If 2008 was the year of the bistro, 2009 has been the year of the heaping plate of pasta. So it’s not surprising that readers have voted Potenza their favorite new restaurant. The boisterous downtown DC dining room offers a hearty, Little Italy–style mix of Chianti, rigatoni, cannoli, and Sinatra, with generous portions and gentle prices.
Although Komi—the tiny dining room near DC’s Dupont Circle with a $125 degustazione menu—held onto its crown as our readers’ pick for best restaurant, value won out over extravagance elsewhere. The late-night hangout Bistrot du Coin zoomed to the top of the French category, while the neighborhood wine bar Dino bested the Italian contenders. Perhaps most telling is what readers had to say about that old symbol of Washington, the steakhouse. Winning the blue ribbon by a landslide isn’t a celebrity-chef-owned restaurant or a power chain. It’s Ray’s the Steaks, the swagger-free Clarendon dining room where the quality of beef is high but the prices are not.
1. Komi, Dupont Circle. This tiny dining room marries rustic flavors—suckling pig, roasted baby goat—with Johnny Monis’s razor-sharp precision.
2. Central Michel Richard, Penn Quarter. Citronelle’s Michel Richard, one of the area’s most celebrated chefs, turns out comfort food with a wink at his easier-on-the-wallet, tough-to-get-into bistro.
3. Dino, Cleveland Park. Dean Gold’s convivial Italian wine bar and dining room is one of DC’s best neighborhood joints.
Best New Restaurant
1. Potenza, downtown DC. The kind of hearty Italian-American cooking there’s not enough of here. Bring on the Sunday gravy.
2. Founding Farmers, downtown DC. Does this Midwestern-comfort spot by the World Bank have a fresh batch of fans? It landed in the same spot on this list last year.
3. Eventide, Clarendon. With its black chandeliers and prettily presented dishes, this creative American dining room doesn’t feel like a neighborhood place. But its prices do.
1. Komi, Dupont Circle. The smart, chicly tousled servers know the Greek-accented menu so well they might have written it themselves.
2. CityZen, Capitol Hill. Eric Ziebold’s luxe dining room in the Mandarin Oriental hotel has some of the most attentive—but not overbearing—service in town.
3. L’Auberge Chez François, Great Falls. Gracious red-vested waiters dote on each table at this Alsatian institution.
Best for Special Occasions
1. Komi, Dupont Circle. Diners often linger for hours at this unpretentious—but still white-hot—foodie destination.
2. Citronelle, Georgetown. Ask for a table near the open kitchen to see Michel Richard’s brigade work its magic.
3. Restaurant Eve, Old Town Alexandria. Let this genial bistro and tasting room know it’s a special occasion and it’ll likely send you home with a gift of scone mix.