Washington, D.C. is a city that takes its two biggest pastimes very seriously: politics and dining out. If you’re an adventurous eater, there is plenty to occupy your attention, as our nation’s capital is bursting with dining choices. Blessed by the bounty of land and sea, the Chesapeake region offers a steady source of foodstuffs for our tables year round. Depending on the season, you can slurp sweet Rappahannock River oysters that were dreaming in silt-lined beds only hours before, enjoy the crunch of a Pink Lady apple grown within a few miles of the White House, or sip a glass of world-class Virginia wine.
The dining scene in D.C. is a melting pot in the truest sense of the word, thanks to the influence of expats, chefs, and restaurant owners from dozens of countries, and you can find restaurants offering Afghan, Ethiopian, Balkan, Indian, French, Austrian, and countless other cuisines. And now the city boasts a growing craft brewing and artisanal distilling industry; think DC Brau and Green Hat Gin.
Choosing the top 10 restaurants wasn’t easy, so we relied on a little help from our friends, people whose opinions we respect and who really know D.C. Our reviewers included local bloggers, food writers, and other foodies, and all of us chose the entries based on the quality of the service, the feel of the space, and the beauty, creativity, and flavor of the food. As our only epicurean president, we think Thomas Jefferson would find Washington’s culinary diversity deliciously rewarding, and we are sure you will too. Please enjoy our Best of D.C. list:
10) 1789 Restaurant
Ask most Washingtonians what words come to mind when they think of 1789 Restaurant and you hear things like, [slideshow: 1602860] “Grande Dame,” “Power Dining,” and “THE place for Easter and Mother’s Day.” From the beginning, 1789 was meant to be a place revered for its traditions, the opulence of its food, the discretion of its waiters, and the romance of its dining room. The complex flavors and hearty dishes offer a gourmand mouthwatering choices, but we have a different approach to the menu. Revel in just three courses from the Second Course menu and you will experience chef Samuel Kim’s true genius. One test of the greatness of a chef is his or her ability to cook an egg correctly. Begin with the “Coddled Egg” and you will see greatness unfold before you. The sweetness of the golden yolk is complimented by the umami of the duxelles prepared with chanterelle, maitake, and oyster mushrooms, but it’s the spicy meatiness of the pork ‘Nduja sausage that is the dish’s star. Infused with the creamy flavor of the ink, the squid ink Tagliarini is laced with the sweetness of squid, calamari, and Maryland blue crab with a hint of jalapeño. Tossed with Meyer lemon confit and breadcrumbs, this is not your Nonna’s pasta: the spice of the chili and the tang of the lemon confit counterbalance the silky richness of the dish. The last dish is an homage to the beauty of rustic ingredients elevated by butter. The potato gnocchi are light and pillowy and soak up the aromas and savory flavors of the fried Burgundy snails, baby leeks, and smoked quail eggs. The beurre noisette is like the nightcap to a perfect meal and each dish is a vignette of the chef’s latest work of art.
9) Belga Café
Belgium is not a country many Americans are familiar with, and they definitely don’t see many restaurants featuring the native cuisine, but at Belga Café they make the exploring the menu worth the effort. What stands out here is the personal service combined with a homey atmosphere and a fabulous beer and wine selection served by knowledgeable professionals. Newbies should start with an order of garnaal beignets. They are light, crispy batter-fried shrimp served with a tomato mayonnaise; what’s not to like? Then move on to one of the great carnivore dishes: quintessential steak frites Belge. The tenderloin lives up to its name and is properly seasoned and cooked with a great crust, but the frites are true to form and quite a revelation. They are first properly blanched and then refried so the outer part of the potato is brown and crisp while the interior is meltingly soft and piping hot. Be sure to try the beer béarnaise with your steak. It is totally Belgian and should be generously slathered on your meat, eaten with a spoon, or dipped with bread. You choose. For a return to reality, we suggest you finish with a slightly bitter endive salad, and then enjoy a large glass of Trappist ale. Then you really will feel you are doing it Belgian style.