Washington DC is making waves in the culinary world and is increasingly considered one of the top American dining destinations by amateur foodies and professional food critics alike. Holding court with other gourmet stalwarts like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and New Orleans, DC is no longer all about boring business dinners on the Hill or stuffy Lobbyist luncheons on K Street. No, the U.S. capital city is a silo of farm to table freshness, a rainbow of international cuisine options, a mecca of creative delicatessen delights.
Travel + Leisure has listed Washington as #18 of America’s 37 best foodie cities.
When considering which restaurants to invest your time and money in while visiting DC, the Washingtonian’s Top 100 list of restaurants is a great place to start. The list is updated yearly, but many of the favorites remain in the top spots, although competition is pretty fierce with constant new openings vying for diners’ attention. The city’s dining-out culture coupled with the draw of international creativity and talent drive that necessary competitive nature, keeping most restaurants on their toes, forcing them to continually strive for perfection to win the business of increasingly sophisticated dinners with really high standards. As Darwin would contend, this weeds out the complacent, mediocre establishments and keeps the dining scene fresh and exciting!
Below, I’ve included the top 10 from The Washingtonian’s 2012 100 Very Best Restaurant List, seven of which I’ve glutinously experienced for myself!
The perennial favorite, Komi, has graced the coveted #1 spot for many years. This lovely yet unpretentious Mediterranean eatery features a chalk board menu that changes with the seasons. Located in the heart of Dupont Circle, Komi was walking distance from my house in DC. My friend Christina and I treated ourselves for my birthday one year. The ultimate dining experiences transport you, mind body and soul, much like traveling to an exotic locale.
The only ones below that I’ve not had the fortune of frequenting are: The Inn at Little Washington (a bit of a drive out of town), Fiola (new since I’ve departed), and Minibar (was always on my list, but I never made it to Jose Andres’ 27 course, 6-seater experience. I did dine at his Cafe Atlantico, which houses and surrounds the minibar, on several occasions).
A few notes about the other Top 10’s: Citronelle and CityZen are extremely extravagant (as in- will put a large dent in your wallet). Expect to drop $350 or more on a dinner for two. We can chalk this up to a really special occasion! You need a dinner coat to dine at Citronelle, as we discovered. Have no fear; they won’t turn you away. They will, however, lend you a dinner jacket for the evening. Stuffy? Pretentious? Maybe. Worth it? Definitely.* Rasika offers creative modern Indian cuisine with a hip, urban ambiance. Palena is pricy but delicious. A more frugal option would be to dine in the cafe (located in the same building). The same delicious food at a fraction of the cost. Vidalia offers soul-soothing southern cuisine with a creative flare, and Marcel’s elegant French/Belgian dining room never misses a mark (I took my parents here on one of their visits to DC). Do me a favor, will ya? Read the reviews below from the Washingtonian. They’re much better than mine!
1509 17th St., NW; 202-332-9200
Read Review | Call for Reservations
The Inn at Little Washington
309 Middle St., Washington, Va.; 540-675-3800
Latham Hotel, 3000 M St., NW; 202-625-2150
405 Eighth St., NW; 202-393-0812
3529 Connecticut Ave., NW;202-537-9250
Call for Reservations
1330 Maryland Ave., SW; 202-787-6006
633 D St., NW; 202-637-1222
601 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-628-2888
2401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-296-1166
1990 M St., NW; 202-659-1990
Going to DC? Want an easy, printable list of the Top 100 Restaurants? Click here.
Other favorites of mine from this list: Bibiana (great Italian), Bar Pilar (delicious small plates & fun atmosphere- in my old hood!), Bistro Bis (French- get the beef tartar!), Brasserie Beck (Belgian/French- great city atmosphere), Blue Duck Tavern (Pres O eats here), Birch & Barley (in my old hood- fun atmosphere, good food), Bourbon Steak (amazing- go for lunch to get the best deal), Central Michel Richard (another cheaper option if you want the Citronelle quality- best burger and lobster burger), Cava (fun Mediterranean tapas), Corduroy, Cork (sit by the kitchen and watch the chefs), Eola (great food and atmosphere in Dupont), Estadio (delicious Spanish cuisine- in my old neighborhood), Graffiato (Top Chef’s Mike Isabella- we got to see him chefing!), Jaleo (great Spanish tapas chain- inexpensive), Makoto (real Japanese, quite the experience), Montmartre (delectable Belgian/French in Eastern Market & not expensive), Obelisk (pricy but delicious), Liberty Tavern (great brunch- in Arlington, VA), Ray’s the Steaks (favorite and affordable steaks, in Arlington), Restaurant Eve (one of my all-time-best restaurant experiences, very pricey, but try the $13 weekday lunch bar menu- such a steal & “best deal in DC”), PS 7’s, Proof (great wine selection), Poste (great for just drinks, too), 1789 (classic, in an old DC brownstone), 2 Amys (amazing pizza), Tallula (old favorite haunt in Arlington), Tosca (good Italian), The Source (city-chic), Zatinya (amazing tapas, even better atmosphere).
Some of my other favorites, not on the Top 100 list: Bodega (Spanish tapas in Georgetown, the most authentic in DC, “lunchbox” 3 tapas for $12.95 is the best deal in town!), Old Ebbitt Grill (a classic DC institution that should not be missed), The Capital Grille (another DC institution, great for politico viewing and tasty steaks), Guajillo (one of our all-time favorite Mexican joints in Arlington- so authentic and cheap!), Rosa Mexicano (good Mexican, great margaritas, best location), Lauriol Plaza (another good Mexican spot, a great place to sit outside on a pretty day or start the night in happening Adams Morgan w/ great margs), Acqua Al 2 (great understated Italian on the Hill), Filomena (classic Georgetown Italian establishment- go during Christmas season!), Cafe du Parc (see and be seen! wonderful outside French dining a la Paris, close to White House), Bistro Du Coin (delicious and fun French eatery – always packed!), La Chaumiere (French, lovely, romantic- in Georgetown), Malaysia Kopitiam (one of DC’s only Malaysian dives- try the skate for something adventurous!).
I hope this post has been insightful and can aid you on your culinary adventure through Washington DC! Stay tuned for more posts on the capital city, featuring festivals, activity highlights, and fun nightlife.
Thanks for reading!
* Note: Citronelle has permanently closed it’s doors -2013.