9 Kinkead’s ★★★
2000 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW | 202-296-7700
Cuisine: DC’s preeminent seafood emporium, a bastion of the traditional, regionally rooted American cooking that has fallen from favor with the influx of trendy, high-concept restaurants.
Mood: A mix of sophistication and conviviality, polish and accessibility. High-rollers, tourists, conventioneers, politicos—all flock to Bob Kinkead’s Foggy Bottom brasserie for the fresh fish and seafood, nightly jazz piano, assured pacing, and extensive wine list.
Best for: Groups with cautious or persnickety diners, oyster lovers (five varieties are flown in fresh every day), travelers seeking sure-handed preparations of regional delicacies such as shad roe and soft-shell crab.
Best dishes: Butternut-squash ravioli in brown-butter sauce garnished with sage and pancetta; butter-poached lobster with shell-bean succotash; fried Ipswich clams with tartar sauce; elegant Chesapeake-oyster stew; the city’s definitive crab cake; delicately fried soft shells (in season); crab-imperial-stuffed cod with ham spoonbread; crispy skate wing with cauliflower flan; milk-chocolate tart with salted peanuts, peanut-butter ice cream, and a duo of sauces (caramel and vanilla).
Insider tips: Dine at the bar, where—steep prices notwithstanding—the atmosphere is unpretentious, even boisterous. The veteran barmen, quick to chime in with a quip, lend the place the air of an Irish pub—and mix an incomparably smooth Manhattan.
10 Central Michel Richard ★★★
1001 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW | 202-626-0015
Cuisine: Stylized American comfort food (fried chicken, hamburger, mac and cheese) as translated by an haute French chef.
Mood: A shot of chef Michel Richard’s laughing mug on the wall sets a tone of joie de vivre that attracts the full spectrum of Washington diners—from politicos and media stars to food lovers who can’t afford Richard’s four-star Citronelle—to this blond-wood dining room five blocks from the White House.
Best for: Convivial groups, foodies, hard-to-impress out-of-towners.
Best dishes: Expertly shucked West Coast oysters; plump asparagus in a tarragon vinaigrette; a cone of gougères, as cheesy as they are airy; an elegant mussel chowder; lobster-claw meat bound in a scallop mousse and served in a butter-topped bun; “72-hour short ribs” cooked for three days so the meat requires no knife; intensely chocolatey chocolate mousse topped with miniature cocoa puffs; a plain but perfect apple brown Betty.
Insider tips: Don’t splurge on a bottle of wine—as good as the list is, there are worthy picks by the glass, plus terrific beers, including the brewed-for-Central Blusser, which pairs beautifully with oysters. Besides, you may want to splurge on the glorious $29 lobster burger. Central is slightly cheaper at lunch, when there’s also the option of enjoying DC’s best corned-beef sandwich.
11 Charlie Palmer Steak ★★★
101 Constitution Ave., NW | 202-547-8100
Cuisine: Seeing the $14 truffled baked potatoes, a $72 seafood platter for two, and a $100 Japanese Miyazaki Kobe strip steak, you might ask: Is anybody here not using a corporate card? But there are just as many less-showoffy treats—lovely salads, terrific roasts—on executive chef Bryan Voltaggio’s forward-thinking American menu.
Mood: Washington had long been a steakhouse town when New York–based chef Charlie Palmer set up shop here nearly five years ago. But with clean lines, brushed steel, and mocha leather, the urbane power-dining room and lounge seems a class apart from the traditional brass-and-bourbon boys’ clubs. Still, it feels wholly DC thanks to its postcard view of the Capitol, C-Span–tuned flat-screens, and—hey, is that Nancy Pelosi? Probably.
Best for: Impressing a client, power players, out-of-towners hoping to catch a glimpse of an ’08 candidate.
Best dishes: Yellowfin-tuna tartare with soy and lime; roasted foie gras with blood orange and ginger; oysters on the half shell with crisp crackers, spicy cocktail sauce, and horseradish cream; a tart red-endive salad sweetened with dates and honey-poached pears; meltingly delicious Miyazaki Kobe beef; roasted duck with a foie-gras-topped nectarine tarte Tatin; goat-cheese tortelloni with buttered wild mushrooms; roasted hen-of-the-woods mushrooms; hazelnut pyramid, a theatrical chocoholic fantasy that’s one of Palmer’s signatures; a trio of perfectly burnished crèmes brûlées.
Insider tips: The designer beef, whether American Angus or Wagyu, is expertly aged and prepared, but all the à la carte sides and sauces can get expensive.