88. Art and Soul ★★
Liaison Capitol Hill, 415 New Jersey Ave., NW; 202-393-7777
Cuisine: Chicago celebrity chef Art Smith—formerly of Oprah Winfrey’s home kitchen—and his local deputy, Travis Timberlake, serve up feel-good food. Their renditions of classic Southern fare are both gussied up (an oyster po’ boy turned into a hoecake) and faithful (simple fried chicken with white gravy).
Mood: It might look like a retro-chandeliered hotel restaurant (and you’ll see many a rolling suitcase) but looming portraits of Martin Luther King Jr. and Dwight Eisenhower—and perhaps a Nancy Pelosi sighting—remind you that you’re dining just steps from the seat of power.
Best for: A crowd-pleasing dinner with a big group; a gut-busting power lunch; snacking at the bar; weekend brunch (oh, the lemon pancakes).
Best dishes: Chesapeake Bay fry, a Southern take on fritto misto with oysters, hushpuppies, okra, and shrimp; arugula salad with blackberry vinaigrette and watermelon pickles; hoecakes (pancake-like rounds made with cornmeal) topped with either fried oysters and rémoulade, apples and blue cheese, or pulled pork and slaw; a wedge of buttery-crusted onion pie slathered with goat cheese; lunchtime fried chicken, boneless and wonderfully juicy; pecan-crusted chicken; crisply fried trout drizzled with rhubarb vinaigrette; spiced quince trifle; “baby cakes,” an ever-changing quintet of mini cupcakes.
Insider tips: A budget-friendly Sunday supper features the fried chicken plus two sides for $18.
Open Monday through Friday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for breakfast, brunch, and dinner. Expensive.
87. Grapeseed ★★
4865 Cordell Ave., Bethesda; 301-986-9592
Cuisine: This wine bar/restaurant pairs whimsical-but-not-cutesy fare with sips from around the globe. The nearly 500 wines, $6 to $20 by the glass, are also available in inexpensive tasting portions.
Mood: Although there’s plenty of goblet swirling and chatter about the subtleties of, say, the cellar’s 37 Pinot Noirs, the blond-wood restaurant doesn’t feel pretentious. One category on the wine list is “kinda sweet, sorta dry.”
Best for: Wine flights with friends; casual dates that still feel special.
Best dishes: Roasted piquillo pepper oozing goat cheese; fried oysters swabbed in bacony beurre blanc; ultra-rich mushroom fricassee; sauté of calamari with chorizo and lemon; lobster in spicy-sweet Vietnamese-style caramel sauce; roasted balsamic chicken.
Insider tips: Lunch specials abound. Tuesday through Friday there are three $6 shrimp specials plus a special of $12 for two courses chosen from the regular menu.
Open Monday and Saturday for dinner, Tuesday through Friday for lunch and dinner. Expensive.
86. Circle Bistro ★★
1 Washington Cir., NW; 202-293-5390
Cuisine: After a rocky year, the kitchen seems to have stabilized with the arrival of Ethan McKee, a veteran of Equinox and Rock Creek at Mazza, whose French- and Mediterranean-influenced American menu runs to plates such as wild Alaskan halibut with chorizo, Swiss chard, and saffron butter.
Mood: Deciding where to sit can be hard. Will it be the teeming lounge, where you can nibble on snacks such as fries with fines herbes mayonnaise, or the conversation-friendly dining room done in shades of orange, yellow, and cream?
Best for: The Kennedy Center–bound—there’s a $35, three-course pre-theater meal from 5 to 7.
Best dishes: Crisp potato-crusted oysters with bacon-chive crème fraîche; roasted-beet salad with arugula and walnut vinaigrette; lamb rib eye with ratatouille and olive tapenade; duck with celery root, spinach, crispy leeks, and orange; a deconstructed brownie sundae including a dense, fudgy wedge of cake, house-made espresso ice cream, and candied walnuts.
Insider tips: There are lots of deals, including half-price cocktails, beer, and wine at the bar Monday through Friday from 4:30 to 7:30 and free bottomless mimosas at Sunday brunch.
Service: ••Open Monday through Friday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Saturday for breakfast and dinner, Sunday for breakfast, brunch, and dinner. Moderate to expensive.