New American, Coffee Shop
$ $ $
3529 Connecticut Ave NW (at Porter St. NW)
Washington, DC 20008
(202) 537-9250
5:30pm - 10:00pm
5:30pm - 10:00pm
5:30pm - 10:00pm
5:30pm - 10:00pm
5:30pm - 10:00pm

Palena is known as much for the cheeseburger on the café menu as for the more elegant, seasonally driven food that is served in the dining room. After a stint as the White House chef, it was an interesting move for chef-restaurateur Frank Ruta to set his restaurant in Cleveland Park, far away from the glitzy, lobbyist-packed K Street dining scene. Though the restaurant’s dining room offers sophisticated menu items like a guinea hen ballotine, the café really shines as a low-key neighborhood spot, turning out a simple roast chicken from the wood-fired oven and homey pasta dishes like spaghetti with cauliflower, pine nuts, and egg.


The burger at Washington, D.C.’s Palena Café is certainly a fancy-pants one, but that doesn’t mean it’s at all precious. Chef Frank Ruta’s burger starts with a loosely packed 7-ounce patty of Angus beef (mostly chuck and trim from aged steak cuts) that’s got a 60:40 fat ratio, about double the fat of your average burger. He gussies it up with a slice of a truffled Italian cheese called Sottocenere al Tartufo and a smear of powerfully garlicky mayo, and it’s served on a big fluffy bun that compresses nicely once you get into it. Make sure you have napkins handy, and be ready for a flavor bomb. — Dan Myers



  • A solid neighborhood standby, Palena offers both your typical upscale dining room experience plus a more casual cafe where the cheeseburger has a national following. [Eater 38 Member]
  • *** 1/2 stars in Tom Sietsema's Fall Dining Guide 2011. (Tom's tip: Try the orange-scented, lemon-glazed donut.)
  • Palena is two restaurants under one roof: a softly lit dining room with some formality and a casual cafe where the smell of the wood grill fills the air. The cafe has the areas best gnocchi.
  • The Palena Cheeseburger is the must-order here. With just truffled cheese & a garlicky, mustard mayo, it doesn't sound, or look, like much, but it's one of the best burgers you can get in the DC area.
  • The chef at this intimate cafe used to work in the biggest-name house of them all: the White House. Garlicky mayo and truffled Italian cheese on a delicious patty - Reagan and Bush must've been happy!
  • Sit at the bar & order cheeseburger & fries!
  • Palena was one of the worst dining experiences i have had recently Our food arrived two hours after ordering. The burger we order medium rare was well done and an order of ravioli was soaked in oil.
  • Better yet, Ruta has expanded the caf menu, adding little snacks, more pastas and even an all-beef, nose-to-tail menu for groups of six or more.
  • When you go (and you should) sit outside and order the fries
  • Get the burger. Chef Frank Ruta uses Angus beef laced with dry-aged steak, truffled cheese and a brioche bun made in-house.
  • The roast chicken really -- really -- is the best deal in town.
  • Get the cheeseburger. Palena uses Angus beef laced with dry-aged steak, truffled cheese and a brioche bun made in-house.
  • The Uptowner 2.0 dessert is incredible! Save room for it
  • Frank Ruta's Palena is three things at once: a formal dining room, a more casual caf and an artisanal market. Don't forget to pick up Ruta's popular lemon-glazed doughnuts while you're here.
  • Ask @drink_shaker (aka Jeff Faile) to make you a Manhattan.
  • The burger is one of the best in town.
  • "Tastes of the Season," an enticing four-course sonnet from chef-owner Frank Ruta, deserves a big audience.
  • Get the chicken. It's life-changing.
  • Countless have said it, but you will not find a juicier roasted chicken.
  • From the burger to the housemade pasta, everything about the food is good. Great place for a relaxed dinner. -Tamesha Warren, Top Chef

Nearby places

3001 Connecticut Ave NW (at Hawthorne St NW)
3500 Connecticut Ave NW (at Ordway St. NW)
3519 Connecticut Ave NW (at Porter St NW)