The Best New Restaurants in Washington, Chosen by Top Chefs
(Bloomberg) -- Power dining has always had special significance in the U.S. capital. For years the place to eat was in dining rooms near Capitol Hill—not for the food, but for the politicians you could sit alongside.
In the last decade, though, the city has thrown off its steakhouse stereotype to become one of the most dynamic dining scenes in the country. The power-dining scene hasn’t disappeared altogether; some dining rooms maintain in-house security for the concentration of VIPs sitting down to eat.
Now D.C. is working to bring back the travelers that before the pandemic made it one of the country’s most popular cities for domestic tourists: In 2019, it hosted 24.6 million visitors. The city has been attracting a new round of out-of-town talent, such as the dean of New York restaurants Keith McNally, who’s planning an outpost of Minetta Tavern, as well as chefs like New Orleans favorite Kristen Essig, who’s brought her winning take on Cajun classics to the new Dauphine’s.
Her restaurant is named one the top new spots in the Washington area, all picked by notable chefs below. Places include Moon Rabbit in the $2.5 billion, 24-acre Wharf development, where chef Kevin Tien offers elevated Vietnamese dishes, and Ruthie’s All Day Cafe in Arlington, Va., where the not-so-secret weapons are a custom wood smoker and an Argentine grill.
Read on the learn more about these terrific spots and the reasons why Washington should be at the top of your go-here-now list.
At this modern Mexican restaurant, chef Alam Méndez uses local ingredients to create a wide array of dishes. “His mom, Celia Florián, is a well-respected chef in Oaxaca and a big defender of traditional Oaxacan cuisine from the restaurant Las Quince Letras,” observes Rubén Garcia Castilla, an alum of José Andrés’s Think Food Group. “Alam bring a lot of knowledge and experience to the city, showcasing traditional Oaxacan favors and ingredients.” Castilla’s favorite order reflects the southern Mexican influence: a broccoli and mole Oaxaqueno taco. Recommended by Rubén Garcia Castilla, co-founder of Unfold Hospitality Group
“I’m loving the vibes over at Pennyroyal Station,” says chef Peter Prime. “Chef Jesse Miller is putting a very creative spin on comfort food, the very food I’ve been craving during this pandemic.” The restaurant in Mount Rainier, Md., occupies a light-filled space in the Singer building, which was the First National Bank in the early 1900s. There’s a powerful array of sandwiches such as porchetta and fried egg as well as crabcake melt. Family meals that include smoky brisket for two can be had for $35. “There’s a lot to like on the menu, but if you had to order one thing, I’d recommend the potted chicken liver mousse with grilled bread,” says Prime. Recommended by Peter Prime, chef and owner of Cane and the upcoming St. James
Chef Lucas Irwin cooked with Masaharu Morimoto before opening this creative, high-end Japanese restaurant in the burgeoning Wharf district. Alongside nigiri and sashimi and omakase menus, there’s a selection of a la carte dishes including braised short ribs with koji-glazed kabocha. “I had all but convinced myself that there couldn’t possibly be another way to improve on short ribs,” says chef Jocelyn Law-Yone. “The dish was plated like a work of art. The meat melted to the touch, and the sauce it was braised in was delicately seeped in to make each bite sophisticated, subtle, and complex.” Recommended by chef Jocelyn Law-Yone, chef and owner of Thamee
Champagne, wine, and the foods that pair particularly well with them are the focus at this Georgetown haunt. Along with a strong list of wines by the glass, there are inspired cocktails such as Diamonds and Pearls, a mix of gin and vodka with an accompanying serving of house caviar. “It’s intimate and full of charm,” says chef Jenn Crovato, “There is an incredible selection of Champagne. But don’t leave without ordering the confit canard with roasted potato and morel sauce.” Recommended by Jenn Crovato, chef and partner at 1310 Kitchen & Bar
Before he opened Moon Rabbit, chef Kevin Tien made a name for himself at the buzzy Emilie’s. Then, during the pandemic, he started a takeout series to stop hatred directed at the Asian American Pacific Islander community. His new restaurant specializes in elevated Vietnamese cuisine and has a waterfront view. “Chef Kevin has a creative take on flavors that’s still true to his Vietnamese heritage,” says master chef Peter Chang. “He beautifully combines execution and creativity in everything from the cocktails to the evolving menu.” Chang especially likes the grilled pork with lemongrass. “The flavors are perfectly balanced and refreshing, giving the dish the right notes of acid for an awesome taste combination.”
Recommended by Peter Chang, chef and owner of Q by Peter Chang in Bethesda, Md.
Despite its name, Oyster Oyster is principally focused on vegetables—there’s an option of having a tasting menu that’s vegetarian or “oystertarian.” Paola Velez, who co-founded Bakers Against Racism with the restaurant’s chef Rob Rubba, says the program has been one to watch. “Not only is their natty wine selection incredible, I love how chef Rob uses local mid-Atlantic ingredients and lets them sing in all their glory.” For Velez, a standout dish is the fried eggplant with fennel kraut and red onion jam. Recommended by Paola Velez, co-founder of Bakers Against Racism and Doña Dona doughnuts
Pastry chef Teresa Padilla spent 15 years working with Think Food Group before losing her job during the pandemic. She started making cemitas (a type of sandwich) with crispy chicken before opening a brick-and-mortar spot on U Street with a menu of Mexican street food. “I really enjoyed the lamb quesabirra,” says local chef Amy Brandwein. “It features beautiful orange handmade tortillas filled with braised lamb and spices, served with a side of rich lamb consommé. It is perfect with a delightful tamarind aqua fresca. Cheers to Teresa.” Recommended by Amy Brandwein, chef and owner of Centrolina and Piccolina
During the day, this Capitol Hill spot is a café with breakfast and lunch favorites like scrambled egg sandwiches. At night, the place transitions into a restaurant. The seasonal menus from chef Katarina Petonito and pastry chef Rochelle Cooper highlight ingredients from local farms, and pastry chef Pichet Ong is a fan in particular of the namesake summery roast duck with peaches. “I never pass up a meal with great desserts,” he says, “whether it is a simply delicious cobbler or a s’more that eats as incredible as it looks.” Their fresh approach to restaurant culture includes a 22% service charge “to make hospitality a profession.” Recommended by Pichet Ong, chef and partner NiHao in Baltimore
The food of Puerto Rico is spotlighted at this all day café in the Navy Yards from chef and owner Joancarlo Parkhurst. His menu includes a BMT (bacon, mezcla cheese, and tomato sandwich), mofongo, as well as mashed plantains, with the option of pork, crab, or vegetables on top. “What I keep going back for is the pastries, and they have this iced drink called coco shakerato,” says chef Katsuya Fukushima. “It’s espresso, coconut water, and coconut cream. Soooo good. And the people there have that Latin warmth that makes you happy.” Recommended by Katsuya Fukushima, chef and partner at Bantam King
Italian-American classics star at the brick-wall-lined Capa Tosta. From hearty meatballs in tomato sauce to penne vodka and chicken marsala, the restaurant also features a drinks list that capitalizes on Negronis and Old Fashioned cocktails. “What a gem of a place—great service, friendly staff, food that is insanely delicious and authentic,” says Top Chef star Spike Mendelsohn. “The eggplant parmesan is still a conversation piece in our household. The drinks are on point, and the vibe is the vibe.” Recommended by Spike Mendelsohn, chef and owner of Good Stuff Eatery with multiple locations
“As a grilling enthusiast, I love that much of this menu is fueled by a custom wood smoker along with an Argentine grill and box smoker,” says chef David Guas. There’s also a strong breakfast menu at this airy Arlington space, with options like sausage and scrambled egg. But pay attention to their take on meat-and-three, including a main of smoked sticky spare ribs. “I always start with an order of wood-grilled oysters,” advises Gaus. “The yuzu kosho butter enlivens this dish with incredible flavor.” Recommended by David Guas, chef and owner of Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery, Arlington
This glamorous new restaurant in the Capital Crossing development has chandeliers and a gold-plated pizza oven, along with a cocktail list that highlights spritzes and daiquiris. “Chef David Deshaies is incredibly talented,” notes chef Robert Wiedmaier. “Earlier in his career, he was mentored by the late, great Michel Richard. My favorite dish on the menu is the 40-layer lasagna stuffed with beef sugo, truffle mornay, and truffle-infused sottocenere cheese, which is as delicious as it sounds.” Recommended by Robert Wiedmaier, founder of RW Restaurant Group including Marcel’s and Brasserie Beck
Chef Kristen Essig has brought her inspired New Orleans cooking from the Big Easy to this restaurant in the mixed-use Midtown Center complex. Essig offers a selection of classics—po’boys, gumbo, and duck jambalaya for two, for $85. “Dauphine’s was a beautiful surprise,” says chef Philippe Massoud. “The service was impeccable, the beef tartare was on point and delicious, and the skate was cooked perfectly. Though fried, was very, very light.” Recommended by Philippe Massoud, executive chef and owner of ilili DC
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