Top Restaurants in Washington, D.C.

From Rasika’s spicy Indian comfort food to Whaley’s Chesapeake Bay oysters to the pop tarts (yes, pop tarts!) at Ted’s Bulletin, it’s downright impossible to pick the single best place to eat in Washington, D.C.

Highlights
501 9th Street Northwest
José Andrés’s futuristic Willy Wonka cocktail factory, Barmini, is a playground for the adult imagination and taste buds. Liquid nitrogen wafts from beakers as mixologists deliver hits of scented smoke to customers along the futuristic all-white bar and the Alice in Wonderland–inspired lounge cubbies. Each drink has its own ritual preparation, from the thematic glass in which it’s served to the tweezer-precise placement of garnishes. You can even pair drinks with “snacks” from the kitchen shared with Minibar, Andrés’s adjacent two-Michelin-star restaurant. For the best experience, chat up the mixologists—you may even get to sample a concoction that hasn’t yet hit the menu.
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!
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.”
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.
1622 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009, USA
Whether it’s brunch, happy hour, or date night, Barcelona Wine Bar’s shared-plate dining and drinking experience is a D.C. socialite staple. Mingle over pitchers of red wine sangria with a rotation of farm-to-table tapas, including a light spinach and manchego frittata with a bacon crunch at brunch and a spicy eggplant caponata with sweet pepper, basil, and parsley at dinner. People-watch from the garden patio or gather inside the rustic-chic dining room, where the Jamon Mangalica ham being hand-sliced will inspire you to order the charcuterie. After crisscrossing arms with your dining partners to share bites of elevated, familiar flavors, finish on a comfort-food high with a spoon fight over their luscious flourless (gluten-free) chocolate cake. You can do it all again at a second location on Wisconsin Avenue in Cathedral Heights.
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!
Tucked under an interstate overpass south of the Smithsonian Institution Castle is the Maine Avenue Fish Market, the oldest continuously operating open-air fish market in the United States. This no-frills landmark has served D.C. since 1805, and its smell, grit, and grime is all part of its authentic appeal. Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean oysters, shrimp, crabs, clams, and more are delivered fresh daily, and can be shucked or steamed and seasoned on-site. Seating is limited, but not for long. New District Wharf development continues to roll out its Southwest waterfront upgrades. For a scenic seafood picnic, walk the half mile to the grounds of the Jefferson Memorial or north to the National Mall.
1704 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20009, USA
Inspired by Argentinean gelaterías, the husband-wife founders of Dolcezza introduced artisanal gelato to the District back in 2004 and have been opening new locations ever since. Using seasonal ingredients, they craft upwards of 300 flavors each year. From classics like Stracciatella and Salted Caramel to more unique combinations like Lemon Opal Basil and Avocado Honey Lime, each scoop of flavor is delicate yet bold. You can even tour the chain’s Factory and Coffee Lab, where the hands-on process of infusing and spinning takes place. Their small-batches of gelatos and sorbettos are distributed to their storefronts, farmers’ market stands, and pop-ups throughout the city for daily enjoyment. Top off the experience with a Stumptown espresso drink or a pint of gelato to take home.
1213 U St NW
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
1924 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
Just a few blocks from the White House, this farm-to-table spot is so hot that lines often stretch down the block, even at breakfast. Good news for singles and doubles: Seats at the ample bar turn over more quickly and are first-come, first-served. The menu reflects the restaurant’s unique position as a 40,000-farmer-strong cooperative. At breakfast, dig into a roasted vegetable scramble (don’t skip the smoky grilled housemade ciabatta balanced on the edge of your plate), chicken and waffles, or red velvet pancakes and know that the ingredients are as fresh and local as they can be. The emphasis on freshness goes for cocktails, too—Founding Farmers’ bar offerings regularly rank high in the Washington City Paper’s annual polls, so order a Bloody Mary, why don’t you?
400 8th St NW, Washington, DC 20004, USA
A visit to this fragrant tea shop and café may convince coffee lovers to switch their caffeine source. Part of a local chain of four stores (the others are in Penn Quarter, Union Market, and Dupont Circle), the retail side offers loose tea in tins and sachets while meals are served at café tables and bentwood chairs in the bright café space. The breakfast menu is ecumenical, but lunch focuses on pan-Asian bento boxes, South Indian curries, and Korean brisket sandwiches. Best of all, after a day of meetings or sightseeing, make time to indulge in Teaism’s afternoon tea, served with sweet and savory treats, a wide selection of teas (of course!), and a glass of prosecco.
1309 5th St NE, Washington, DC 20002, USA
Union Market is the perfect D.C. destination if you’re searching for a weekend brunch spot, craving a snack on your way to visit the Capitol, or, you know, hungry. Oyster bar, bakery, taqueria, soda shop, sandwich shop, Korean taco grill—all of the food is here waiting for you. The 47,000-square-foot space is a throwback to the original Union Terminal Market, which opened in 1931 with more than 700 produce, meat, fish, and dairy vendors in airy indoor stalls. The market moved to a warehouse in the 1960s and closed in the 1980s before reopening in 2012. When you’re finished stuffing your face, you can shop for home goods and vintage finds at shops like Little Leaf and Salt & Sundry.
1700 1st St NW
This Bloomingdale neighborhood fixture is home to an inviting atmosphere, with friendly staff and patrons, an exposed brick interior, and a fantastic outdoor patio surrounded by vines. By day, it’s a casual and lovely coffeehouse where you can indulge in cortados, cappuccinos, and French press coffees courtesy of Counter Culture—not to mention hearty breakfast and lunch sandwiches and salads. Nighttime transforms Big Bear into a sit-down candlelit restaurant featuring a seasonal menu using farm-fresh ingredients, as well as live music showcasing local area jazz, folk, and bluegrass acts on weekends.
505 8th Street Southeast
Brothers Mark and Ty Neal built Ted’s Bulletin as an homage to their father, who loved to feed his family, his friends, his neighbors, and random passersby. The restaurant is a comfortable 1930s-style American diner serving up classy takes on popular comfort foods such as burgers, tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, and pasta and meatballs. Here’s where the menu gets more interesting: You can order six flavors of house-made pop tarts, milk shakes (boozy or not), and breakfasts like the “Big Mark” (three eggs, two sausages, two slices of bacon, hash browns, toast, and a pop tart). Weekend brunches tend to be busiest, usually with hour-long waits; reservations strongly recommended.
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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