cocktail with gin, mint, lemon, and sparkling sake.

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15. Maketto 1351 H St NE, Washington, 20002 (H Street Ne)

Maketto combines a restaurant, coffeeshop, bar, and clothing store into one massive, 6,000sqft venue on H Street NE. The 60-seat restaurant focuses on Cambodian and Taiwanese food for lunch and dinner, and if you're in the business of brunching, be sure to put the Sunday dim sum brunch on your bucket list. The retail store showcases international brands at upscale price points, and even if the merch is beyond your budget, the sheer variety is worth checking out. The second floor cafe serves Vigilante Coffee and bread from Frenchie's Bakery, plus a few pastries baked in house.

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16. Bindaas 3309 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, 20008 (Cleveland Park)

The decor at Cleveland Park's Bindaas, a chic and colorful space with light pouring in and modern art on its walls, matches the equally vibrant menu of surprisingly light Indian street food. James Beard Award-winning Chef Vikram Sundaram focuses on Indian delicacies that are relatively hard to come by in the samosa-heavy landscape of American Indian restaurants. You'll find sandwiches like the soft-griddled Goan pork sausage pao, uttapam rice pancakes, and savory chaat snacks like puffed rice with raw mango and masala popcorn on the menu. Indulge in a refreshing craft cocktail while you're here, like the Silk Road, reminiscent of a whiskey sour and sweetened with mango.

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17. Haikan 815 V St NW, Washington, DC 20001 (Shaw)

From the superstar team behind Daikaya and Bantam King, Haikan is a sleek ramen shop whose noodle bowls feature Sapporo-made noodles and the house's signature chicken, beef, and pork Chintan broth. The menu branches out with intriguing small plates like the fan-favorite mapo tofu poutine, which proves that mozzarella curds and spicy tofu are a surprisingly tasteful pair, especially when piled on crispy French fries. You'll find equally interesting cocktails on the menu, like the gin-based Wasabi Peas and the flashy Smoke Show, completed with a flaming piece of cedar.

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18. Bantam King 501 G St NW, Washington, 20001

No, the fast-food booths and cafeteria trays on the walls aren't a mistake: Bantam King operates within a renovated Burger King. Ramen with Sapporo-made noodles and a clear chicken-based broth is the speciality here, but don't overlook the fried chicken. The family-style platter is served with an array of sides, including coleslaw, mac & cheese, and Japanese potato salad. It's the perfect complement to all that salty broth.

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19. Kyirisan 1924 8th St NW, Washington, 20001 (Shaw)

From husband-and-wife duo Tim and Joey Ma, Kyrisan showcases Chef Tim Ma's signature style of blending Asian flavors with classic French technique. The restaurant's name is a combination of the Chinese words that represent the Ma's three children, and the spot offers an appropriate familial vibe. The innovative menu pushes boundaries with dishes like savory black truffle congee with natto, egg yolk, and duck confit; and crowd-favorite créme fraîche wings.

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20. Espita Mezcaleria 1250 9th St NW, Washington, 20001 (Shaw)

Decked out with street art on nearly every wall, Espita Mezcaleria is a serving up Southern Mexican fare and more than 85 mezcals with a hint of hipster flare in Shaw. Alongside excellent cocktails, the menu features everything from tacos and ceviches to seven different kinds of mole (go for the beef short rib option). There are a few shareable plates, too, like seared octopus with salsa, smoked barley, fried pabalo, and roasted cauliflower.

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21. Tail Up Goat 1827 Adams Mill Rd NW, Washington, DC 20009 (Adams Morgan)

This Michelin-starred Adams Morgan restaurant from Komi and Little Serow alums offers a funky Caribbean-meets-Mediterranean menu that'll encourage you to expand your culinary horizons. Admittedly, some of Tail Up Goat's dishes are wacky (goat lasagna with kale and anchovies), but they work. A portion of the menu is dedicated to creative bread preparations, like seaweed sourdough and bialys with trout roe, but the pasta and entrées are the real showstoppers. Try the cavatelli with spicy pork belly ragu and the tender lamb ribs... then savor the taste, you might never come across flavors this unique again.

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22. Ambar 523 8th St SE, Washington, DC 20003 (Capitol Hill)

Traditional Balkan cuisine gets a modern update at Ambar, a Capitol Hill restaurant where elegant rusticity can be found in both the decor (wooden beams and shelving line the space) and the menu's hearty small plates. The extensive wine list and rakia-infused cocktails (a fruit brandy popular in Eastern Europe) pair well with Ambar's solid lineup of sausages, flatbreads, and house-baked pies. There's no doubt the meat and poultry section is the star of the menu, featuring dishes like bacon & peanut pork tenderloin, chicken kebabs, and slow-cooked pork with cabbage slaw.

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23. Ottoman Taverna 425 I St, Washington, 20001 (Mount Vernon Sq)

Ancient food culture meets modern technique in the Turkish stunner Ottoman Taverna. Whether you're opting for kofte, kebabs, or sis cooked over charcoal -- or one of the pide (Turkish flatbreads) cooked in the wood-burning oven -- Chef Ilhan Erkek harnesses his grill like few others can in DC. Visually intriguing with intricate latticework, honeycomb light fixtures, and a vibrant mural, this stunning Mount Vernon Square spot is an excellent choice for non-meat eaters as well, as it offers multiple vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free items.

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24. Shouk 655 K St NW, Washington, 20001

Good food fast: that’s the impetus behind DC's Shouk, a Middle Eastern-inspired, vegetable-focused restaurant. All the dishes, from vegetable- or legume-stuffed pitas to polenta fries and beet salad, are plant-based. Even the labneh, a traditional Lebanese dairy spread, is made from fermented cashews. The counter-serve space might be conducive to a casual lunch, but tap wine and craft beer on the menu make it dinner-appropriate as well.

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25. Convivial 801 O St NW, Washington, 20001 (Shaw)

Chef Cedric Maupillier has taken his native French cuisine to the next level at this upscale Shaw restaurant. The menu is an exposé of crave-worthy but affordable plates like escargot pigs-in-a-blanket and ravioli stuffed with seasonal veggie purées. As far as cocktails go, expect to sip on minimalist drinks and European wines.

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26. La Jambe 1550 7th St NW, Washington, 20001 (Shaw)

Tucked into 7th Street in Shaw, La Jambe is your passport to Paris: this stylish wine bar sports graffiti art on its walls like you'd find in a Paris back-alley, and offers fine French wines, charcuterie, and cheese plates with tiny French flags piercing blocks of Brie. While small bites like a house-made walnut pesto toast make for a perfect snack, there's more substantial fare on the menu, too, including sandwiches like Le Croque Monsieur (Jambon de Paris, Comte, Emmental on toasted bread) and a plat du jour, which has featured dishes such as foie gras with caramelized apples.

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27. All Purpose 1250 9th St NW, Washington, 20001

All-Purpose brings together some pedigreed partners: the teams behind the dynamite Red Hen and neighborhood bar Boundary Stone. Together, they’ve created an Italian-American, red sauce-inspired joint, serving everything from eggplant parm and antipastis to house-made charcuterie. And don’t miss the pizzas: the dough goes through a three-day fermentation process that yields a naturally rich flavor and a crispy crust.

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28. Conosci 465 K St NW, Washington, 20001

Located down a curtained corridor inside of Chef Michael Schlow's other restaurant, Alta Strada, Conosci is an ode to Italian crudo. The kitchen uses only induction burners, steamers, and toaster ovens to craft three different tasting menus that showcase some of the best seafood in DC. Instead of a dedicated bar, Conosci has a cocktail cart that roves around the dining room serving drinks tableside.

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29. Smoked & Stacked 1239 9th St NW, Washington, 20001 (Shaw)

Smoked & Stacked is bringing Shaw some much-needed pastrami sandwiches. The breakfast and lunch spot is inspired by both Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley's California upbringing and her adoptive New York taste. Breakfast options include the clean-eating Cali Girl made with cured salmon, a fried egg, avocado, and sprouts, and the New Yorker, featuring thick & smoky pastrami, a fried egg, comte cheese, and hot pepper jelly. Build your own sandwich at lunch or keep it simple (but heavy) with the pastrami and Dijon mustard Stacked.

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30. Pineapple and Pearls 715 8th St SE, Washington, 20003 (Capitol Hill)

From Aaron Silverman of Rose’s Luxury, Pineapple and Pearls is a luxurious dining experience that nods to hospitality and elegance. The Capitol Hill restaurant opened in 2016 and was awarded two Michelin stars soon after, a recognition that should come as no surprise given Silverman's opening mission to reinvent fine dining. The 13-course tasting menu doesn't stick to one theme, instead, it features an array of avant garde courses that bounce between light and heavy. Dinner here comes with a heavy price tag, but there is a casual coffee bar in the front that serves sandwiches, pastries, and coffee during the day.

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31. The Shaw Bijou 1544 9th St NW, Washington, 20001 (Shaw)

Top Chef finalist Kwame Onwuachi's Shaw Bijou has solidified its place in DC's fine-dining scene -- and not without a glamorous splash. Situated in a renovated Shaw townhouse that's hip and homey, it's more of an experience than a restaurant: you're even required to purchase a $185 ticket online for the culinary show (hopeful visitors clamor for reservations as if they were newly released concert tickets; they're made available on the first of every month for the following month). You start off in a luxury cocktail lounge sporting comfy Icelandic sheepskin chairs, where you simply tell the seasoned bartender what flavors you're feeling that evening. After imbibing, you're guided through the kitchen, where you can witness dishes being primped and polished, and take photos with Onwuachi if you please (a food blogger's dream). Finally, you're moved to your table in the chic, exposed-brick dining room of only eight tables, where you consume multiple courses of avant-garde international plates inspired by Onwuachi's childhood memories. For all its pomp and circumstance, there's no dress code at Shaw Bijou, which furthers Onwuachi's goal of creating a comfortable space similar to a dinner party at his own home.

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32. Equinox 818 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20006 (Downtown)

Not to be confused with the chain of gyms Kanye made famous, Equinox is James Beard Award-winning Chef Todd Gray's mid-Atlantic culinary experiment, where upscale plates with minimalist presentation are served without pretension. As elegant as the white-tablecloth setting is (it's practically neighbors with the White House, after all), the service and plates aren't snobby, only inventive. The menu's dominated by locally sourced seafood courses like BBQ salmon filet, roasted redfish, and pistachio-crusted tout, plus a smattering of chicken, pasta, and vegan options.

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33. Daikaya 705 6th St NW, Washington, DC 20001 (Chinatown)

Don’t let the wait for this Chinatown ramen shop deter you: it’s more than worth it for the chewy noodles imported from Japan and the chicken, pork, and beef Chintan stock that’s cooked over 16 hours for extra richness. An unsuspecting standout among the Sapporo-style ramen on offer is the vegan version topped with Brussels sprouts, snow peas, carrots, and braised shiitake mushrooms. As if the ramen didn’t already, Daikaya’s wooden accents, dangling lightbulbs, and blue- and yellow-striped walls will have you feeling warm and cozy.

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34. Rose's Luxury 717 8th St SE, Washington, DC 20003 (Capitol Hill)

Situated in a converted townhouse on Capitol Hill, Rose's Luxury is a twinkle-lit, farmhouse-chic restaurant that draws crowds for its bold small plates. Unfortunately for those crowds, it doesn't accept reservations. Get here early for dinner and you can nab a front-row seat at the chef's counter overlooking the open kitchen, where shareable dishes like Thai-marinated pork blade steak and boudin-stuffed jalapeño are prepared with precision.