Neighborhood favorite Bistrot du Coin serves classic bistro fare in a loud and festive setting. Photograph by Scott Suchman
Mai Thai; 1200 19th St., NW; 202-452-6870
If you like your larb gai fiery, head for the colorful Mai Thai. Balance the heat with shrimp-stuffed garden rolls, a honeyed duck salad, and coconutty tom ka soup with lemongrass and chicken.
Sushi on an expense account
Sushi Taro; 1503 17th St., NW; 202-462-8999
While some lament the transformation of Sushi Taro from casual spot to haute Zen den, the change has yielded some of Washington’s freshest raw fish and a chance to try traditional kaiseki tasting menus. Daily specials often feature fish flown in from Tokyo; reliably good sushi includes shrimp, yellowtail, and salmon as well as scallop sashimi.
Firefly; 1310 New Hampshire Ave., NW; 202-861-1310
Our favorite spot at Firefly is the bar, where tarragon fizzes and grapefruit spritzes are complemented by wonderful deviled eggs, house-made charcuterie, and truffle fries.
Heaping plates of pasta
Casa Nonna; 1250 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-629-2505
When Casa Nonna opened last summer, the portions were made for family-style dining. It’s done away with that concept, and now you can order a lovely fettuccine with butter and Parmesan or a béchamel-slathered lasagna all for yourself. Save room for the sugared doughnuts.
New England-style seafood
Hank's Oyster Bar; 1624 Q St., NW; 202-462-4265
The buzzing dining room at Hank’s Oyster Bar feels more San Francisco than Cape Cod, but the kitchen does right by many of the region’s standards: lobster rolls that go easy on the mayo, nicely fried clams, and icy trays of oysters on the half shell. This fall, the restaurant will expand into the space next door.
A po' boy
Cajun Experience; 1825 18th St., NW; 202-670-4416
Crusty, airy Leidenheimer rolls from New Orleans are flown in for the sandwiches at the Cajun Experience, an offshoot of the Leesburg original. We’re partial to the crunchy fried shrimp, but the drippy pot-roast sandwich is delicious, too.
An all-out splurge
Komi; 1509 17th St., NW; 202-332-9200
The number-one spot on our list of 100 Very Best Restaurants has gone to Komi for the past three years. The small dining room is unassuming for a place where the set dinner menu is $135 per person. The focus, rightly, is on the food, which begins with a lineup of tiny courses, much of it raw fish. Then come handmade pastas, followed by a roasted suckling pig (or goat) served with warm pita and an array of accents including house-made hot sauce and oregano salt.
A light lunch
Sweetgreen; 1512 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-387-9338
Healthy is anything but boring at Sweetgreen, the eco-conscious chain of salad shops started by a group of Georgetown grads. You can create your own using seasonal toppings such as radishes, sugar snap peas, asparagus, and strawberries. Or go for one of the preset blends, such as a bed of spinach adorned with quinoa, radishes, and carrot-chili vinaigrette.
A late night bite
Bistrot du Coin; 1738 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-234-6969
Whenever we walk past Bistrot du Coin, we feel like we’re missing a party. The thunderously loud French-themed hangout stays open until 1 am on weekends, when revelers stave off hangovers with hearty steaks and stews.
Cashion's Eat Place; 1819 Columbia Rd., NW; 202-797-1819
Friday and Saturday from midnight to 2 am, the bar at Cashion’s Eat Place is chockablock with bargoers who have discovered Adams Morgan’s best late-night menu: fluffy rolls with silky whipped lardo (Italian for fatback), a knockout bison burger with bacon and a fried egg, and spicy fried chicken wings. If you arrive earlier, the main dining room—with its mismatched framed family photos, warm lighting, and nightly changing menu—is a great place for a date.
Zorba's Cafe; 1612 20th St., NW; 202-387-8555
Order-at-the-counter Zorba’s Cafe has been open nearly three decades. It’s hard to find a dud on the value-driven menu; especially good are stuffed grape leaves, spanakopita, Greek meatballs known as keftedes, and the gyro. In warm weather, the front patio feels like an Athenian sidewalk cafe.
Pizzeria Paradiso; 2003 P St., NW; 202-223-1245
The success of Ruth Gresser’s two-decade-old Pizzeria Paradiso lies in the pizzas’ crust. The dough, which comes out of a wood-burning oven puffy around the edges and thin in the center, is the vehicle for high-quality toppings in smart combinations: The Atomica (tomato, salami, olives, pepper flakes) and the Bosco (tomato, mushrooms, spinach, red onion) are good choices.
Tabard Inn; 1739 N St., NW; 202-331-8528
In spring and summer, one of the area’s hardest reservations is a weekend-morning seat on the patio at the Tabard Inn. Combine hot doughnuts, reliable eggs Benedict, solid house-made charcuterie, and one of the area’s best cocktail lists, and you’ve got the makings of a stellar brunch.
Las Canteras; 2307 18th St., NW; 202-265-1780
The Peruvian spot Las Canteras serves an excellent rendition of that country’s classic raw-fish appetizer: cubes of white fish soaked in an orange-based citrus sauce and mixed with cilantro and red onions. Follow it with a rich bowl of chupe de camarones, a soup-like entrée with head-on prawns, corn on the cob, fava beans, and milk.
An offbeat work lunch
Bread & Brew; 1247 20th St., NW; 202-466-2676
The usual soup-and-salad routine is kicked up a notch at Bread & Brew, where butternut squash is puréed into a spiced soup and mixed greens get slivers of smoked salmon and a poached egg.
C.F. Folks; 1225 19th St., NW; 202-293-0162
At C.F. Folks, lunch-counter fare (turkey sandwiches, Reubens) and great crabcake sandwiches are supplemented by unexpected highbrow specials that might include tagliatelle with a rich Bolognese or Arctic char with a Mediterranean-inspired eggplant purée.
An afternoon pick-me-up
Dolcezza; 1704 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-299-9116
Whether it’s gelato, sorbetto, or espresso, it’s all about top-notch ingredients at the year-old Dupont branch of Dolcezza, a charming sliver of a cafe. The frozen options, particularly the flavors made with seasonal fruit, rarely miss the mark.
Teaism; 2009 R St., NW; 202-667-3827
Another great way to kick the 3 pm blues is a salty oat cookie and a mug of green tea from Teaism.
Locolat Cafe; 1781 Florida Ave., NW; 202-518-2570
With their elegant designs, the petite chocolate truffles at the Belgian cafe Locolat Café look like they came from a jewel box. For something more filling, there are waffles—try the herb-flecked version with prosciutto and Parmesan—and sandwiches on French-made baguettes.
A burger and fries:
Black Squirrel; 2427 18th St., NW; 202-232-1011
In addition to a lot of beers, the Black Squirrel (2427 18th St., NW; 202-232-1011) has a strong lineup of pub fare, including a thin but excellent black-pepper-spiked burger, made from house-ground meat. Try the fries the Canadian way, under a blanket of house-made gravy, melted cheese, and bacon.
BGR the Burger Joint; 1514 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-299-1071
A little heftier are the delightfully messy patties (dry-aged beef, hand-ground) at BGR the Burger Joint. Although we’re fans of the lamb burger with feta and tzatziki and the mushroom-and-blue-cheese-topped Wellington, even a simple cheeseburger hits the spot—especially when paired with a tall milkshake and sweet-potato fries.
A transporting meal
Himalayan Heritage; 2305 18th St., NW; 202-483-9300
With its carved-wood pillars and mustard-yellow walls, Himalayan Heritage feels far from the noisy streets of Adams Morgan. The food, a mix of Indian and Nepalese dishes, helps, too: fried cauliflower in a spicy sauce; excellent momo dumplings, steamed wrappers stuffed with ground chicken or vegetables; and aloo chaat, a salad with chickpeas, potatoes, and yogurt.
A European-style picnic:
A.M. Wine Shoppe; 2122 18th St., NW; 202-506-2248
Owned by one of the guys behind Cashion’s, A.M. Wine Shoppe has all the trimmings of a DIY al fresco meal: charcuterie, cheese, baguettes (the Italian, sesame-seed-topped kind), olives, assorted antipasti, and about 75 bottles of wine, most priced between $12 and $25. There are also made-to-order deli sandwiches, which range from the Ad-Mo—an Italian sub—to the Tipperary, layered with prosciutto, fig jam, and Irish blue cheese.
Ezmè; 2016 P St., NW; 202-223-4303
The Turkish small-plates menu at Ezmè includes meat-filled potato croquettes, a kebab shaved from a spit of veal and lamb, and zucchini pancakes with fresh tomato sauce. Also worth trying are a wine flight and a dessert of kunefe, cheese baked and topped with lemon syrup.
L'Enfant Cafe-Bar; 2000 18th St., NW; 202-319-1800
The dim candlelight, Euro-bistro feel, and tête-à-tête seating at L’Enfant Café-Bar make for a romantic setting. Luscious crepes, a comforting croque monsieur, and well-sauced mussels also do their part. The black-pepper tuna niçoise salad is satisfying but light—leaving plenty of room for a butter-and-sugar dessert crepe.
Casa Oaxaca; 2106 18th St., NW; 202-387-2272
With its well-worn decor and artificial-tasting margaritas, it would be easy to write off Casa Oaxaca. But the menu has some interesting—and well-executed—authentic Mexican dishes. A trio of blue-corn quesadillas filled with a traditional corn fungus called huitlacoche, peppers, and pork is a tasty way to start. Duck with a fig mole and lamb tacos also hit the spot.
Perrys; 1811 Columbia Rd., NW; 202-234-6218
It’s not easy to put Perrys into any category. It’s a stylish neighborhood spot with couches and a fireplace by night—and a legendary drag-brunch destination on Sundays. It serves Modern American classics such as crabcakes and an excellent short-rib bacon-cheeseburger. It also has an ambitious sushi bar—try the Phoenix roll with tempura shrimp, avocado, and tuna. Finish with a moist chocolate-buttermilk cake.
Eola; 2020 P St., NW; 202-466-4441
Fans of everything offal flock to Eola for chef Daniel Singhofen’s revelatory takes on tongues, hearts, and kidneys. If you’re not that adventurous, check out the monthly Sunday brunch, where you can have pancakes with not one kind of bacon but six.
A taste of the tropics
Urbana; 2121 P St., NW; 202-956-6650
New chef John Critchley’s menu at Urbana is still a work in progress, but one big hit is his shellfish stew with citrus-scented coconut broth. Start with a cocktail such as the gingery Calm Before the Storm or the Short Fuse, a mix of rum, pineapple, and chili-lime bitters.
This article appears in the May 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.