Long before Anthony Bourdain dropped in to film the sizzling grill or Barack Obama ate there, Ben’s Chili Bowl was the granddaddy of late-night eats. Until 4 am on weekends, you’ll find revelers lining up to ward off hangovers with chili-cheese fries and Ben’s most famous dish, the extra-thick sausage known as a half-smoke. One piece of advice: Make your nightcap a Tums.
For a less frenetic experience, the Ethiopian institution Dukem keeps the injera rolling—along with spicy stews and kitfo, Ethiopia’s answer to steak tartare—until 3 am on weekends and 2 during the week.
At Masa 14—the new but buzzing Latin/Asian collaboration between sushi chef Kaz Okochi and restaurateur Richard Sandoval—an abbreviated menu of fusiony small plates, such as teriyaki-sambal chicken wings and yuca fries with lime aïoli is offered till 3 am on weekends, 2 during the week. To go with it are 150 kinds of tequila.
There’s nothing surprising about the menu at the two-month-old Bistro La Bonne (1340 U St., NW; 202-758-3413), and that’s exactly why we like it. Chef/owner Daniel La Bonne, a veteran of Tabaq and Bistrot du Coin, turns out solid versions of French-bistro classics—steamed mussels, onion soup, and steak frites—that are comforting and familiar.
Beyond Pinot Noir
The tiny wine bar Cork kick-started the neighborhood’s growth into a foodie destination. It’s hard to say what the bigger draw is—the wine or the food. Former CityZen sous chef Ron Tanaka’s rarely changing menu includes shareable plates (avocado crostini, French fries with house-made ketchup) and a grilled prosciutto-and-fontina sandwich you’ll want to keep all to yourself. The wine list focuses on the Old World, and the smart servers help you navigate beyond your usual fallbacks.
Italians insist that wine, not beer, goes best with pizza, and Posto has more than 100 bottles to pair with the wood-fired pies. We like both the Bismarck—creamy with two kinds of cheese and a runny egg—and the unadorned Margherita accompanied by a glass of fizzy Pederzana Lambrusco. For a fast pre-theater meal, a pizza and salad can feed two.
Catch a Buzz
In just five years, Busboys and Poets—Andy Shallal’s bookstore/cafe/restaurant/bar/stage—has become an integral part of the U Street landscape. Daily events—from book readings and roundtable discussions often focusing on African-American culture to open-mike, poetry, and musical performances—make for an ever-changing clientele.
The laptop crowd takes up residence at Mid City Caffé (1626 14th St., NW; 202-234-1515), a quiet, second-story perch with a small array of muffins and croissants, bagels slathered with Nutella, and French-press Counter Culture coffee.