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For the past five years, many of the area’s top chefs have been trying to attract a new generation of diners by introducing affordable bar menus and sectioning off parts of their restaurants into casual, no-reservations cafes.
This year two of the area’s most celebrated chefs took the idea a step further by opening lower-priced restaurants separate from their more extravagant flagships. In DC’s Penn Quarter there’s the always-buzzing Central, the brainchild of Citronelle’s Michel Richard. In downtown DC, there’s Brasserie Beck, a bustling, Flemish-style hangout from Marcel’s proprietor Robert Wiedmaier. This year readers voted them their favorite new restaurants and favorite bistros.
Besting the national chains and downtown power stalwarts, Ray’s the Steaks took top-steakhouse honors. Michael Landrum’s stripped-down Arlington dining room—where the most striking decorative element is a pirate’s flag—offers generously cut, excellent-quality meats for well below what you’d pay at most high-end steak restaurants, and sides such as creamed spinach and mashed potatoes are gratis.
This year we asked readers to name their favorite food deal in the area. Answers ranged from pupusas at Samantha’s in Silver Spring to the prix-fixe lunch menus at Charlie Palmer Steak on Capitol Hill and 2941 in Falls Church to the $24 early-bird special at Dino in DC’s Cleveland Park.
The biggest surprise? Many readers cited L’Auberge Chez François as their favorite food bargain. For the 22nd year, the family-run Alsatian-style cottage in Great Falls is the readers’ choice for best restaurant. It’s also the favorite in the special-occasion, best-service, and most-romantic categories. If a place where entrées start at $59 doesn’t seem like such a deal, consider that the price includes appetizer, salad, entrée, coffee, and dessert—and for the patrons who return year after year to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, plenty of memories.
1. L’Auberge Chez François, Great Falls. The Haeringer family’s welcoming Alsatian dining room wins for the 22nd time.
2. Central Michel Richard, Penn Quarter. French chef Michel Richard’s bustling, for-the-people bistro has lots of fans.
3. Citronelle, Georgetown. And so does the exquisite French cooking at Richard’s Georgetown flagship.
Best New Restaurant
1. Central Michel Richard, Penn Quarter. Where gougères and duck rillettes meet corned-beef sandwiches and fried chicken.
2. Brasserie Beck, downtown DC. There’s much more than moules frites at Robert Wiedmaier’s robust Belgian eatery.
3. Proof, Penn Quarter. Flatbreads and charcuterie complement 40 by-the-glass wines and a rolling cart of Champagnes and other sparklers.
1. L’Auberge Chez François, Great Falls. At 88, owner François Haeringer often still greets patrons at the door, and the rest of the staff is just as gracious.
2. Restaurant Eve, Old Town Alexandria. Crisp, knowledgeable service with a sense of fun.
3. Komi, Dupont Circle. The young waitstaff is as smart and precise as they come.
Best for a Special Occasion
1. L’Auberge Chez François, Great Falls. Meals made special, whether in the summer garden or amid the Christmas finery.
2. Citronelle, Georgetown. The tasting menu is a grand tour de force.
3. Restaurant Eve, Old Town Alexandria. You’ll feel pampered in both the tasting room and the convivial bistro.
1. L’Auberge Chez François, Great Falls. Clink those Kir Royales amid relaxed Gallic elegance.
2. Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Virginia. An anniversary favorite that doesn’t stint on luxury—or caviar.
3. 1789 Restaurant, Georgetown. A cozy banquette near the fireplace sets a perfect mood.