Potenza (1430 H St., NW; 202-638-4444). For a smaller taste of Potenza’s oversize restaurant portions, try the adjoining bakery, where sandwiches are layered with simple, refined ingredients. A good choice is the rare-roast-beef sandwich ($7.70), which comes with slices of sharp fennel and a sweet blood-orange aïoli.
Taylor Gourmet (485 K St., NW; 202-289-8001). It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the more than 20 varieties of Philadelphia-style hoagies at this industrial-cool spot. Start with the signature 9th Street Italian ($6.90 small, $8.90 large)—stacked with three kinds of meat and 18-month provolone—or the Callowhill Street ($7.10 and $9.10), stuffed full of peppery meatballs and an oregano-heavy tomato sauce.
Urfa Tomato Kabob (740 Sixth St., NW; 202-347-1178). Tucked behind the Verizon Center, this hole in the wall turns out $5.99 doner sandwiches in fluffy pockets of house-made bread. We like the Athens version, spilling with lamb and beef shavings, lettuce, tomatoes, parsley, onion, and feta. The falafel is good, too.
Best Pre-Theater Menus
Bistro d’Oc (518 Tenth St., NW; 202-393-5444). Visit this cozy French spot for three-course pre- and post-theater menus, daily 5:30 to 7 and after Ford’s Theatre lets out. The $23.95 deal, which includes a glass of house wine, recently featured rustic dishes such as country pâté, pork chops over mashed potatoes, and chicken fricassee.
Poste (555 Eighth St., NW; 202-783-6060). Unlike many restaurants with pre-theater menus, chef Rob Weland sends out full servings of interesting dishes such as lamb’s neck and pig trotter. Even his salad is a hearty portion of fresh figs, mint, arugula, and Parmesan. Better yet, pre-theater customers—who can get a three-course, $35.09 menu daily from 5 to 6:30—don’t have to settle for a boring dessert: Five choices include a four-part tasting of salted caramel.
Teaism (400 Eighth St., NW; 202-638-6010). There’s no official pre-theater menu at this Zen teahouse, but the Asian-inflected dishes are quick, and most entrées are less than $10. Highlights include ochazuke, a green-tea soup with rice and meat or seafood, and a tuna bento box with broccoli and miso-glazed sweet potatoes. Don’t leave without a chocolate salty oat cookie.
Tosca (1112 F St., NW; 202-367-1990). At this Italian dining room, pasta is sublime—try the signature carrot pappardelle with rabbit ragu—but nearly every one of chef Massimo Fabbri’s modern yet restrained dishes is excellent. The $35 pre-theater menu, available daily 5:30 to 7, is a steal considering the three courses would cost at least twice that any other time.
Best for Groups
Jaleo (480 Seventh St., NW; 202-628-7949). Small plates and pitchers of sangría make this Spanish menu a good choice for bigger parties. The atmosphere is as lively as the dishes—José Andrés’s whimsical twists on traditional tapas include caviar-topped fried eggs, chorizo encased in crispy potato, and bacon-wrapped dates.
Matchbox (713 H St., NW; 202-289-4441). The only way to bypass the first-come, first-served policy—and long waits—at this popular restaurant is to arrive with a large party. Sunday through Thursday, groups of 6 to 12 can make reservations. Thin-crust pizzas with toppings such as house-made meatballs, balsamic reduction, and smoked Gouda are ideal for sharing.
Oceanaire (1201 F St., NW; 202-347-2277). This temple of seafood has a boisterous conviviality and lots of large tables. The raw bar, which includes 12 types of oysters, holds some of the restaurant’s best selections. Of the entrées, try the warming cioppino stew and the day’s fish, simply grilled with lemon. Steakhouse devotees will be satisfied with a selection of hefty steaks and sides.
Zaytinya (701 Ninth St., NW; 202-638-0800). Greece, Turkey, and Lebanon collide in a lineup of mezze at this whitewashed restaurant that’s usually packed. Only a few reservations are available each night, but you’re guaranteed one if you book the family-style table that seats up to 22 or the 11-person round table. Crowd-friendly bites include zucchini-and-cheese fritters, Turkish flatbreads, and a spit-roasted lamb shoulder.
What’s your favorite cocktail spot?
Michael Kahn, artistic director of Shakespeare Theatre Company: “Rosa Mexicano (575 Seventh St., NW; 202-783-5522). Their Pepino Picante is the best drink around.”
Caron Butler, forward for the Washington Wizards: “The Greene Turtle (601 F St., NW; 202-637-8889). They have a lot of sports memorabilia, and there’s always a nice crowd. My favorite drink there is a Tuff Juice—it’s a sweet cocktail.”
Irene Barbieri, owner of the jewelry store Mia Gemma: “Co Co. Sala (929 F St., NW; 202-347-4265) has delicious alcoholic chocolate drinks and terrific hot chocolates and cappuccinos.”