The Best Restaurants in Washington, D.C.

A boom of new restaurants, especially along 14th Street, has made eating in D.C. more satisfying the ever. Case in point: Ryan Ratino’s Bresca, which shakes off any notions of capital city stodginess with its thrillingly unusual flavor combinations. Among the Michelin stars and celebrity chefs, you’ll find a global culinary perspective, from Ethiopian to Western Thai to Greek. D.C. also continues to champion local seafood and maintain tradition at its taverns.

1213 U Street, Washington D.C.
No trip to D.C. is complete without ordering the district’s signature dish, the half-smoke. And while many restaurants serve it, there’s only one worthy of your order: Ben’s Chili Bowl. The popular landmark diner has been feeding the community and cultural icons since the area’s “Black Broadway” days, when jazz greats such as Miles Davis enjoyed this comfort food classic. When riots broke out after Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968, Ben’s remained open and served both police and protesters. While the U Street Corridor has undergone an urban makeover, Ben’s has remained the same, serving its quarter-pound of half-pork/half-beef smoked sausage on a bun with mustard and onions, all smothered in spicy homemade chili sauce. The prestigious James Beard Foundation even took notice, deeming it one of “America’s Classics.” Bring cash and come hungry.
1351 H Street Northeast
Inspired by vibrant Southeast Asian night markets, D.C. chef Erik Bruner-Yang (of Toki Underground fame) and D.C. streetwear mogul Will Sharp created a sleek, two-story indoor/outdoor space that’s part menswear store, part café and restaurant. The first level is all about shopping, and the floor is lined with glass-encased displays featuring Sharp’s clothing line, Durkl, as well as a library full of designer sneakers. Upstairs, sip locally roasted Vigilante coffee while snacking on Frenchie’s pastries and desserts. The best part, though, is when you step onto the patio and take a seat at the open kitchen serving up Yang’s blazing hot and flavorful Cambodian and Taiwanese cuisine. Don’t miss out on the American Wagyu tartare, the Khmer tamarind salad, the steamed pork bao buns, and zha ji pai (Taiwanese fried chicken).
717 8th St SE, Washington, DC 20003, USA
Chef/owner Aaron Silverman’s farmhouse restaurant, in the heart of Barracks Row, serves creative (and Michelin-starred) cooking inspired by his travels and culinary training in the American South, Mexico, the Mediterranean, and Southeast Asia. Pork sausage and lychee salad is a menu mainstay; most other dishes are rotated out frequently to make way for “new stuff,” anything from grilled cucumber with coconut and anchovy to jumbo lump crab with squash blossom. Groups of six to 12 can make online reservations, all others should be prepared to wait a while. Line up before the 5 p.m. opening time to snag a seat at the counter facing the open kitchen and wood-burning stove.
1601 14th Street Northwest
Le Diplomate brings France’s chic bistro culture to D.C.’s trendy U Street Corridor. Upon entering through its bright blue door frame, the high ceilings, antique decor, and bread-cart centerpiece will have you checking for your passport. The classic French cuisine is on display with colorful salads, juicy steak frites, and rich crème brûlée. The only reminders that you’re still in America are the generous portions and the warm, attentive service. Request a seat in the glass-enclosed and tiled sunroom, where the wall reads “Blanchisserie de Chemise,” an homage to the location’s former life as a laundromat. This District arrondissement certainly welcomes the tasty transformation. Bon appétit!
1906 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009, USA
Chef Ryan Ratino opened his first solo restaurant at age 27, riding a wave of momentum from stints at D.C.’s Ripple and New York’s Dovetail and WD-50. He’s made a big splash, racking up accolades including best new restaurant from the Washington City Paper in 2018. (Nonprofit Zero Food Print also recognized Bresca as the city’s first carbon neutral fine-dining restaurant.) Ratino’s surprising flavor combinations usually delight and always keep things interesting. Consider foie gras “black forest” with sour cherry, dark chocolate, and beets, or burrata and baby carrots with figs and chamomile. Much of the menu consists of these snacks and medium-size plates, and the decor has a similar vibrancy, from the wall of live moss in an electric shade of green to the brilliant blue velvet and tile work.
3226 11th St NW, Washington, DC 20010, USA
Rain or shine, the line outside Bad Saint starts forming two hours before it opens, when the first 25 diners get seated inside this tiny, no-reservations Filipino hot spot in Columbia Heights. The familial staff extend a warm welcome, while the sound of sizzling meat stimulates the senses. The food is serious, spicy business and includes authentic, family-style dishes such as ginataang puso ng saging (a cold, coconut-milk stew of banana blossom and pepper), kilawin na tambakol (a habanero-spiced tuna ceviche), and inihaw na liempo (lettuce wraps of grilled pork belly). Don’t make any final decisions without hearing the nightly special—and if it’s the sweet-potato-flour fried chicken with chili vinaigrette dripping sauce, order it!
1822 1st St NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA
Nestled in charming Bloomingdale, the rustic Red Hen is a golden egg of D.C.’s dining scene. Chef/owner Michael Friedman (also of All Purpose Pizza) has created an inviting home for culinary pleasures like the cool taste of soft, bulbous burrata and classics like an elevated rigatoni pasta with fennel sausage ragu. Inspired by Italian and Jewish traditions, the vibe is familial, and thoughtful attention is paid to each dish, drink, and decor detail. The best seats are at the bar next to the open kitchen, where you can watch the grilling, flipping, frying, chopping, baking, and plating. Don’t leave without dessert—the maple custard with a caramelized hazelnut crumble will transport you.
480 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20004, USA
Acclaimed chef José Andrés brings his love of tapas to the D.C. area with Jaleo. The warm and spacious restaurant in Crystal City serves an impressive assortment of traditional small dishes and wines from Spain that include many vegetarian and gluten-free options. Don’t skip the famous patatas bravas—fried potatoes with spicy tomato and aioli sauce—or the sparkling sangrias. This is a great place to come with a group—it means more to share and sample. On weekends, diners can opt for a tasting menu of brunch tapas and glass of cava or mimosa for $30 a person.
675 15th St NW, Washington, DC 20005, USA
This iconic Washington restaurant and bar has moved several times since it began as a boarding house/tavern in 1856, but its present location, a block from the White House, speaks to its history. Presidents Grant, Johnson, Cleveland, McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, Harding, and other high-powered politicos were known to frequent Ebbitt’s—and account for quite a bit of the memorabilia on display. Take time to stroll through the dining rooms and four bars to fully take in the collection here: antique beer steins, taxidermied animal heads (supposedly hunted by Roosevelt himself), wooden bears from Alexander Hamilton, and paintings depicting D.C. and Chesapeake Bay scenery. When it’s time to order, enjoy what Ebbitt’s does best: stiff drinks, fine wines, Maryland crab cakes, and fresh oysters.
4822 MacArthur Blvd NW, Washington, DC 20007, USA
“The menu at this authentic Japanese restaurant changes constantly. This place is legit authentic Japanese, they even make you take off your shoes and wear their slippers … Men have to wear a button-down collared shirt, so be ready. You can order from their menu a la carte, but the thing to do is make reservations and get their tasting menu. This is what we do every time and it never disappoints. The tasting menu is about seven to eight dishes depending on what the chef decides to send. The meal is unforgettable. In signature Japanese style, the dishes are small, but compact with tons of awesome flavors.” —Kevin Diedrich, a bar manager and consultant who grew up in Northern Virginia.
122 Blagden Alley NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA
Follow the red brick through Blagden Alley to The Dabney, the cozy Michelin-starred restaurant where Chef Jeremiah Longhorne is putting Mid-Atlantic cuisine on the map. Inside, the fire blazes high from the wood-burning hearth in the open kitchen, where red-kernel corn bread (gluten-free) is baked upon order in single-serve cast iron skillets. A chalkboard wall en route to the restroom acts as an inspiration board of seasonal ingredients, all of which are sourced from local farms or the restaurant’s rooftop garden. Order a selection of small plates and sides to sample these revived, regional recipes that use NOMA-inspired techniques like pickling and fermenting to create complex yet complementary flavor combinations in each bite.
633 D Street Northwest
Rasika means “flavors” in Sanskrit, and its modern Indian cuisine has been spicing up the Penn Quarter for more than a decade (a West End location followed in 2012). The sophisticated lounge is accented by the bold aromas and flavors of timeless recipes perfected and reimagined by James Beard Award–winning chef Vikram Sunderam. Tandoori salmon is baked to tender perfection, with a kick of spice from the coating of Kashmiri chili, cinnamon, and black pepper. Book a reservation before 6:30 p.m. to take advantage of the $37 pre-theatre prix-fixe steal, which includes Rasika’s raved-about palak chaat, a crispy spinach salad with sweet yogurt.
701 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA
In the heart of D.C.'s Penn Quarter, Zaytinya serves up a variety of tapas inspired by traditional dishes from Greece, Lebanon, and Turkey. It also has a selection of wines from such Eastern Mediterranean countries and seasonally serves a hot tea with a blooming jasmine flower. Falafel, hummus, and roasted cauliflower are among my favorite menu items. Try the Turkish coffee at weekend brunch.
800 16th Street Northwest
Up a few steps from the Hay-Adams’s lobby is the hotel’s elegant restaurant, the Lafayette, a windowed dining room dressed to the nines with gleaming silverware and crystal chandeliers, fresh flowers, and crisp white tablecloths. The windows overlook Lafayette Square and the White House beyond and, because the room’s elevated above the street, the view confers a strong sense of place without allowing the visual noise of the cars and pedestrians outside. The menu, featuring a refined American cuisine closely tied to the season, outshines even the elegant surroundings. At some hotel restaurants with culinary ambitions, breakfast tastes like an afterthought, but the Lafayette offers diverse and tasty options, making it a favorite for breakfast meetings. Lunch standouts include Maryland crab cakes, Cobb salad, and gnocchi while the dinner star is a classic Dover sole. Service strikes the tasteful balance between warmth and formality.
1827 Adams Mill Rd NW, Washington, DC 20009, USA
With subtle, sea-inspired decor, low lighting, warm service, and perfectly paced plates, Tail Up Goat’s Zen-like dining experience will have you doing downward dogs. A palate-cleansing shrub shot starts the ritual before the poetic menu (including actual poetry from Rainer Maria Rilke) mesmerizes with modern Mediterranean fare. Carbs are central, with sections for flavorful, fresh-baked bread and spreads as well as house-made pastas, which are cooked al dente (even their gluten-free substitute). The moment of enlightenment comes with a full-table order of fall-off-the-bone lamb ribs atop a tangy yogurt slaw. This nirvana makes Tail Up Goat a Michelin-star mantra to be repeated: “Yummmmm.”
1511 17th St NW, Washington, DC 20036, USA
Little Serow’s northern Thai dining experience is a sensory adventure. The minimalist, cavernous room is a blank canvas for James Beard Award–winning chef Johnny Monis to paint palates with the bitter, funky, spicy, and salty ingredients found throughout the region’s mountainous jungles. There’s no pad thai here. Instead, the staples include laap (a minced meat salad with offal and crispy shallots), si krong muu (fall-off-the-bone pork ribs marinated in Mekhong whiskey), and sides of sticky rice to balance the sweat-inducing heat of dried spices and herbs. The set menu changes weekly, and at only $49, it’s worth queuing up outside.
1346 Florida Ave NW, Washington, DC 20009, USA
Open that teal door down an alleyway in D.C.’s bustling 14th and U Street neighborhood and like in Alice In Wonderland, you’ll be transported to another world. Just inside the door, Maydan’s cooks fan and stoke the flames of a firepit. Lamb shoulders smoke overhead, pita bread bakes in clay ovens, and vegetables char over coals. The flavorful shared-plates menu of spreads, kebabs, vegetables, and more is inspired by homemade meals shared throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Caucasus. Maydan, which means “gathering place” in Arabic dialects, succeeds at creating a communal dining experience where food and conversation is exchanged across the table. Grab a reservation in advance (available open 28 days ahead at midnight) and request a seat downstairs for a front-row view of the mesmerizing open-fire cooking spectacle.
3301 Georgia Ave NW, Washington, DC 20010, USA
Park View’s Call Your Mother leans on the “ish” in “Jew-ish Deli” by adding creative twists to their wood-fired bagels. Whether you opt for savory like “The Amar’e,” a middle eastern-spiced za’atar bagel with candied salmon cream cheese, crispy shallots, radish, and cucumbers, or sweet like “The Rashida,” a sesame bagel with apple, honey, and bacon peanut butter spread, Call Your Mother’s playful, carb-centric menu will satiate. While my gluten-free diet only allowed me to sample spoonfuls of their melt-in-your-mouth spreads and schmears, the constant line out the door confirms the food is geshmak. The team’s attention to detail extends from the kitchen to the kitsch decor, including a wall of framed photos of half-Jewish rapper Drake, a nod to founder Andrew Dana’s own half-Jewish upbringing as well as his love of hip-hop. Dana’s taste in music also powers the soundtrack and that, along with the bright turquoise and pink decor, keeps the energy in line upbeat. According to Dana, their success is due to an unyielding work ethic that they honed while opening and running Timber Pizza Company. They love what they do and will never stop giving their all to the community.
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