The Best Food and Drink in Washington DC for 2019
December 20, 2018
The nation’s capital…. of food
The Best Food and Drink in Washington DC
You might not be happy with everything that’s going on in Washington, but you can be sure you’ll be happy with the food. It never disappoints. The city’s ever-changing food scene has enough hype to drown out the noise of everyone always arguing about politics — and once you dig in, politics won’t even seem to matter. We’ve rounded up the best of the state’s eats as part of our second annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
The nation’s capital serves up gourmet (and not-so-gourmet, but equally delicious) offerings at some of the country’s best restaurants. Washington’s proximity to the ocean and thriving food culture has attracted chefs from all over the world to set up shop in this expansive city. Every year, new neighborhoods become hot spots for tourists and other travelers.
Over the course of the past year we’ve honored everything from its best hot dogs and brunch spot to its best bar and craft beer in our comprehensive and wide-ranging lists and rankings, compiled through extensive research and with input from a wide network of site contributors, bloggers, journalists, and chefs. We’ve compiled these into individual slideshows celebrating the best food and drink in every state, and you can find our Washington DC gallery ahead.
Best Bar: Old Ebbitt Grill
Photo by Maureen H. via Yelp
Many people visit Washington, D.C., for its history, and so it makes sense that when looking for a drink, one should check out the oldest saloon in the city. Established in 1856, Old Ebbitt Grill has served most of our presidents since then, starting with Ulysses S. Grant. It’s moved several times over the years, but it’s currently less than a block from the White House itself. Old Ebbitt Grill bartenders can make nearly any cocktail, but there are a dozen seasonal cocktails on offer, too, like the signature Bloody Maryland. It’s the bar’s take on the classic Bloody Mary with the addition of a jumbo shrimp and a glass rimmed with Old Bay seasoning. The deep mahogany bar is a sight to behold: A beautiful antique stein collection runs along the top, punctuated by animal head trophies purportedly bagged by Teddy Roosevelt. Try the oysters; there is an oyster happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. daily and again from 11 p.m. until close. Feeling fancy? Go for the wine, as Old Ebbitt won Wine Spectator magazine’s “Award of Excellence” for 18 years in a row, from 1998 to 2015.
Best Beer: On the Wings of Armageddon, DC Brau Brewing Company
Yelp / Greg J
DC Brau Brewing Co.’s On the Wings of Armageddon is a world-class imperial IPA. Though many imperial IPAs are held in high regard, this single-hopped beer has a marvelous mellow bitterness that does not give way to its weighty 9.2 percent ABV.
Best Brunch: Seasons, Four Seasons Hotel (Georgetown)
The super-luxe Four Seasons Georgetown is home to Seasons Restaurant, where power brokers and movers and shakers rub shoulders with regular folks in search of the city’s finest brunch buffet. For $85, diners can enjoy a selection of meat, fish, and game (grilled lamb chops, braised short ribs, Maryland crab cakes, seafood gumbo); seafood (shrimp cocktail, oysters, crab claws, house smoked salmon, grilled octopus poke, blackened tuna, scallops, lobster salad, ceviche); salads (grilled endive, Cobb, escarole with caramelized pear, baby kale and Brussels sprouts); omelettes with fillings including shiitake mushrooms and jumbo lump crab; a wide variety of sides; assorted cheeses and charcuterie; Mexican street tacos; a Reuben sandwich station; and an astounding array of house-made desserts. Bring your appetite!
Best Burger: Ray’s Hell Burger
After the closure of Michael Landrum’s two D.C.-area locations of Ray’s Hell Burger, devotees despaired that they’d never again be able to enjoy these perfectly seared, ingeniously topped burgers. The third outpost, in Arlington, closed down as well, but thankfully a three year-old D.C. location is still going strong. Hand-trimmed, aged in-house, fresh-ground throughout the day, and hand-formed, these burgers are a sight to behold.
Best Chinese Restaurant: China Boy
Photo by Valery C. via Yelp
Located in the heart of D.C.’s Chinatown, China Boy is a tiny hole in the wall that’s attracted droves of loyal devotees thanks to one thing: its authentic Chinese noodles.
Chow foon (wide rice noodles), crêpes, and noodle soups with chicken, beef, shrimp, roast pork, or beef tripe is all you’ll find on the menu, but it’s made with such care and attention to detail that you’ll find yourself returning again and again, and turning everyone you know on to your new lunchtime destination.
Best Chocolate Shop: Harper Macaw
Harper Macaw is a true chocolate factory in the heart of Washington, D.C. When you walk through their doors, you’ll find artisanal chocolate bars made with beans from three specific Brazilian cacao farms. The blended bars bring out the best flavors from each cacao bean, but what makes this shop distinctive is its more whimsical offerings, including politically-inspired bars and a raspberry cheesecake chocolate.
Best Coffee Shop: Peregrine Espresso
In addition to good service and good coffee, Peregrine Espresso is a shop that cares deeply about education and sustainability. Baristas from all three locations further their coffee knowledge and prowess through regional and national barista and brewers competitions, and Peregrine also holds classes and events meant to further educate the public about coffee. In addition to a wide variety of coffees, they serve some of the best hot chocolate in D.C., as well as organic tea, croissants, muffins, tea cakes, fruit scones, fig bars, and more. You'll enjoy it even more knowing that Peregrine Espresso puts a big emphasis on composting and recycling, utilizing reusable glass milk bottles and wind power.
Best Cupcake: Red Velvet Cupcakery
Red Velvet Cupcakery has been delighting guests and patrons with elegant and understated cupcakes since 2008. Hungry customers can enjoy a variety of selections that not only surprise (like the peanut butter cup) but also tantalize (like the white and black velvet cake options).
Best Dive Bar: The Pug
“No politics, no bombs, no idiots” are the rules at The Pug. If you want to get away from the hoity-toity parts of D.C., take refuge here — just, seriously, don’t ask for an Irish Car Bomb. In addition to a pork rinds vending machine, you’ll also find a laid-back staff and reasonable prices — two true rarities in this town.
Best Farmers Market: Eastern Market
This farmers market is open every weekend, offering local fare. But from Tuesday through Sunday, the Eastern Market building is used to display local art, hold community meetings, and sell artisanal foods and wares. With more than 27,000 Twitter followers, Eastern Market is an integral part of the Capitol Hill community.
Best Food Truck: PhoWheels
Washington, D.C., is the political epicenter of the United States, but its food scene is much more appetizing than some of what goes down in the halls of government. The densely concentrated area is home to an astonishingly diverse range of food truck options, serving up everything from lasagna and fajitas to lobster and Spam; so let’s be clear: This was not an easy choice. That being said, after taking into account social media following and Yelp reviews, PhoWheels takes the prize — and their menu is legitimately incredible. The truck is beloved by fans because of their reasonably priced yet super-flavorful Vietnamese food. Their banh mi (a classic Vietnamese sandwich traditionally served on French bread) stands out from the pack thanks to their truffle-garlic aioli and flaky, buttery croissant-sub roll. Their tacos also channel the flavors of Vietnam, with filling options that include pork belly, chicken thigh, and mushroom-onion tofu, which are layered on a roti canai (traditional Malaysian flatbread) and are topped with cilantro, pickled carrots, and Sriracha-lime mayo. And of course, the truck serves an aromatic and rich beef pho which fans go crazy over — perfect for those brisk Mid-Atlantic winters.
Best French Fries: Blue Duck Tavern
Yelp/ Yueh Yee W.
These are about the thickest fries you’re likely to ever see, but they’re no gimmick. Blue Duck’s hand-cut signature BDT Triple Fries are first boiled, then fried in oil, then finally fried one more time in duck fat before being tossed with salt and herbs. A great fry lets the potato shine, and these do just that.
Best Fried Chicken: Birch & Barley
Located near Logan Circle in Washington, D.C., Birch & Barley bases its diverse and deceptively simple dishes around the complex flavors of its collection of 555 artisanal beers. Since 2009, it’s been serving up a wide variety of styles and flavors, including a fair share of fried delights. Some might be drawn to the fried peach pie, but the real treat is the fried chicken and waffles with buttered pecans and maple-chicken jus served during brunch. Food & Wine rated it as some of the best fried chicken in the nation, and named chef Kyle Bailey the People’s Best New Chef Mid-Atlantic. It must be the sweet/savory balance that Birch & Barley so skillfully strikes, with its heavily breaded, flavorful chicken and the hearty pecan-waffle combination.
Best Hot Dog: Ben’s Chili Bowl
It might irk some Washingtonians to hear, but as bagels and pizza are to New York, so the half-smoke is to the capital — it stands as one of the District’s most iconic foods along with the jumbo slice. The celebrity (and presidential) photos on the wall are clear indications of Ben's Chili Bowl's city landmark status, but the continuous lines out the door are evidence that the restaurant's chili cheese dogs are some of the best in the country. But those in the know don’t just order "dogs," they get the half-smokes, a half-pork, half-beef smoked sausage (a native D.C. specialty supposedly invented by Ben Ali, the original proprietor, whose sons took over the restaurant after his death) topped with onions, mustard, and a rich, meaty, spicy chili sauce. As the U Street Corridor/Shaw neighborhood around it has gentrified, Ben’s remains a more-than-50-year-old bastion of down-home D.C. where college kids, old-timers, and celebrities are all welcome, as long as they're willing to stand in line like everybody else — though the president eats for free.
Best Hotel Restaurant: Plume
The luxurious Jefferson Hotel houses Plume, offering diners Old World ambience in a plush, nook-filled, super-romantic setting — complete with a fireplace — and inventive cuisine. The restaurant’s seasonal menu takes its inspiration, in part, from the produce in the kitchen gardens at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home in nearby Charlottesville, Virginia. The pavé of striped bass with marinated beets, carrot emulsion, and bordelaise sauce is just one creative meal example; that might be topped off with a praline parfait dessert with pineapple and date chutney and caramel vanilla foam.
Best Indian Restaurant: Rasika
Rasika has enjoyed such popularity that it has not one, but two, fine-dining locations in D.C. that the entire town is raving about. Executive chef Vikram Sunderam is responsible for a contemporary Indian cuisine that has brought President Barack Obama back here for two of his birthdays along many other Washington D.C. A-listers. Indian classics take on Western fine dining influences in the form of dishes such as their truffle naan, avocado banana chaat, and artichoke mushroom korma (korma being a traditional South Asian dish in which meat or vegetables are braised in a thick yogurt or water and then spiced).
Best Irish Pub: The Dubliner
Opened more than 40 years ago by the son of the proprietor of Coleman’s Authentic Irish Pub in Syracuse (also on on our nationwide list), The Dubliner, named for James Joyce’s famous collection of short stories, is our nation’s largest purveyor of Guinness, and the only place in the country you’ll find the bar’s exclusive Amber Ale and Irish Lager, brewed in County Kilkenny, Ireland, specially for The Dubliner. No wonder it's considered a must for St. Patrick's Day revelers in the nation's capital.
Best Italian Restaurant: Fiola
Chef Fabio Trabocchi and his upscale Penn Quarter trattoria Fiola have both won too many awards to mention here (including a 2018 Michelin star), and the reason is obvious: Just look at the menu, which changes daily based on what’s fresh and in-season. Sample menu items include beef cheek tortellini with bone marrow agrodolce, black garlic, and brodo; spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino with Santa Barbara abalone, razor clams, and ‘nduja; and Canary Island branzino with prosecco zabaglione, leeks, and osetra caviar. Can’t decide on what to order? Opt for the tasting menu, which comes with two, three, or four courses and dessert.
Best Lobster Roll: Red Hook Lobster Pound
The lobster rolls served at the Red Hook Lobster Pound start with split-top buns from Maine-based Country Kitchen. They’re topped with claw and knuckle meat from lobsters that are driven down from Maine weekly and kept alive until the last minute possible (you can also buy them live at the Red Hook flagship), and both styles are insanely delicious: Maine-style, served cold with a house-made lemon-spiked mayo, and Connecticut-style, drizzled with clarified butter. Red Hook Lobster has been named the best food truck in America by The Daily Meal, and these are also among the best lobster rolls in America.
Best Mexican Restaurant: Oyamel
Spanish chef José Andrés is renowned for his dedication to learning other cultures’ cuisines. As he noted in 2013: “It was the galleon ships of Spain’s King Philip II that connected these two worlds hundreds of years ago. Those Spanish ships allowed for an exchange of foods, dishes, stories, and traditions.” He spent time in Mexico before opening Oyamel in 2004. Meals start as they should — with complimentary salsa and chips, made fresh and fried daily. Continue with antojitos (“the little dishes from the streets”), papas al mole, and tacos with handmade tortillas, especially chapulines — the Oaxacan specialty of sautéed grasshoppers — if you dare.
Most Expensive Restaurant: Minibar
Chef José Andrés’ two Michelin-starred masterpiece is the jewel in the crown of the D.C. dining scene, and a must-visit for those interested in avant-garde cooking. Only six guests are served at a time, and the price tag for just the food is $275 per person. You can add beverage pairings for $115, $195, or (gulp) $500.
Best Pancakes: Ted’s Bulletin
Mary Kate A./Yelp
The Roaring 20’s-inspired Ted’s Bulletin has five locations in D.C. and its suburbs, and it’s always a popular destination for breakfast and brunch. Its pancakes are a must-order; they’re delivered three to an order, irresistibly golden brown and delicious, with maple syrup, two eggs, and hash browns. A side of bacon doesn’t hurt, either. All together, it’s one of the best breakfasts, period, in D.C.
Best Pasta: Carbonara, RPM Italian
Chef Doug Psaltis’ RPM Italian had such great success in Chicago that the team decided to open in D.C., and it’s apparently true that you can capture lightning in a bottle twice. This classy and upscale Italian restaurant really excels in the housemade pasta department, and the classics are nothing short of perfect. Just try the carbonara; it’s made the traditional way (with no cream), and like all the best carbonaras do, it proves that combining fresh spaghetti with egg yolk, crispy pancetta, and black pepper can be the culinary equivalent of alchemy when done with skill and attention to detail.
Best Pizza: 2Amys
Photo by Jason S. via Yelp
Once upon a time, the District of Columbia was a pizza desert, a land where khaki-wearers bided their time until the fortunes tied to two-, four-, or six-year cycles became clear, resigning themselves to late-night calls to Domino’s and hoping Manny & Olga’s wouldn’t turn them off pizza for good. They suffered locals’ misplaced love for Ledo’s and watched with frustration as Adams Morgan’s jumbo slices edged increasingly close to the half-smoke as one of the city’s signature dishes. Thankfully, those days are over. Thanks, 2Amys.
2Amys’ membership in the D.O.C (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) means its pizzaiolos adhere to the guidelines of what the Italian government deems a pizza should be. When you take a bite, you know you are getting a quintessential, traditional pie. Their menu is broken into D.O.C pizza offerings, stuffed pizzas, and more traditional but uncertified options, but panelists voted the namesake pie (tomato sauce and mozzarella).
Best Restaurant for Breakfast: Founding Farmers
Founding Farmers, which is located on Pennsylvania Avenue a stone’s throw from the White House (and has several additional locations further afield), has an interesting pedigree: It was founded by a fourth-generation farmer and President of the North Dakota Farmers Union named Mark Watne, and it’s collectively owned by the more than 47,000 family farmers in the union; it also sources much of its ingredients from hundreds of family farms. The resulting food? Delicious and ethical. Beignets with a trio of sauces, chicken and waffles with scrambled eggs and white gravy, sausage and gravy or crab Benedict, roasted vegetable pan scramble, maple cured ham or a ranch steak and eggs, waffles with strawberries and cream, buttermilk pancakes with whipped blueberry butter… There’s good reason why this place fills up quickly. It opens at 7 a.m. daily and 8:30 on weekends.
Best Restaurant: Minibar
They really have tried to make it easier on everyone, but getting into Minibar, where protean chef José Andrés channels Spanish avant-garde cuisine, is still difficult. The restaurant now accepts reservations on a seasonal basis (in three-month periods), with each season opening one month in advance. But you still need to send them an email a couple of months ahead of time and keep your fingers crossed. When you do get what is still essentially the reservation of a lifetime (let’s be honest here), you’ll perch at one of two counters that overlook the kitchen, which The Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema called "suggestive of an operating theater when you factor in the chefs in their whites, bending over dishes manipulated by tweezers, tongs, liquid nitrogen and cloches galore." Expect a "molecular gastronomy" experience filled with culinary hat tricks — think edible rubber duckies, popcorn that smokes in your mouth, and a churro made with veal tendon. Even with a price tag of $275 for 25 to 30 (mini) courses, it's a steal of a deal. The imaginative cuisine displayed at minibar scored chef José Andrés a 2011 James Beard Outstanding Chef Award. In 2013, Andrés opened the adjoining Barmini, his “culinary cocktail lab,” where more than 100 adventuresome cocktail creations adorn the menu. According to Sietsema, it is “home to some of the most fascinating liquids this city has ever sipped.”
Best Sandwich: French Dip, MGM Roast Beef
Photo by CJ S. via Yelp
Since 2008, MGM has been serving some of the finest roast beef sandwiches you’ll find anywhere, slow-roasted and hand-carved. You can enjoy your top round hot or cold, or topped with a variety of additions, but you’ll want to go for the French dip, topped with sautéed onions and melted Swiss, and served on an onion roll with a side of homemade jus. Paging Guy Fieri: This sandwich is winner, winner, roast beef dinner.
Best Soup: Chicken Noodle, Ted’s Bulletin
Yelp/ Sarah G.
This D.C. favorite boasts that it serves the “world’s best chicken noodle soup,” and while that may be an exaggeration, it’s definitely the best bowl of soup in town. This is chicken noodle soup the way it should be: a light but flavorful broth bursting with huge chunks of shredded chicken breast and tender celery and carrot, brightened with fresh herbs.
Best Sports Bar: Buffalo Billiards
D.C. area residents flock to DuPont Circle to descend on Buffalo Billiards on game day. The beer is cheap and plentiful, and there are TVs in every line of vision. You can stay active here, too, with shuffleboard and pool tables, Skee-Ball machines, foosball tables, and Hoop Fever Pop-a-Shots.
Best Sushi Bar: Sakedokoro Makoto
In the quiet of the Palisades just two miles up MacArthur Boulevard from Georgetown University, Sakedokoro Makoto has the power to transport you away from the nation’s capital and halfway around the world to Japan. The change in culture is immediate as soon as you step in and down off the street and into this D.C. stalwart that has been delighting sushi-lovers since 1992. You’re forced (in a good way), by the business casual dress code and the request not to use a cellphone or wear strong perfumes and colognes, to consciously engage in a calmer mindset. Take off your shoes and settle into your wooden bench in an intimate, traditional setting that fits just two dozen people. You’ll be quickly taken into the care of graceful and efficient servers whose service possesses a touch light enough to make you feel as if you’re being looked after in a traditional Kyoto ryokan. It’s important to note that though you’ll find expertly crafted sushi on the à la carte lunch menu and as part of the evening omakase, Makoto isn’t a sushi bar per se, but rather a place to enjoy traditional Japanese cuisine. Soft-shell crabs, small nests of noodles, grilled fish — these will all round out your sushi experience while jazz softly lilts in the background. For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2019.