It’s finally happened: After 22 years of being voted the area’s top restaurant, L’Auberge Chez François has been pushed aside. The Alsatian-style dining room still was voted best French restaurant. But the place that’s captured the hearts and palates of readers is the Mediterranean-accented Komi in DC’s Dupont Circle neighborhood.
The two restaurants couldn’t be more different: Komi’s chef/owner, Johnny Monis, is 29; François Haeringer of L’Auberge turns 90 this month. Komi is sparsely appointed, while L’Auberge is packed with colorful knickknacks.
One thing they have in common: Neither is cheap, but both are excellent values. At L’Auberge, an appetizer and dessert are included in the entrée price. At Komi, $125 brings an endless parade of courses, and dinners often stretch over three hours.
Value clearly played into many of this year’s choices. Ahead of all the upscale chains in the steakhouse category is Arlington’s Ray’s the Steaks, a white-walled, no-reservations place where one of the best things on the menu is a $19.95 hanger steak with mashed potatoes and creamed spinach included. And the best new restaurant isn’t one run by a big-name chef—it’s Jackson’s Mighty Fine Food in Reston, where the portions are big, the deviled eggs and lemon meringue pie are delicious, and not much on the menu is more than 20 bucks.
1. Komi, Dupont Circle. This tiny, spare dining room lulls you into four-hour dinners with some of the most extraordinary cooking in the city.
2. Central Michel Richard, Penn Quarter. Lobster burgers and “faux gras” terrine rule at Citronelle chef Michel Richard’s boisterous, more budget-friendly bistro.
3. Restaurant Eve, Old Town Alexandria. Besides Cathal Armstrong’s soulful, farm-to-table dishes, you’ll find fantastic service and some of the best cocktails in the area.
Best New Restaurant
1. Jackson’s Mighty Fine Food, Reston. The latest offering from the Great American Restaurants group has Reston Town Center buzzing.
2. Founding Farmers, downtown DC. Where can you get comfort food such as chicken-and-waffles and house-made potato chips in downtown? Right here.
3. Ray’s Hell-Burger, Arlington. The drippy, luscious burgers are made from trimmings left over from sister restaurant Ray’s the Steaks.
1. Komi, Dupont Circle. The young waitstaff has mastered the art of melding smart service with a warm welcome.
2. Morton’s, six area locations. Power lunchers and dealmaking regulars are well taken care of at these upscale steakhouses.
3. Carlyle, Shirlington. Friendly servers pay such close attention to tables that you’ll likely find your drink refilled before you ask.
Best for a Special Occasion
1. Komi, Dupont Circle. Whether you choose the $90 dinner menu or the $125 degustazione menu, the ride will be thrilling.
2. L’Auberge Chez François, Great Falls. Many couples and families celebrate year after year at this colorful Alsatian restaurant.
3. Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Virginia. You can’t get more lavish than Patrick O’Connell’s destination dining room in the countryside. Even the popcorn gets a shaving of truffle.
1. Ray’s the Steaks, Arlington. The $19.95 hanger steak, a flavorful cut served with creamed spinach and mashed potatoes, is one of the best deals around.
2. Five Guys, multiple area locations. Craft-your-own burgers and crispy fries are the lure at these dirt-cheap eateries.
3. Ray’s Hell-Burger, Arlington. Most of the creative toppings—charred jalapeños, roasted garlic—are free at Michael Landrum’s burger spot. And you even get a gratis hot chocolate on the way out.
1. Ray’s the Steaks, Arlington. The lines run out the door at Michael Landrum’s place for Angus and Hereford beef.
2. Morton’s, six area locations. Prime beef with a crusty, charred exterior is the hallmark of these steakhouses.
3. Ruth’s Chris Steak House, six area locations. Cowboy rib eyes and porterhouses arrive sizzling and dripping with butter.
1. Five Guys, multiple area locations. It’s no longer a local secret: This burger chain has spread from here to Manhattan to Wisconsin.
2. Ray’s Hell-Burger, Arlington. A deliciously thick, messy burger that’s worth the extra pile of napkins.
3. Good Stuff Eatery, Capitol Hill. Top Chef alum Spike Mendelsohn puts creative spins on the patty—check out the Vietnamese burger—and makes some of the best milkshakes around.