Acacia Bistro & Wine Bar (202-537-1040) is very much a family affair. Chef Liliana Dumas and her husband, Maurice, grow many of the vegetables and herbs in their garden, and son Michel has taken on sommelier and front-of-the-house duties. Dumas’s cooking is soulful and personal, be it bacalao (dried salt cod), Ligurian seafood stew (the family is originally from Italy’s Liguria region), or simple grilled orata with crisp skin and moist flesh. Ligurian-style pasta with pesto, green beans, and potatoes offers simple pleasures, too. Charcuterie boards are generous with Italian and Spanish meats and cheeses. Sit at the sleek bar and sample from almost 90 wallet-friendly Old and New World wines available by the glass and half glass. For lovers of bubbly, the roster of sparklers is longer than most. And don’t miss out on dessert. Moist madeleine-style cake with nougat-studded pistachio mousse is a knockout. Entrées $14 to $25.
Moroccan and Lebanese are among the culinary languages spoken at the lively Café Olé (202-244-1330). This means top-notch hummus with sumac-crusted pita chips for dipping; orange-scented lamb tagine with Israeli couscous; Lebanese-style chicken marinated in wild thyme and sesame; and juicy little lamb sliders with sumac-shot aïoli. Even fusion dishes often turn out well—for example, penne tossed with chickpeas, soujouk (a spicy Middle Eastern sausage), and a lick of cream. Entrées $14 to $16.
At Masala Art (202-362-4441), the twang of sitar and Indian art and artifacts are the backdrop for chef Surinder Kumar’s thoughtful cooking and spicing. Fried onion with yogurt curry for dipping—where crunchy and creamy meet—is a case in point. So is Kumar’s take on the familiar murgh makhani, tender chicken chunks with velvety tomato-cream sauce, a.k.a. butter chicken. If the ultra-creamy dal seems familiar, it’s because Kumar and owner Atul Bhola are alums of Glover Park’s much-touted Heritage India. Flaky breads such as the cilantro-and-rock-salt-crusted naan are perfect for sopping up gravies and sauces. Entrées $9.95 to $21.95.
Fans of DC interior designer Thomas Pheasant will feel at home at Matisse (202-244-5222), with its pale cream-and-white palette punctuated by playful black ironwork. William Rivera’s Modern American cooking echoes the visuals with dishes both simple and eye-opening: fresh Hawaiian hearts of palm with artisanal sheep’s-milk ricotta, smoked sea salt, and citrus vinaigrette; pistachio-crusted lemon snapper with fennel and lemon oil; and an ethereal hazelnut gelato with meringue and chocolate sauce for dessert. The Old and New World wine list has nice picks by the glass—just as well because this is a place that seems to be made for lingering conversation. Entrées $22 to $29.
At the sleek Italian trattoria M Cafe Bar (301-986-4818),the ladies-who-shop hold sway by day, while date-nighters and families gather in the evenings. Arugula and endive with shaved pear marries bitter and sweet, and well-marinated slices of flatiron steak top a heap of frisée and house greens kissed with balsamic. Classic chicken Milanese is lightly breaded and shored up with a tangle of arugula and cherry tomatoes; a special of crabcakes underscores the delicacy of the seafood. Pasta standouts include classic pappardelle Bolognese and saffron tagliatelle with a gutsy ragu of lamb, olives, and Asiago cheese. Entrées $9.95 to $25.95.
The sexy, red-splashed lounge at Sushi-Ko Chevy Chase (301-961-1644) is ideal for saketinis and crunchy shrimp maki. (During happy hour, look for discounts on drinks and rolls.) At the long, curved sushi bar, chefs offer the freshest picks of the day, such as buttery spot-prawn nigiri. But most people settle comfortably in booths or tables for pitch-perfect small plates including beef tenderloin with seven-spice powder, seafood and vegetable tempura with vinegar dipping sauce, soy-and-sake-marinated tuna, and pristine sushi. Finish with house-made coconut ice cream with mango mousse, a fun riff on the Creamsicle. Small plates $4.50 to $14.50, entrées $11.50 to $20.