Let the conversation begin: It’s simply not possible to put together a list of the 100 best restaurants and please everyone.
This list was a year in the making. Just days after wrapping up the last survey, we wiped the slate clean (nobody in the top 100 has a sinecure) and started over, combing the region in search of deliciousness—feasting on foie gras, munching on pizza. More than 350 diner’s report cards and some added pounds later, we came up with what we believe to be the area’s 100 best right now.
What were we looking for? Not just good cooking but memorable cooking that communicates a sense of place or personal expression. Not just good service—is the server there when needed?—but the feeling of being pampered.
Decor? Ambience? They’re not as important as some might think. Ambience can enhance an experience, but in our book it’s no substitute for really good dining.
So here’s to a new year of memorable meals. May our list be a trusty companion on your dining-out excursions, and may you find deliciousness wherever you go.
100. 3 Bar & Grill ★★
2950 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington; 703-524-4440
Cuisine: Brian Robinson oversees an appealing roster of upmarket pub grub (chips with house-cured bacon, mussels steamed in beer) and rib-sticking Southern staples (collard greens, scallops with grits and ham). The cooking is more sophisticated than it reads, but the owners—who also operate the popular bar Whitlow’s on Wilson down the block—keep the mood loose.
Mood: Clarendon/Courthouse yuppies flock to the Art Deco–accented dining room for comfort food in a dressed-up setting.
Best for: A filling meal on a budget; drinks and appetizers on the patio.
Best dishes: Fried oysters with cornmeal crust; shredded duck with pickled cucumbers, bourbon molasses, and lettuce leaves for rolling (Vietnam meets the American South); chicken and waffles; pork shank in a smoky stew of beans and chickpeas; Hawaiian malasada doughnuts with dark-chocolate/coffee dipping sauce.
Insider tips: In winter, ask to sit in the ski-lodge-like room with a fireplace; in summer, the patio is the place to be. There’s a good weekday lunch deal: a soft drink and daily special for $10.
Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate.
99. Bibiana ★★
1100 New York Ave., NW; 202-216-9550
Cuisine: Restaurateur Ashok Bajaj—having tried his hand at Modern American, cutting-edge American, traditional Indian, and Indian fusion—indulges his passion for Italian cooking with this elegant restaurant on the edge of Penn Quarter. His chef is Nicholas Stefanelli, most recently of Mio, who oversees a menu of salads, pastas, pizzas, and main courses and manages to balance the needs of his well-traveled diners for lightness with his desire to tweak tradition.
Mood: It’s no looker—from the garish appointments to the unrelenting tones of brown, the dining room seems to have been outfitted by the sort of furniture stores that supply the area’s McMansions. The early crowds—a mix of tourists, curiosity seekers, and diners with billable hours—don’t appear to mind and have given the place the buzz of a play on opening night.
Best for: A client dinner.
Best dishes: Oysters with lemon emulsion; tender veal meatballs with marinara; crisp-crusted pizza for one, capped with a runny egg and strips of lardo; braised veal cheeks with white polenta, wild mushrooms, and hazelnuts; a thick twirl of squid-ink spaghetti with good crabmeat; chocolate bomba, a half-moon of ganache-draped chocolate mousse with a hazelnut-mousse center; a superb tiramisu.
Insider tips: The lounge offers a brief menu of small plates and pizza from 2:30 to 5:30 on weekdays.
Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Expensive.
98. Marvin ★★
2007 14th St., NW; 202-797-7171
Cuisine: Late in life, soul legend and DC native Marvin Gaye found redemption in Ostend, Belgium, where he wrote his classic “Sexual Healing.” This upscale U Street tavern pays homage to Gaye’s beginning and end, combining the robustness of Belgian cooking with the directness of upscale soul food. The result? Pub grub of surprising finesse and power.
Mood: A large portrait of Gaye dominates the dimly lit dining room, which feels both cozy and festive.
Best for: Hearty food before a night of U Street revelry; Belgian-beer enthusiasts; an early weeknight dinner.
Best dishes: Seared foie gras over caramelized onions; sea scallops with braised leeks; Niçoise salad with ahi tuna; coconut-curry mussels or wine-and-shallot meunière mussels, both of which come with fries and three dipping sauces; chicken and waffles atop braised greens; seared halibut in beurre blanc; bacon-topped burger on a brioche bun.
Insider tips: Reservations can be hard to come by on weekends. The inside bar upstairs can be noisy; the partially covered deck is great. Desserts remain the weak spot—if your sweet tooth beckons, head around the corner to Ben’s Chili Bowl for a post-meal milkshake.
Open Monday through Saturday for dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate.