49 The Majestic ★★½
911 King St., Alexandria | 703-837-9117
Cuisine: Gussied-up American comfort fare courtesy of Restaurant Eve chef Cathal Armstrong makes this Old Town bistro the ultimate neighborhood restaurant. Pasta, bread, chips, and pickles are crafted in-house, with chef Shannon Overmiller executing Armstrong’s vision. As at Restaurant Eve, Todd Thrasher’s cocktails and wines are as much fun as the food.
Mood: This intimate space—where contemporary meets art deco—has a conversational hum that turns loud when the room is hopping.
Best for: Dinner out with friends or family; spiffy cocktails at the bar; a speedy yet far from run-of-the-mill lunch.
Best dishes: Sardines with caramelized onions and capers; mussels with bacon and cream; whole branzino with fennel, olives, and oranges; lamb shank with roasted tomato grits; surprisingly light meatloaf with mashed potatoes; pineapple upside-down cake with caramel sauce.
Insider tips: The Royal Pick bar-lunch special gets you an entrée—we like the bratwurst with warm potato salad—and a soda or iced tea for $12. Nana’s Family Dinner for 4 on Sundays is ideal for kids; menus change monthly, but the family meal has included fried chicken, roast lamb, pot roast, and chicken pot pie. The staff also will pack up the leftovers to go.
Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday 1 to 9 for dinner. Moderate to expensive.
48 Montmartre ★★½
327 Seventh St., SE | 202-544-1244
Cuisine: Stephane Lezla’s soulful bistro fare induces nostalgia for Paris. His specials may dabble in fusion, but the simple, robust plates keep regulars coming back.
Mood: It’s a few blocks from the Capitol, but you might think you were on the Left Bank. Every evening, couples and foursomes of all ages stream into the dining room for comfort, French style.
Best for: Francophiles; a weekday dinner or special-occasion meal.
Best dishes: House-made country pâté; two items on the summer menu, silky eggplant-and-pine-nut mousse and cassoulet with duck-leg confit; braised rabbit legs over linguine; sautéed calf’s liver; pear-marzipan tart; chocolate mousse.
Insider tips: The help is often challenged by the cramped space. Tables by the window have the most breathing room.
Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. Moderate.
47 Black Market Bistro ★★½
4600 Waverly Ave., Garrett Park | 301-933-3000
Cuisine: The most engaging and consistent of Jeff and Barbara Black’s four restaurants—BlackSalt, Black’s Bar & Kitchen, and Addie’s are the others—dishes up new American classics such as shrimp with grits and cornmeal-crusted oysters, with sauces and condiments that take them beyond the ordinary.
Mood: A turn-of-the-century post-office building in Garrett Park with antique-filled rooms. Trains rumbling by add to the dining-in-the-country allure.
Best for: Weekend brunch in the sunny dining rooms; summer supper on the porch; lunch with a friend; well-done American cooking anytime.
Best dishes: Pizza bianca with caramelized onion; New Orleans–style barbecue shrimp over corn-and-scallion grits in a buttery-spicy “gravy”; cider-cured roast pork tenderloin with bacon-braised cabbage and mustard sauce; hardwood-grilled hanger steak with chimichurri; roast chicken with intense jus; hardwood-grilled burger; chocolate bread pudding with vanilla ice cream.
Insider tips: Ask for a table in the main dining room; the smaller annex feels a bit like Siberia unless you’re having a private party. The handful of tables on the porch in summer are prime real estate—first come, first served.
Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate.
46 Jaleo ★★½
480 Seventh St. NW, 202-628-7949 | 7271 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda, 301-913-0003
Cuisine: Celebrity chef José Andrés’s Jaleo restaurants—two of the three make our list—are loving odes to classic Spanish tapas. Many, such as the garlic shrimp, are classics you’ll find all over Spain, but Andrés experiments, too, with fresh variations on familiar themes. These small, boldly flavored plates—order several to make a meal—pair well with the sangrías, Cavas, fino sherries, and new reserve wines on the restaurant’s impressive Spanish-centric list.
Mood: Sprawling dining rooms and the tapas format attract large groups, so the scene tends to be more raucous than intimate. The original downtown DC location long had the sharpest kitchen, but the energy seems to have shifted slightly to Bethesda, while the Crystal City outpost lags behind.
Best for: Couples and groups on the prowl for cheap eats in stylish surroundings. Both DC and Bethesda are good spots for before or after the theater or a movie; the three-course pretheater meal—three small plates plus dessert—for $25 is a good deal.
Best dishes: Thin shavings of Ibérico ham from Spain’s famed black-footed pigs; all-Spanish cheese plate; crisp chicken croquetas; fried organic egg with a dollop of caviar; bacon-wrapped dates; house-made chorizo on potato purée; airy salt-cod fritters; arroz con leche, a creamy rice pudding with lemon marmalade; flan.
Insider tips: Pricey paellas often take more than the stated time to prepare and aren’t as satisfying as the little plates.
Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Inexpensive to moderate.
45 1789 ★★½
1226 36th St., NW | 202-965-1789
Cuisine: It doesn’t get more old Washington than this clubby Georgetown dining room. But fresh talent in the kitchen—24-year-old chef Daniel Giusti—is shaking up the rear-guard American menu, slipping Burgundy snails into the broccoli soup and jazzing up the rack of lamb with pierogi.
Mood: With its stuffed pheasants, flowery Limoges china, and aged Currier & Ives prints, the place is imbued with a stately stodginess.
Best for: Anyone with hard-to-please tastes; winter dinners by the old stone hearth; privacy seekers (there are plenty of places to hide away among the six dining rooms).
Best dishes: Steak tartare topped with a runny quail egg; caramelized veal sweetbreads with figs, bacon relish, and bleu cheese; rack of lamb; rockfish with smoky littleneck clams; deconstructed tarte Tatin, each of its parts delicious; chocolate brownie laced with mission figs and dotted with Marcona almonds.
Insider tips: A $40 three-course menu, served every night, is a terrific deal, but you have to request it. Desserts are one of the best parts of the meal, courtesy of new pastry chef Travis Olson. The most desirable tables are in the John Carroll Room near the fireplace.
Open daily for dinner. Very expensive.
44 Taberna del Alabardero ★★½
1776 I St., NW | 202-429-2200
Cuisine: Taberna has been a mainstay of classic Old World cuisine, but since taking over a year ago, chef Dani Arana has lightened the menu, pointing up Spain’s relationship with the sea as well as its earthy indulgences in organ meats.
Mood: The red room, with its domed private rotunda in view, teeters between baroquely romantic and nightclub VIP lounge. The subdued noise level tips the balance toward the romantic.
Best for: Promising second or third dates; upscale after-work celebrations; lovers of good sherry.
Best dishes: Among recent tapas: olive-oil-drizzled toasts with anchovy and avocado or pork tenderloin and poached egg; cevichelike salpicon of mussels, scallops, octopus, and shrimp; sausage-stuffed peppers. From the dining menu: braised oxtail; sautéed sweetbreads, scallops, and wild mushrooms (an appetizer rich enough for a light meal); veal-tongue carpaccio; grouper au gratin. If you want paella, try the wild-mushroom veggie version.
Insider tips: International regulars know to indulge in happy-hour tapas, all half price in the lounge area from 3 to 6 pm weekdays.
Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. Expensive.
43 Le Paradou ★★½
678 Indiana Ave., NW | 202-347-6780.
Cuisine: It could be called Le Paradox: On certain days, Yannick Cam’s kitchen sends out some of the city’s most ethereal cooking. On others you can get disappointing plates—especially considering that appetizers can reach $32. The menu is resolutely French and heavy on luxe ingredients such as osetra caviar and foie gras, none of which matters if the kitchen isn’t in gear.
Mood: European formality suffuses the honey-toned dining room, where freshly cut orchids grace every table and the ceiling glimmers with starry lights. The crowd ranges from elegantly scarfed Parisian women discussing the china to lawyers dissecting the leather-bound wine list.
Best for: A business lunch; a romantic dinner when cost isn’t a concern; fans of lobster—it’s all over the menu and shows up in many of Cam’s most memorable dishes.
Best dishes: Lobster purse bound by a thin dumpling skin and drizzled with gingery carrot purée; lobster gazpacho, a claw with avocado terrine and tomato; lobster bathed in Sauternes butter with slivers of grapefruit zest; silky foie gras terrine with apricots; foie-gras-laced boudin blanc; buffalo-mozzarella salad with tomatoes and olives; roasted squab with foie gras and plum pudding; veal osso buco; rum-soaked baba with vanilla ice cream; Granny Smith–apple soufflé.
Insider tips: There’s a terrific bargain to be had at lunch: an appetizer and entrée for $35 or two appetizers and an entrée for $45. Portions aren’t stinting, and though you won’t find foie gras with the squab, all the lobster dishes are included.
Open Tuesday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Monday and Saturday for dinner. Very expensive.
42 Blue Duck Tavern ★★½
1201 24th St., NW | 202-419-6755
Cuisine: Rustic American cooking given an upscale gloss—nearly every farm that supplies the kitchen is named on a menu where roast chicken and apple pie share space with rillettes and roulades. Plates are meant to be passed around, as at a family dinner—one that’s about $65 a head.
Mood: The design of the hotel dining room is as severe as it gets—all glass walls and sharp angles—but everything else strives for a gather-around-the-hearth feel: Shaker quilts, Windsor benches, a row of apple pies cooling near the front door.
Best for: Dinner with meat-and-potatoes folks and adventurous palates alike; summer lunch by the fountain on the patio.
Best dishes: Smoky mackerel rillettes topped with shaved cucumber and crème fraîche and served with toasts; airy pumpkin custard with tangy pomegranate seeds; whatever terrine is on the menu, especially if it comes with foie gras pâté; saffron-scented fisherman’s stew; roasted chicken; rack of pork with apples (peaches in summer); crab cakes; macaroni and cheese; baked beans with rabbit confit; house-made ice creams, especially chocolate and strawberry.
Insider tips: Sides tend to be heavy—buttery carrots, duck-fat-fried French fries, bleu-cheesy grits. Eating at the bar here won’t get you any deals: The menu seems aimed at hotel guests willing to pay $25 for a burger and $15 for a martini.
Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Expensive.
41 Charlie Palmer Steak ★★½
101 Constitution Ave., NW | 202-547-8100
Cuisine: Culinary titan Charlie Palmer espouses a brawny aesthetic—precious arrangements and portion control be damned. But this steakhouse, one of 11 restaurants in his empire, isn’t all dry-aged, salt-crusted slabs of beef and trays of shellfish on ice. Palmer and his protégé, chef Matt Hill, give equal time to tuna tartare, roast chicken, and other bistro-leaning dishes.
Mood: It’s hard to find a more majestic space to dine in, particularly at night—the glass along the front wall allows for glimpses of the glowing Capitol dome. And there’s prime people-watching, from politicos in the bar to fat cats springing for bottles of cellared Cabernets in the dining room.
Best for: An expense-account lunch or dinner.
Best dishes: Seared foie gras with apples; coriander-crusted Kona kampachi; fresh oysters on the half shell; bone-in, cowboy-cut rib eye; porterhouse for two; side dishes of Parmesan-tomato gnocchi, sautéed hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, and potato purée.
Insider tips: The lunch deal—three courses for $25—is among the best in town.
Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Very expensive.
40 Buck’s Fishing and Camping ★★½
5031 Connecticut Ave., NW | 202-364-0777
Cuisine: Chef/owner Carole Greenwood’s fine-dining paean to the holy trinity of contemporary gastronomy: local, seasonal, organic.
Mood: Red walls, retro Champagne glasses, and vintage ’50s tables serve as backdrop for the lawyers, journalists, and other hotshots who descend on this Cleveland Park gem.
Best for: An intimate date or double date.
Best dishes: Batter-fried chile relleno that gives off a slow, subtle heat; fresh, sweet, chunky gazpacho (in summer); whole grilled branzino; fried chicken with a hit of Old Bay in the crust; peach-and-blueberry pie.
Insider tips: Don’t even try sending that soy-marinated cowboy steak back to the kitchen for more cooking or asking for sauce on the side. Greenwood does not suffer menu meddlers. Also, get there early to avoid the disappearance of menu items.
Open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner. Expensive.
39 Johnny’s Half Shell ★★½
400 N. Capitol St., NW | 202-737-0400
Cuisine: The Big Easy and the Chesapeake both get their due at this classics-with-a-twist fishhouse/saloon, the creation of James Beard Award–winning chef Ann Cashion. So do fine dining and humble plates, from one of the better caviar deals in town—$19 for a jar of red and black with blini and crème fraîche—to a roast-beef po’ boy on a Leidenheimer roll evoking the famed sandwich at Mother’s in New Orleans.
Mood: A couple of years after moving from its quirky Dupont Circle digs to larger, less personal quarters on Capitol Hill, Johnny’s has the look of a place that’s been around forever. The bar, with retro floor tiles and boisterous talk, impersonates a New Orleans watering hole. A jazz trio plays weekend nights, and a piano player holds forth at lunchtime during the week.
Best for: A seafood fix or a respite from the experimental cooking at many of the city’s new dining rooms.
Best dishes: Fried oysters with tart relish; crunchy fritto misto with fried green tomatoes; barbecue crabs (in season); crab cake with slaw and French fries; lobster with drawn butter; at lunch, fried-seafood po’ boy, roast-beef po’ boy, and hot dog with bleu cheese and pickled onions; burger sliders with zippy pimiento cheese at the bar.
Insider tips: Some of the best eating and values are at breakfast (grillades and grits), lunch, and at the bar—happy hour from 4:30 to 7:30 weekdays is big with the congressional crowd.
Open Monday through Friday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Moderate.
38 Passage to India ★★½
4931 Cordell Ave., Bethesda | 301-656-3373
Cuisine: Owner/chef Sudhir Seth’s careful approach to regional Indian cooking—the menu covers a wide swath of the subcontinent—translates into refined plates that are light and complex.
Mood: Intricately painted and carved doors hung as wall art reinforce the “passage” motif in the serene dining room.
Best for: A lingering night out; lunch or dinner that ventures far beyond tandoor and palak paneer.
Best dishes: Sev-murmura chaat, a pileup of puffed rice, tamarind, cilantro, and dates; masala-spiced mounds of lump crab; warqi pudina paratha, a mint-flecked whole-wheat flatbread; Parsi-style lamb stew with apricots and straw potatoes; curry of okra and onions with mango powder; shrimp stew with cloves, ginger, and cinnamon; the area’s best Indian pickle plate.
Insider tips: Servers may look formal, but engage them and they’ll help put together a meal so you avoid the trap of many first-timers: too many similar-tasting dishes.
Open daily for lunch and dinner. Moderate.
37 Zaytinya ★★½
701 Ninth St., NW | 202-638-0800
Cuisine: José Andrés’s reimagined Greek, Turkish, and Lebanese mezze have purists admitting that these clever redos are often better than the classics.
Mood: An all-white palette and candles make the space shimmer. It might be romantic if not for the near-deafening buzz from the bar and other diners.
Best for: Groups out on the town or enjoying a pre– or post–Verizon Center meal.
Best dishes: Gigantes (lima beans on steroids) with kale; airy taramasalata; roasted cauliflower with pine-nut purée; zucchini-and-cheese fritters; adana kebab with harissa and sumac onions; lamb shank over eggplant purée; visne (cherry) soufflé with muscat-spiked yogurt and sour-cherry sorbet.
Insider tips: Limited reservations are available every night, but you usually have to call a few weeks in advance to get a prime weekend slot.
Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate.
36 Makoto ★★½
4822 MacArthur Blvd., NW | 202-298-6866
Cuisine: A kaiseki-style parade of tiny courses spotlighting traditional Japanese cooking both familiar (soba noodles and sashimi) and less well known (pickled mountain vegetable).
Mood: Kimono-clad waitresses shout, “Oyasuminasai!” in unison when customers walk in, then signal for them to put aside their shoes in favor of a pair of slippers. Diners sit on wooden boxes in the sparely decorated dining room.
Best for: Foodies looking for a break from the usual high-end restaurants; sushi fans.
Best dishes: The eight-to-ten-course menu is the thing to get, and the dishes change often. Recently we’ve liked a pear-and-cranberry salad with miso-sprinkled avocado; an at-the-table grill of sea scallops, shavings of Kobe beef, and shrimp; fried shrimp with lemon; persimmon with tofu; toro sashimi with fresh wasabi.
Insider tips: The $60 set menu seems like a deal, but supplements add up. The boutique sakes are $12 and higher. Tap water isn’t available—you have to pay for a tiny bottle of Perrier. And the sushi embellishments—fatty tuna instead of regular, for example—tack on even more.
Open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for dinner. Very expensive.
35 Westend Bistro ★★½
1190 22nd St., NW | 202-974-4900
Cuisine: Eric Ripert’s mash-up of French nostalgia (pork cassoulet, rillettes) and American comfort classics (shrimp and grits) relies on precision cooking, a hallmark of the chef’s famed Le Bernardin in New York City. Four-star dining at two-star prices is the aim, and when things click, Westend comes close to that lofty ideal. But since the departure of Leonardo Marino and the arrival of Joe Palma, the kitchen has been erratic.
Mood: The buzz has dwindled, but weekends are still a tough reservation and the bar a gathering spot for older singles. With its gleaming wood and amber glow, the dining room is at its best when full.
Best for: The convivial bar scene; dining with friends; a business lunch; dinner with a date.
Best dishes: Tuna carpaccio dressed with lemon, chives, shallots, and olive oil; salmon rillettes with smoked and fresh fish; a terrific macaroni and cheese with toasted bread crumbs; perfectly cooked snapper with smoked-ham succotash; melting oven-roasted butternut and acorn squash and pumpkin; apple cobbler crunchy with brown sugar; chocolate-caramel cream.
Insider tips: A booth by the windows is the place to be. And ask for another table if you don’t like what you’re given—the tendency is to fill less desirable seats first.
Open daily for lunch and dinner. Expensive.