28. 2 Amys ★★★
3715 Macomb St., NW; 202-885-5700
Cuisine: Its reputation was built on wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas, but the kitchen’s small-plate specials—which can include a fry plate of batter-dipped sardines and lemon slices—have come to overshadow the pies. Chef/owner Peter Pastan and his crew scour the markets for the best each season has to offer for their ever-changing list of specials. The one constant: intensity of flavor.
Mood: The cramped main dining area can be noisy, but it’s a good option for families with youngsters and for those who enjoy a charged atmosphere. For anyone who doesn’t, the cozier back bar and the quieter upstairs offer a more relaxed experience.
Best for: All those who claim the Washington area lacks simple, authentic Italian trattoria fare at reasonable prices.
Best dishes: Seasonal specials of late have included a Romanesco cauliflower deepened by anchovy, sweet garlic, and a touch of hot pepper; plump, tart sardines that taste of the sea; and an exceptional eggplant Parmesan. Among regular menu items: the Vongole pizza topped with cockles in the shell; the simple Margherita pizza with tomato, fresh mozzarella, and basil; superb house-made sorbets and ice creams.
Insider tips: Late Saturday and Sunday mornings bring house-made doughnuts as well as freshly baked onion-topped bialys and plain bagels served with cured salmon, house-made cream cheese, and red onion.
Open Monday for dinner, Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. Moderate.27. Proof ★★★
775 G St., NW; 202-737-7663
Cuisine: Of all the wine bars that have opened here, this one has the most ambitious and interesting kitchen. Still, it has often seemed better for grazing on the cheese and charcuterie boards than for splurging on a full dinner. But chef Haidar Karoum is better than ever. He’s always had an Asian bent, and you’ll still find his signature miso sablefish. He’s branching into newer territories, turning out perfectly seared sweetbreads and delicate gnocchi, too.
Mood: A leather-and-brick room carved into the middle of Verizon Center territory. Unlike its neighbors, it’s refreshingly small—sometimes frustratingly so. Stop by the bar on a weeknight and it’s likely to be jammed five deep, and forget dropping in without a reservation. It’s also loud with conversational din and so darkly lit that servers hand out flashlit magnifying glasses with the menus.
Best for: Dates or small groups; late-night dining (Thursday through Saturday, the kitchen serves cheesesteaks and meatball subs until 1 am); busting out of a Sancerre rut—enlist one of the smart servers to navigate the wine list of 1,000-plus bottles.
Best dishes: Pork confit that tastes like a mix of pork belly and Peking duck, its richness cut with cilantro and vinegary slaw; creamy sweetbreads over a sauté of charred corn; meatballs with goat-cheese agnolotti; miso-glazed sablefish; perfectly pink duck breast with pomegranate vinaigrette; shrimp burger (lunch only).
Insider tips: At the bar during lunch, $12 buys you an entrée or sandwich and a glass of wine. Desserts have been generally disappointing—consider one of Adam Bernbach’s retro cocktails instead, such as the Mirrorball, a cool, faintly sweet mix of Riesling and eau de vie.
Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for dinner (open late Friday and Saturday). Expensive.
26. Obelisk ★★★
2029 P St., NW; 202-872-1180
Cuisine: Simply conceived, carefully executed excursions into regional Italian cooking. The five-course menu, the only option ($70 Tuesday through Thursday, $75 Friday and Saturday), starts with the best part of the meal: a long parade of beautiful snacks for the table, such as burrata cheese with olive oil, miniature meatballs, and oozy risotto fritters.
Mood: Owner Peter Pastan is perhaps best known for his chaotic and crammed pizzeria, 2 Amys. Here, at the restaurant he opened 22 years ago, the vibe couldn’t be more different. Set in a Dupont Circle brownstone, the tiny dining room feels intimate and urbane.
Best for: A leisurely date or dinner with friends.
Best dishes: Recent standouts on the ever-changing roster have included a rich, brothy bowl of guinea-hen raviolini with poached egg; a pork chop marinated in grape must; and sorbets and ice creams.
Insider tips: Be careful not to stuff yourself on the antipasti—portions for the remaining courses tend to be large.
Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner. Very expensive.