Washingtonian's 100 Best Restaurants

It's time for our annual list of the 100 best restaurants in Washington!

By: Todd Kliman, Ann Limpert, Cynthia Hacinli, Rina Rapuano, Eve Zibart

100 Best Restaurants Database
Printable List of 100 Best Restaurants
Best Restaurants in Washington, DC
Best Restaurants in Virginia
Best Restaurants in Maryland
Critics Pick the 25 Best Dishes
30 Great-Value Dishes
Restaurateurs of the Year
The 2009 Foodie In and Out List
100 Best Photo Slideshow

This year’s list of 100 best restaurants arrives at a precarious time: The stock market is down, the real-estate market is soft, and many consumers are more likely to chew their nails than to chew a $46 porterhouse. A year ago, the area’s top dining destinations were jammed midweek; now you can count empty tables, and restaurants are handing out promotions like supermarket specials. For many people, going out feels more like a splurge than it did last year.

You could say that an issue devoted to great dining is out of step with the cautious times. Or you could say that dining advice matters more than ever. After all, if you’re going to spend good money, you want to know which restaurants are worth it.

As we have for the past two years, we’ve awarded stars, and we’ve also ranked restaurants from 1 to 100. Identifying the top 100 takes the better part of a year and requires countless visits to restaurants across the region. The places that earned a spot on this list did so with memorable cooking. If the food didn’t move us, we moved on—despite whatever else a restaurant had going for it. Atmosphere, whether lively or soothing, can enhance an experience but almost never makes up for dull cooking.

Beyond the plate, we looked for warmth and generosity of spirit, an attentiveness that makes a diner feel not just served but also cared for.

Because of the times, we put a higher premium than usual on value, bearing in mind that an inexpensive restaurant isn’t necessarily a great value, just as an expensive one isn’t necessarily a poor value.

The questions we asked—does a place deliver what it promises, and does it attain all it reaches for?—are the same ones many of you ask when you contact us looking for help with a big date, anniversary celebration, or other special occasion. These 100 restaurants all answer in the affirmative.

—Todd Kliman

>> See our photo slideshow of dishes from this year's 100 Best Restaurants 

>> See the 100 Best Restaurants from 2008

Want to write your own reviews for area restaurants? Check out our new reader restaurant review tool.

100 Marvin ★★

2007 14th St., NW | 202-797-7171

Cuisine: DC legend Marvin Gaye is the inspiration for a menu that veers from Belgium (he lived there for two years) to the American South. The big plates of fried chicken and waffles that seem to sail endlessly out of the kitchen’s window every night are well worth ordering; otherwise we’ve had better luck with the Euro side of the menu.

Mood: Owned by the guys behind Local 16 and 18th Street Lounge, this hangout stays jammed on weekends, in both the rooftop bar and the downstairs bistro. The dining room exudes a smoky brand of cool with raw light bulbs and a reggae soundtrack that competes with the laughter and conversation.

Best for: Dinner with friends who value scene as much as food; a meal before hitting the bars on U Street; Belgian-beer aficionados.

Best dishes: Frisée-and-watercress salad with apples, Roquefort, and lardons; seared foie gras over caramelized onions; French fries with three dipping sauces; chicken and waffles, that Harlem Renaissance–era classic; seared halibut in beurre blanc; bacon-topped burger on a brioche bun.

Insider tips: Appetizers are sized for sharing, as are desserts, although the sweets we tried—pumpkin cheesecake, profiteroles—were skippable. After dinner, head to the roof, where heat lamps and bottles of Delirium Tremens keep revelers toasty in winter.

Service:

Open Monday through Saturday for dinner. Moderate.

99 Jackson’s Mighty Fine Food ★★

11927 Democracy Dr., Reston | 703-437-0800

Cuisine: Nostalgic comfort food from the Great American Restaurants group. The kitchen puts out original dishes—deviled eggs with sugared bacon, lemon “marshmallow meringue” pie—but there are plenty of the chain’s classics, such as the flourless chocolate waffle.

Mood: The restaurant pays homage to the memory of the late chef Bill Jackson, with both a Norman Rockwell–style painting and a letter board listing all his nicknames (“Charmer”) and favorite things (wasabi). All-booth seating and cheery service keep diners happy.

Best for: A relaxed, not-too-expensive date; dinner with a picky eater; a kid-friendly meal.

Best dishes: Deviled eggs with sugared bacon and pecans; pimiento-cheesy red-pepper dip and guacamole; lobster mac and cheese; field greens with warm goat cheese and spiced pecans; crab cakes; sea bass with a gingery soy broth; lemon meringue pie with a graham-cracker crust; flourless chocolate waffle.

Insider tips: The restaurant looks big, but it fills up quickly—call ahead to put your name on the waiting list. Portions are generous and easy to share.

Service: •••

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Moderate.

98 Acadiana ★★

901 New York Ave., NW | 202-408-8848

Cuisine: Butter, cream, cheese, and bacon super-charge nearly every dish—even the salads—at Jeff Tunks’s homage to Louisiana cooking.

Mood: With drab carpeting and embroidered rose-colored banquettes, the subdued dining room feels more DC buttoned down than New Orleans jazzed up. That’s okay by the lobbyists and lawyers who have turned it into a second office.

Best for: Dealmaking; cholesterol-be-damned indulgence; Sazeracs and gin fizzes at the bar.

Best dishes: Fried green tomatoes in tangy shrimp rémoulade; a beef-filled turnover with black-pepper-ranch dipping sauce; deviled eggs topped with pickled shrimp, crab, and ham; charbroiled oysters in garlicky butter; seafood gumbo; pepper-jelly-glazed half duck; barbecue shrimp; lunchtime oyster and shrimp po’ boys; chocolate doberge cake with orange-blossom ice cream; Pimm’s-cup cocktail.

Insider tips: During weekday happy hour, many cocktails are discounted to $5. Ask the bartender for a bread basket—excellent buttermilk biscuits with pepper jelly and cream cheese—to nibble on. Many dishes, especially charbroiled oysters, the trio of pies, and barbecue shrimp, are big enough to share.

Service: ••½

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner, Sunday for brunch. Expensive.

97 Surfside ★★

2444 Wisconsin Ave., NW | 202-337-0004

Cuisine: Fajitas, quesadillas, and some of the best tacos in town are done with freshness and flair. Limes and pineapples sizzle on the grill, the guacamole is made with extra-virgin olive oil, and the ginger beer is imported from Bermuda. David Scribner, who presides behind the “open line” in a spotless chef’s coat, prepares much of the fare himself. Check the specials board for his more ambitious dishes.

Mood: A come-as-you-are hangout crammed with prepsters downing margaritas. Whirring ceiling fans and a beachy mural make it feel like summer year-round. When the weather does warm up, the upstairs deck is a nice hideaway.

Best for: Fast, healthy dinners (the craft-your-own salad selection is excellent); fast, indulgent dinners (the lime sour cream is deliriously good); takeout.

Best dishes: Guacamole; tacos overstuffed with shrimp and pineapple or grilled fish and corn salsa; vegetable quesadilla filled with mushrooms and spinach; steak quesadilla to be dunked in lime sour cream; salads with green-goddess or honey-peanut dressing; grilled fish of the day with gingery green curry; scallops with cider brown-butter, a Scribner signature that occasionally shows up as a special.

Insider tips: Burritos are skippable—they’re more starchy than spicy. The cheap fare makes for great takeout, and the restaurant now offers curbside pickup service.

Service: ••

Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Inexpensive.

96 Founding Farmers ★★

1924 Pennsylvania Ave., NW | 202-822-8783

Cuisine: Bob’s Big Boy meets trendy bistro. Produce is trucked in daily from a nationwide collective of farmers, and the menu covers more ground than a roadhouse diner—soups, salads, fish, steaks and chops, cheese plates, cocktails, and a slate of wines. Portions are big, and prices make you think you’re dining in the country, not three blocks from the White House.

Mood: The two-level space can best be described as barnyard chic—urban industrial touches are leavened most memorably by a collection of pickled produce. Young professionals at the bar give the front of the house a party air.

Best for: A comfort-food pick-me-up.

Best dishes: Skillet cornbread; fried chicken with waffles and a side of mac and cheese; rib-eye steak with mashed potatoes; “fisherman’s pasta” in broth for two; the 17-vegetable salad (big enough for three); buttermilk pancakes and eggs.

Insider tips: The big, home-style breakfasts are of the sort you wouldn’t expect to find in the city. Forgo an order of pancakes and get them on the side—you’ll still get three.

Service: ••

Open Monday through Friday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Saturday for dinner, Sunday for brunch, lunch, and dinner. Moderate.

95 Faryab ★★

4917 Cordell Ave., Bethesda | 301-951-3484

Cuisine: The area’s best Afghan cooking—terrific renditions of steamed leek- and beef-filled dumplings, sweet and subtly spiced rice pallows, and stellar vegetarian stews.

Mood: The hushed dining room feels like the anti-Bethesda restaurant—no banquettes, no trendy light fixtures. Still, reservations are usually a must on weekends.

Best for: Groups; vegetarians; anyone in need of sustenance and sanctuary.

Best dishes: Steamed dumplings known as aushak (with leeks) and mantu (with beef), served with yogurt and mint; bulanee kachalu, lightly fried dumplings filled with ground beef and potatoes; qualibi pallow, raisin-studded rice with tender hunks of lamb; chalow kadu, stewed pumpkin smothered with yogurt; chalow bademjan, a flavorful eggplant stew.

Insider tips: It’s hard to think of an Afghan meal without kebabs, but you can skip them here. They tend to be dry and don’t match the excitement of the vegetarian stews.

Service: ••½

Open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner. Inexpensive.

 

94 DC Coast ★★

1401 K St., NW | 202-216-5988

Cuisine: Chef/owner Jeff Tunks tapped promising young chef Brendan Cox to head the kitchen late last year, but a slow-and-steady approach is what has kept this atrium-style dining room running well for the past decade. Dishes such as Chinese-style smoked lobster and Tahitian-style tuna tartare are just daring enough, while the risk-averse rely on stalwarts such as fried Chesapeake oysters, roasted Mediterranean sea bass, and crab cakes.

Mood: With its banklike building, the efficiency of the waitstaff, and the professionals who dine here, the place is all business, though it loosens up during the dinner hours.

Best for: A thank-you meal for a client; dinner with parents or out-of-towners.

Best dishes: Mussels in white-wine sauce; chile relleno atop corn and black beans; fried oysters with crispy lemons; brook-trout meunière; Chinese-style smoked lobster; cider-brined pork chop with cabbage and pears.

Insider tips: Don’t try to linger over lunch. Servers aim to get you in and out—great if you’re trying to make a 1:30 meeting, not so much when you’re catching up with an old friend.

Service: ••

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for dinner. Expensive.

93 Bistro L’Hermitage ★★

12724 Occoquan Rd., Woodbridge | 703-499-9550

Cuisine: Formal French restaurants are a dying breed, but this Woodbridge throwback serves reliable renditions from the canon, including rack of lamb, roast duck, and entrecôte—all fortified with intense wine reductions.

Mood: Inside the suburban exterior, the space exudes a kind of medieval charm, with a stone wall and torchlike sconces. Waiters with white towels add to the quaint formality.

Best for: A relaxing dinner after strolling through the shops of Occoquan’s riverfront; a respite from chain dining.

Best dishes: Lobster bisque; Bibb lettuce with dried cranberries, candied nuts, and Roquefort dressing; seared, pepper-crusted tuna with a sauté of artichokes; organic roasted chicken with mustard sauce and perfect fries; rainbow trout over Champagne risotto; crème brûlée.

Insider tips: Portions are large for fine dining, so consider splitting an appetizer and a dessert.

Service: ••

Open Tuesday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Expensive.

92 Circle Bistro ★★

1 Washington Cir., NW | 202-293-5390

Cuisine: The departure of chef Brendan Cox dealt a bit of a blow to this bistro, known for simple, uncluttered plates of French-inspired American cooking at affordable prices. The menu hasn’t changed much under Richard King, nor has the commitment to procuring top-notch meats, fishes, and produce, but the kitchen has been uneven.

Mood: The orange-walled room is an unexpected oasis—and one of the best spots in town for the opera- or symphony-bound or anyone in need of a getaway lunch. But service is sometimes off, and waits between courses can be long.

Best for: Diners headed to the Kennedy Center; nibbles with a crowd in the moodily lit lounge.

Best dishes: Highlights have included butternut-squash soup with pumpkin-seed oil; fried green tomatoes with rémoulade; brook-trout meunière; sliced hanger steak with bordelaise sauce; roast chicken with jus; souffléd chocolate bread pudding.

Insider tips: The $35 pretheater menu, available until 7, is a good deal, as are the well-priced lunch and bar menus.

Service: •½

Open Monday through Saturday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate to expensive.

91 Amici Miei ★★

1093 Seven Locks Rd., Rockville | 301-545-0966

Cuisine: Trattoria cooking reminiscent of good neighborhood eateries in Italy. Chef and co-owner Davide Megna’s menu has gotten more daring since the place opened in 2004, so alongside signature pastas such as a textbook veal Bolognese and thin-crusted pizzas are lesser-known Italian preparations such as cockles in saffron broth.

Mood: This is a go-to spot for the neighborhood crowd, giving the dining room the feel of a house party at times. But co-owner Roberto Deias is gifted at making newcomers feel welcome.

Best for: Family dinners and celebrations.

Best dishes: Fritto misto of shrimp and squid; grilled baby octopus with borlotti beans; pappardelle with wine-soaked venison ragu; Sardinian malloreddus pasta with braised sausage ragu; specials of grilled sardines and whole grilled fish simply dressed with lemon and olive oil.

Insider tips: Daily specials showcase some of the most interesting cooking. The dessert cart might seem a bit retro, but the Capri-style chocolate-almond cake and poached pears are sure things.

Service: ••½

Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for dinner. Moderate.

90 Assaggi ★★

4838 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda | 301-951-1988.

Cuisine: Rustic, regionally inspired plates evocative of the trattorias of Italy. Domenico Cornacchia, the onetime corporate toque at Franco Nuschese’s three restaurants (Cafe Milano, Sette Osteria, Sette Bello), is the man shaking sauté pans in the open kitchen.

Mood: Little about the handsome room has changed since the restaurant’s days as Centro, but the setting now is more engaging for couples and families than for singles who are after romance. And though it’s often crowded, the acoustics allow for conversation.

Best for: A casual meal of cheeses and salumi at the mozzarella bar or in the dining room; regional Italian fare and pastas with something for everyone.

Best dishes: Burrata cheese; sliced-to-order Parma prosciutto; condiments of green-tomato marmalade and basil-marinated zucchini; fritto misto of seafood and vegetables; chicken livers over polenta; pappardelle Bolognese; baked pasta in mascarpone sauce; veal short ribs with gremolata; lamb three ways; Alaskan lingcod with mashed celery root and celery salad with capers; chicken Milanese with arugula (lunch menu); buffalo-ricotta cheesecake with lemon zest.

Insider tips: Trying every cheese from the mozzarella bar may be fun, but most distinctive are the creamy burratas and the meaty salumi plates. The $15 two-course lunch special is a great bargain.

Service: ••½

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Moderate to expensive.

 

89 Kaz Sushi Bistro ★★

1915 I St., NW | 202-530-5500

Cuisine: East meets West as chef/owner Kaz Okochi pushes sushi and traditional plates to the edge. When it works, his fusion can be revelatory. When it doesn’t, you’ll long for the no-muss selections from the sushi bar.

Mood: A Zen atmosphere draws World Bankers, K Street lobbyists, and GW students to this snug restaurant.

Best for: Getting away from it all at lunch; a group gathering at dinner.

Best dishes: Velvety foie gras with plum-wine jelly; mayo-slicked seaweed salad; crispy shrimp temaki; tuna with shaved white truffle; seared scallop with lemon salt; crunchy eel with pickled radish; gingery braised short ribs; yellowtail sashimi; a boozy chocolate marquise with lemon-vodka ice cream.

Insider tips: Bento boxes at lunch are as appealing to look at as they are to eat—chicken miso and nigiri maki versions are best. The more elaborate-tasting bento at lunch is good for grazers; you get a little bit of many things.

Service: ••

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Moderate.

88 Present ★★

6678 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church | 703-531-1881

Cuisine: Plates are adorned with carved-radish blossoms, and even the dish names are fanciful. Will you choose the Sleeping Duck on Golden Pond or Tuna Swimming in Mango Grove? Theatrics notwithstanding, high-quality ingredients and the finesse of chef Luong Tran lift this strip-mall retreat above its Falls Church rivals.

Mood: A wall of trickling water imparts a spalike calm over the wood-latticed dining room, where Vietnamese expats and a handful of nonnatives settle in for quiet dinners attended by vested waiters.

Best for: Both timid eaters and devotees of Vietnamese cooking. There’s plenty on the menu that doesn’t require a sense of adventure, but there are also dishes you won’t see many other places.

Best dishes: Seafood salad in a halved pineapple; Silken Shawl Imperial Autumn Rolls, spring rolls encased in a lacy sheath; fried rice with lump crab and shrimp; salt-and-pepper fried shrimp on pineapple; grilled pork over vermicelli bun; hash of sautéed baby clams in a giant sesame-cracker shell; soup with tofu, pork, and long-cut chives; fried banana in coconut milk; rich Vietnamese coffee.

Insider tips: Servers tend to push easy-to-like items and dissuade Westerners from ordering esoteric dishes. You might have to gently insist on what you want.

Service: ••½

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive.

87 Ravi Kabob House ★★

305 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington, 703-522-6666 | 250 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington, 703-816-0222

Cuisine: These no-frills Pakistani kebab houses, across the street from each other, sling some of the area’s best, juiciest meats—whether in kebabs over fluffy rice, sided with a hot round of naan, or submerged in the spicy stew called karahi.

Mood: None. The dining room is flooded with fluorescent light, and patrons order at the counter and eat with plastic plates, knives, and forks. On the plus side: A staffer usually delivers the food and clears your table, too.

Best for: Fast dinners when you don’t want fast food; takeout.

Best dishes: Slow-cooked, charcoal-grilled kebabs: lamb chops, bone-in chicken, and seekh kabob made with minced, spiced beef; lamb-and-seekh-kabob karahi; chana masala, a rich chickpea stew; mango lassi.

Insider tips: Thrill seekers might try a karahi made with lambs’ brains; the contrast of the mild, curdlike brains and the fiery stew—with garlic, ginger, cilantro, and chilies—is wonderful.

Service:

Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive.

86 Hank’s Oyster Bar ★★

1624 Q St., NW, 202-462-4265 | 1026 King St., Alexandria, 703-739-4265

Cuisine: Old Salts, Malpeques, Kumamotos—there are always at least five kinds of oysters on the blackboards at these boisterous fishhouses. The rest of the menu draws liberally from New England (fried clams, lobster rolls) but also ranges below the Mason-Dixon Line (nightly meat-and-two specials, nicely spiced collards).

Mood: A festive din rises above the narrow dining rooms.

Best for: A relaxed date; dinner with the kids (but call ahead to put your name on the waiting list); a group oyster feast.

Best dishes: Oysters on the half shell; broiled oysters with butter; peppery sake/oyster shooters; peel-and-eat shrimp; fried shrimp and calamari; overstuffed oyster po’ boy with slaw.

Insider tips: Sunday through Friday from 5:30 to 6:30, selected oysters on the half shell are a dollar each. And keep in mind there’s no dessert—just a chunk of dark chocolate with the check.

Service: ••

Open Monday through Friday for dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate.

85 Hollywood East Cafe on the Boulevard ★★

2621 University Blvd. W., Wheaton; 240-290-9988

Cuisine: The area’s best dim sum, presented by a team of hustling, cart-pushing servers. The regular menu has good moments, too—hearty casseroles, rich pork-and-seafood combos, full-bodied soups amid a roster of some 200 Hong Kong–style dishes—but the kitchen can be inconsistent. This spinoff of Janet Yu’s original Hollywood East, also in Wheaton, earns a place on this list for its stellar weekend brunch.

Mood: Doors open at 10:30 am on weekends, and by 11:30 or so there’s usually a wait. The banquet-style dining room takes on the excitement of a trading-room floor, with diners sneaking peaks at the bounty on nearby tables and hailing carts like cabbies at rush hour. By 2, the crowd thins, but usually the dumplings have been sitting, too.

Best for: Weekend brunch.

Best dishes: Among the dim sum, shrimp dumplings; noodles wrapped around crullers; pork buns; sharkfin; deep-fried shrimp-stuffed hot peppers; custard doughnuts fashioned into carrots. On the regular menu, a luscious steamed ling fish with ginger and scallions; salt-and-pepper shrimp; baby clams in black-bean sauce; pork-and-oyster casserole.

Insider tips: There’s dim sum during the week without the carts; you order à la carte, checking boxes on a slip of paper.

Service: •½

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive.

84 PassionFish ★★

11960 Democracy Dr., Reston | 703-230-3474

Cuisine: Restaurant impresario Jeff Tunks’s latest raw bar and seafood emporium dabbles in influences near (crab cakes), far (Mexican seafood cocktail), and farther (Thai-style crispy flounder with tamarind-chili sauce).

Mood: With a soaring dining room, artfully bubbled chandeliers, crisp service, and good-life chatter at the tables, the most ambitious restaurant in Reston Town Center exudes a big-city aura.

Best for: A business lunch or dinner; cocktails at the bar; a date.

Best dishes: Clams casino reimagined as a dip and served with a warm baguette; Big Daddy, a seafood tower of iced oysters, clams, shrimp, crab claws, and lobster; spicy bigeye-tuna roll; fried oysters with apple slaw; fried clams; roasted whole branzino with green sauce; butter-poached lobster in red curry; crab cakes; freshly fried doughnut holes.

Insider tip: If reservations are tight, try the bar, which has lots of dining space.

Service: •••

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Expensive.

83 Pete’s Apizza ★★

1400 Irving St., NW | 202-332-7383

Cuisine: Few pizzas are as refreshingly unpretentious—or as large—as the 18-inch versions at this Columbia Heights eatery. The New Haven–inspired, thin-crust pies also can be had by the slice.

Mood: Floor-to-ceiling windows bring the urban bustle into the dining room, but the space is softened by butter-hued walls and wooden furniture.

Best for: Grabbing a slice to go; a quick meal with friends before or after a show or movie.

Best dishes: Seasonally inspired antipasti, which have included a quinoa salad with beets and walnuts and grilled summer squash; white-clam pie; pizza topped with pepperoni or fennel-scented sausage; Sorbillo’s Original, a turnover filled with cured meat, ricotta, and mozzarella; gelato from Georgetown’s Dolcezza; amaretti cookies.

Insider tips: During weekday happy hour, 4 to 6:30, a pint of Peroni beer plus a slice of cheese pizza is $5. If you’re customizing a pie, stick to a couple of toppings—the pizzas can get too heavy when they’re loaded.

Service: ••

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive.

82 La Chaumière ★★

2183 M St., NW | 202-338-1784

Cuisine: Julia Child–era French classics—quenelles in lobster sauce, salmon in puff pastry—get their due, as do fanciful desserts such as profiteroles and soufflés.

Mood: A beamed, farm-inspired room complete with a stone hearth and walls tacked with copper pans and horseshoes. Tables are squeezed close together, the better to listen in on the denizens of Georgetown.

Best for: Dinner with parents; a celebratory meal where you can laugh as loud as you want and not have your voice rise above the din; big appetites—portions are hefty.

Best dishes: Appetizer or entrée of pillowy pike quenelles in a rich lobster sauce; boudin blanc with sautéed apples; onion soup; wedgelike salad with Roquefort; Grand Marnier soufflé with crème anglaise; apple tart on puff pastry; classic profiteroles stuffed with vanilla ice cream.

Insider tips: There are standout specials throughout the week. Diners come on Wednesdays for couscous strewn with lamb, chicken, and beef, on Thursdays for cassoulet loaded with sausage and duck confit.

Service: ••

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Expensive.

81 Comet Ping Pong ★★

5037 Connecticut Ave., NW | 202-364-0404

Cuisine: Chef Carole Greenwood, a locavore before the term was trendy, embellishes her thin-crust, wood-fired pizzas with everything from soft-shell crabs to pepperoni.

Mood: Young parents, hipster yuppies, and Ping-Pong enthusiasts all flock to this witty riff on an old-time pizza parlor. The warehouse-chic decor is softened by reclaimed-wood benches, and cool light fixtures ramp up the funky atmosphere.

Best for: Parents who aren’t willing to trade in grown-up dining after Junior arrives as well as diners who see nothing blasphemous in washing a pie down with wine.

Best dishes: Spicy chickpea-and-green-bean salad with kaffir-lime leaves and lemon; spice-rubbed wings, sometimes hot, sometimes not; perfectly simple tomato-and-mozzarella pie; the Yalie, topped with clams, Parmesan, and an aromatic blend of fresh garlic, onion, and thyme; the Little Lamb, which brings together lamb sausage, potato slices, melted onions, sage, Gorgonzola, and dates.

Insider tips: Get there early and some dishes might not be made yet; get there late and you risk a lengthy wait. Bands occasionally play, and don’t forget the free table tennis in the back.

Service: ••

Open Monday through Friday for dinner, Saturday and Sunday for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive.

80 Etete ★★

1942 Ninth St., NW | 202-232-7600

Cuisine: Among local Ethiopians, the name Tiwaltengus Shenegelgn is on par with the name Michel Richard among foodies. Stevie Wonder seeks her out whenever he’s in town. What’s the fuss? Etete, as Shenegelgn is known—it means “mama” in Amharic—cooks with the finesse of a demanding craftswoman, her peppery stews hearty and complex but never burdensome.

Mood: With lacquered tables and wine-bar-style lights, this dining room has the feel of a modish bistro. Etete occasionally makes the rounds, like any proud chef, but she’s much more likely to dispense gomen (buttery, jalapeño-laced collards) from a long-handled pot than talk about her sourcing. An expansion has created a second dining room upstairs to handle the overflow from young urbanites on their way to and from clubs.

Best for: Leisurely lunches or dinners with friends and family. As with dining in Europe, expect to be left alone for long stretches and to flag down your server for the check.

Best dishes: Sambusas, deep-fried three-cornered pastries filled with lentils; berbere-powered stews, including doro wat, which comes with chicken and a hard-boiled egg, and yebeg wat, with cubes of lamb; vegetarian sampler, which might include gomen, yekik alicha (a soupy split-bean stew), and azifa (green-lentil stew mixed with a fiery Ethiopian mustard and served cool).

Insider tips: If you’re dining with a group, the fasting platter—an array of vegetable stews—is a good choice to balance a mainly meat-filled meal.

Service: ••½

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive.

79 Hook ★★

3241 M St., NW | 202-625-4488

Cuisine: Sustainably sourced seafood and fish embellished with pristine local and organic produce. Chef Jonathan Seningen picked up after the departure of opening chef Barton Seaver with minimal transition pains. Sauces still rely mostly on virtuous alternatives to butter and cream—vegetable and bean purées, herb-infused oils and vinaigrettes.

Mood: Georgetown in microcosm. The white-walled dining room with its glass-bubble light fixtures draws all kinds, from Birkenstock-wearing grandmas to young families to edgy artists.

Best for: Fish lovers (there’s only one meat dish, a rib eye, on the menu); lunch or dinner after shopping in Georgetown.

Best dishes: The menu changes almost daily, but recent hits have been crudo of mahi-mahi with pickled squash, fingerling potato, and juniper oil; oysters three ways with Champagne gelée and Bloody Mary and dirty-martini sauces; sturgeon carpaccio with juniper-cilantro oil and beet sauce; Arctic char with sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and celeriac purée; lobster-and-prawn risotto with Parmesan and kabocha squash; lingonberry linzertorte with Taleggio-cheese ice cream; Hooked on Chocolate, a feast including hot chocolate, milk-chocolate ice cream, and chocolate-ganache tart.

Insider tips: Well-informed servers can expound on the esoteric wine list and decode cryptic items on the menu. Pastry chef Heather Chittum’s desserts are still a good reason to visit.

Service: ••½

Open Monday for dinner, Tuesday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Expensive.

78 Jackie’s ★★

8081 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring | 301-565-9700

Cuisine: Eclectic American cooking that seduces with its sense of fun and whimsy but wins with its seriousness and execution.

Mood: Equal parts urban warehouse and boho nightspot. Every detail—bustling open kitchen, DayGlo-pink pillows, flashing movies—speaks to dinner as theater.

Best for: Diners who don’t want to drive downtown for big-city dining.

Best dishes: Asian-style pork riblets; miniature Elvis burgers with pimiento cheese; mixed-greens salad with warm Camembert; “nostalgia plates” that have included skillet-fried chicken and house-made German sausage and sauerkraut; roasted duck breast with red-wine glaze.

Insider tips: Co-owner and passionate oenophile Patrick Higgins has put together a surprisingly good list of Rhône reds and also offers a deal on several high-priced wines.

Service: ••½

Open Monday through Saturday for dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate.

77 Art and Soul ★★

Liaison Capitol Hill hotel, 415 New Jersey Ave., NW | 202-393-7777

Cuisine: Upmarket Southern—rich, rootsy cooking that aims to leave you feeling unburdened.

Mood: Hotel dining can be a generic, impersonal experience. Not here. Odd touches abound (the variety of light fixtures suggests a lamp store), but austerity gives ground to fun, nowhere more so than in the funky black-and-red color scheme—a provocation in tradition-bound Capitol Hill. Politicos crowd the bar, nursing bourbons and cackling over the misdeeds of their associates.

Best for: A relaxed lunch or dinner.

Best dishes: Soulful versions of she-crab soup and Brunswick stew; Chesapeake Bay fry basket, an assortment of assertively seasoned clams, shrimp, oysters, and squid; hoe cakes, neither too upscale nor too down-home; arugula salad with blackberry vinaigrette; brined, double-cut pork chop with redeye gravy; seared grouper filet in carrot-cider broth; mini-cupcakes.

Insider tips: The restaurant is offering a three-course “filibuster buster” lunch for $24 along with a promise: Diners will get their bill and dessert within 45 minutes of being seated.

Service:••

Open Monday through Saturday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Sunday for breakfast and lunch. Expensive.

76 Bastille ★★

1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria | 703-519-3776

Cuisine: If chef/owners Christophe Poteaux and Michelle Poteaux-Garbee had a mantra, it might be “Something old, something new.” The restaurant’s globally minded fusion fare owes much to the gastrobistros of Paris, but classics such as cassoulet and coq au vin are given their moment as well.

Mood: With an oxblood wall, wood floors, abstract paintings, and photos of Paris, the dining room has a rakish Left Bank sensibility, and in warm weather the outdoor patio is charming.

Best for: Couples desiring French charm and intimate conversation; small groups in search of a good deal.

Best dishes: Foie gras on brioche toast with chutney; coq au vin with smoky lardons; salmon in Dijon-cider sauce; pork chops with bacon-spiked beer sauce; hanger steak in shallots and Cabernet; cassoulet with Toulouse sausage and duck confit; crème brûlée; Valrhona chocolate pot de crème.

Insider tips: Among the prix fixe specials are a three-course meal for $35 Tuesday through Saturday, a three-course $21 Sunday brunch, and a daily three-course lunch for $21.

Service: ••½

Open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate.

75 BlackSalt ★★

4883 MacArthur Blvd., NW | 202-342-9101

Cuisine: Jeff and Barbara Black’s seafood-focused restaurant takes a lot of its cues from the fish market out front, where the day’s catches chill atop mounds of ice. If those Nantucket bay scallops look good, odds are they’ll be dolled up on the menu. Will they be fried New England style? Sautéed with pancetta and gnocchi? Slipped into ceviche? With this freewheeling kitchen, anything’s possible.

Mood: Cross a neighborhood bistro with an of-the-moment, ambitious restaurant and you get something like this Palisades destination. Few restaurants serve so many purposes: You can swing by the market to pick up some Old Bay–infused butter or drop $85 on a sevencourse menu in the handsome back dining room. In between is a steel bar with a few walk-in tables and a small leather-and-frosted-glass dining room, both often crowded and loud.

Best for: Seafood lovers—there was only one nonpiscine entrée on the menu when we last checked; little-seen delicacies such as rockfish collar and butterfish are a point of pride for the kitchen.

Best dishes: Salmon tartare atop a crisp rice cake; bigeye tuna tartare over soy-slicked rice; Royal Red shrimp in rémoulade (in season); tangy clam chowder boasting both littleneck and fried clams; fried whole-belly clams with curried aïoli; Casco Bay mussels steamed in Belgian ale and lemon; butterscotch pot de crème with a single-malt-Scotch milkshake; coconut cream pie with brûléed bananas.

Insider tips: Watch out for dishes that sound as if there’s too much going on; there probably is. The Southern-accented Sunday brunch is a relatively inexpensive treat.

Service: ••

Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Expensive.

74 Locanda ★★

633 Pennsylvania Ave., SE | 202-547-0002

Cuisine: The Modern Italian menu brings hearty pastas and braised meats in winter, zucchini carpaccio and whole branzino in spring, and an occasional excursion into Spain, including an egg-and-potato tortilla and a splash here and there of romesco sauce.

Mood: Euro-mod touches such as orange chairs and amorphous white light fixtures give the room the feel of a Scandinavian cafe.

Best for: Grazers and happy-hour revelers who can nibble on salumi and formaggi; a casual dinner.

Best dishes: Arancini—hot, crispy balls of cheesy risotto studded with wild mushrooms; penne all’arrabbiata with shavings of Parmesan; truffled fontina mac and cheese topped with buttered bread crumbs; braised pork shank with herbs and mustard; beet ravioli with pine nuts and butter; Meyer-lemon panna cotta; brandied-cherry bread pudding.

Insider tips: Pasta servings are modest, more Italian than Italian-American, so you might want to supplement your meal with antipasti.

Service: ••

Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. Expensive.

73 Grapeseed ★★

4865 Cordell Ave., Bethesda | 301-986-9592

Cuisine: In one of the area’s oldest wine-centric bistros, chef/owner Jeff Heineman says his recipes are inspired by the wines, and the two menus are intelligently paired. The fare is richer than at some other wine bars: First courses of cheese-stuffed meatballs, fried clams or oysters, or even chicken livers set the stage for a filling experience.

Mood: There are booths down the hallway, small wine-cellarish rooms, a half dozen seats at the chef’s table and in front of the kitchen, and a front room with sidewalk views.

Best for: Diners interested in less-familiar varietals and slow, deliberate dinners. Recently, dishes have been scant on salt and acid that would compete with wines but not on fats—an otherwise perfect lobster was cloaked in a butter sauce.

Best dishes: Smoked trout with pears and crème fraîche; grilled quail; braised short ribs; roasted filet mignon with oxtail ragoût; wild Alaskan halibut with green-tomato marmalade and hazelnuts; grilled monkfish with bacon-rich spoonbread, morels, and sweet-corn relish.

Insider tips: Skip the orecchiette, which has been too heavy. “Tempura” here is closer to deep-fried than traditional. Some changes of sides may bring a surcharge.

Service: •••

Open Monday for dinner, Tuesday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Expensive.

72 Equinox ★★

818 Connecticut Ave., NW | 202-331-8118

Cuisine: Long before sourcing was in vogue, Todd Gray was combing the Shenandoah Valley for choice meats and produce and procuring such delicacies as shad roe and spot from the Chesapeake. His technical facility in Italian and French cookery is subordinated to faithful, sometimes loving showcases of the region’s bounty. His dishes are unfailingly elegant if sometimes too low-key.

Mood: This upscale mom-and-pop (Gray’s wife, Ellen Kassoff, manages the restaurant) is for many a tasteful, subdued dining room where it’s possible to engage in serious conversation, or—with the White House only blocks away—negotiation. For others the starchiness crosses the line into stuffiness.

Best for: Client lunches and dinners.

Best dishes: The menu changes regularly, but we’ve liked a twist on surf and turf, with roast Chatham cod and braised veal short ribs subbing for steak and lobster; veal loin with crispy veal sweetbreads; pastas such as a recent dish of fresh egg tagliatelle with scallop; and gingerbread with apples.

Insider tips: Gray’s seasonal preparations of such regional delicacies as soft-shell crab and shad roe are masterful—and well worth a visit.

Service: •••

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for dinner. Very expensive.

71 Adour ★★

St. Regis hotel, 923 16th St., NW | 202-509-8000

Cuisine: With 15 Michelin stars, Alain Ducasse is a brand. His sprawling empire—which includes restaurants in New York, Paris, Monaco, Tokyo, and Las Vegas—spares no expense to scour the globe for luxury ingredients, which it transforms into deft updatings of French haute cuisine. The DC outpost, though, is an oddly restrained affair: Dishes are cautiously conceived and sometimes blandly executed. But the luxury is unmistakable, and it’s hard not to think that the performance will improve. The wines are terrific—and more consistently rewarding.

Mood: The David Rockwell–designed room is a slyly modern evocation of a wine cellar, and the room is bathed in a buttery light that flatters faces. No need to be self-conscious of wrinkles or crow's feet here.

Best for: A lavish, expense-account dinner.

Best dishes: Corn “cappuccino” soup; oversize ricotta gnocchi as light and soft as a poached egg; pressed foie gras and organic chicken with black-truffle condiment; succulent sweetbreads; seared squab breast with foie gras ringed by a rich, offal-fortified salmis sauce; raspberry custard with rose-blossom ice cream and grapefruit; light-as-air Gala-apple soufflé; baba au rhum doused tableside with Armagnac and dolloped with light whipped cream; buttermilk panna cotta with rhubarb and strawberry (in season).

Insider tips: Come dessert, the staff exhales and the enormous sense of expectation is lifted. This is the time to splurge for a cognac or Armagnac. Instead of petit fours, the meal is brought to a close with a small tray of raspberry and chocolate macarons—every bit the equal of those at the famed Ladurée in Paris. Ask for an extra order to take home.

Service: ••••

Open Monday for breakfast and lunch, Tuesday through Friday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Saturday for breakfast and dinner. Very expensive.

70 Café Atlántico ★★

405 Eighth St., NW | 202-393-0812

Cuisine: Though it maintains a separate identity from the celebrated Minibar—the six-seat, dinner-as-theater cafe it houses—Café Atlántico’s mostly Nuevo Latino menu increasingly borrows from chef José Andrés’s flings with laboratory cuisine (foams, froths, and the like) and “deconstructions.” Occasionally, dishes are too tamely seasoned.

Mood: What initially seems an assortment of spaces with mosaiclike splashes of color and glimpses of mirrors gradually becomes intriguing: a view of Minibar here, the open main kitchen there, and the sidewalk parade. And despite the atrium effect, the restaurant isn’t overly loud.

Best for: Weekend brunch, called Latino dim sum on Sunday; a first date (seasonal cocktails, mojitos, guacamole prepared tableside); pretheater dining that leans on the appetizer menu; postshow warmers.

Best dishes: Tender curls of squid and scallops with two rices—one crisped, the other bathed in coconut cream—and drizzled with squid-ink oil; a rich double bill of Malbec-braised beef cheeks and crisp-seared sweetbreads; conch fritters with avocado-jícama ravioli; grilled octopus given unusual spark by softened strawberries; duck confit with a mincemeatlike combination of apples, raisins, pine nuts, and sherry; salmon with its own roe and Parmesan froth; classic bass Veracruzano with fresh lime juice.

Insider tips: The menu is full of jokes and quotation marks, but feel free to ask for clarification; the staff is smart and interested.

Service: •••

Open Tuesday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate.

69 PS 7’s ★★

777 I St., NW | 202-742-8550

Cuisine: Chef/owner Peter Smith’s upgrades of classic Mid-Atlantic ingredients can be very rich, playing viscous reductions, well-roasted roots, and earthy mushrooms against chutneys and fruits, pungent Asian curry spices, and preserved lemons. Occasionally, though, more is less.

Mood: PS 7’s is like a box of chocolates, with its square dining room and bar, long halls, and side rooms in deep browns and woods. Depending on the crowd, it can seem elegant or just trendy.

Best for: Lighter meals—some of the best dishes are appetizers or platters “for the table.”

Best dishes: Perfectly braised short ribs en croûte larded with foie gras and sided by chanterelles, available in full or half portions; pork belly braised in apple cider; crisped salmon with seasonal clementine reduction; braised pork shoulder with sautéed loin and gleaming polenta; tuna-tartare “sliders” with white miso aïoli; miniature hot dogs with fries; flatbreads, especially the one topped by duck confit with Gouda, spiced pumpkin, and onion jam and the dessert-worthy version with macerated figs, prosciutto, and bleu cheese.

Insider tips: The lounge is open all afternoon, and the appetizers and flatbreads, fine cocktails, and well-selected wines are an inducement to head out for a late lunch or early happy hour.

Service: •••

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Expensive.

68 Nicaro ★★

8229 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring | 301-588-2867

Cuisine: The name alludes to owner/chef Pedro Matamoros’s Nicaraguan roots, but don’t go looking for upmarket renditions of classic Central American fare—this is modern eclectic cooking. Regional dishes, both traditional and reconstructed, have depth of flavor without weight. The house-made charcuterie is excellent, and seafood is tenderly prepared and fresh.

Mood: A neighborhood hangout at once smart-looking and casual.

Best for: Casual dates with better-than-casual fare; nice but affordable business lunches; after-hours nibbling; Sunday brunch.

Best dishes: Sea scallops with squid-ink pasta; seafood-chicken andouille “gumbo” with rockfish and sweet mussels; rockfish with snow peas and porcini vinaigrette; fried chicken livers; house-made gnocchi with wild-mushroom-asparagus ragoût in Parmesan cream; tagliatelle with ground-rabbit sauce (the grilled-veggie version is richer).

Insider tips: Appetizers and salads are among the best bets—they rarely hit the $10 mark—and the bar menu is available until 10:30 or 11 pm. The Monday-night three-course prix fixe for $30 is a good way to start the week.

Service: ••½

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate.

67 Mannequin Pis ★★

18064 Georgia Ave., Olney | 301-570-4800

Cuisine: One of the area’s first mussel bars—and also in the vanguard of Belgian beer lists—Mannequin Pis has a loyal following, for both its kilo pots of shellfish and its sausages. But with the departure of founding chef Bernard Dehaene a few years back, some of the spark seems to have gone out of the cooking. The frites are ordinary, and side dishes of earthy delights such as Brussels sprouts and endive have been overcooked.

Mood: Belgian brickskeller meets Parisian bordello: claret-red walls and racks of bottles, Piaf on the audio, abstracts on the walls.

Best for: A night of hearty indulgence.

Best dishes: Sausages (black, white, spicy, or gamey), which with a side make for a rib-sticking meal; mussels in any of 17 preparations, including alcoholic broths (white wine, beer, brandy, Pernod), herbs, hot spices, cream, coconut cream, and malt-and-vinegar; bacon-wrapped trout; homey carbonnade (Flemish beer-braised beef stew); rump steak and fries; roast chicken; seasonal game specials.

Insider tips: On Monday night, the three-course prix fixe offers a choice of appetizers, including grilled sausages with white beans and a potato-chicken timbale; a choice of three or four of the mussel preparations plus salmon or shoulder-blade steak for those who don’t like shellfish; and the dessert du jour, all for $30. If you’re new to the beer list, consult the servers; they’re well versed.

Service: ••½

Open Monday through Saturday for dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate.

66 Indique Heights ★★

2 Wisconsin Cir., Chevy Chase | 301-656-4822

Cuisine: Glammed-up Indian—anise-spiced crab cakes, cardamom-scented profiteroles, sweet mangotinis. But you’ll also find plenty of nods to tradition at this maze of a dining room: velvety curries and stews, Southern-style street snacks, and the best tandoori meats around.

Mood: Color-drenched silks and brocades, a turquoise-lit fountain, a stunning marble lattice in the lounge, umbrella-topped tables on the patio—the varied settings pull in Indians longing for the flavors of home, families out for an easy dinner, and happy-hour revelers.

Best for: A bountiful meal likely to yield leftovers; a leisurely shopping-day lunch; outdoor dining in summer.

Best dishes: Papri chaat, a cool potato salad with yogurt, tamarind, and cilantro chutney; fried samosas; paani puri, crisp shells to be filled from a beaker of tamarind water and eaten in one bite; miniature dosas stuffed with potato and served with five chutneys; tandoori chicken and lamb chops; shrimp varuval over lemony rice; chicken tikka makhani in tangy tomato sauce; ultra-fiery chicken chettinad; lamb biryani; layered bread called paratha; gulab jamun, puffs of pastry steeped in honey.

Insider tips: The excellent weekday-lunch buffet—all you can eat for $10.95—offers ten or so stews and curries plus freshly griddled dosas.

Service: ••

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Moderate.

65 Cashion’s Eat Place ★★

1819 Columbia Rd., NW | 202-797-1819

Cuisine: Chef John Manolatos, who took over from founding chef/owner Ann Cashion, has pumped up the menu of seasonal American cooking with robust comfort plates and Greek accents. The result: food that’s more homey than polished but rewarding just the same.

Mood: The oxblood-red dining room wraps around a cozy bar and is a destination for thirtysomethings on dates.

Best for: Intense conversations; double dates; a meal at the bar.

Best dishes: Creamy bone marrow with mâche and capers; spinach-and-dodonis-feta tart; roasted garlic-scented lamb chops with turnip gratin; house-cured ham with vinegary collards; cream-filled house-made doughnuts, hot from the fryer, with a demitasse of hot chocolate and handcrafted marshmallows; pear clafouti with caramelized crust.

Insider tips: The three-course Sunday-night family dinner for two ($80) is a wallet-friendly option, as is a new late-night (midnight to 2 am) bar menu with the likes of pork carnitas and crispy lamb ribs.

Service: ••½

Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate to expensive.

64 Oyamel ★★

401 Seventh St., NW | 202-628-1005

Cuisine: Mexican regional cooking gets the José Andrés treatment. Translation: playful little plates known as antojitos, full of fire and crunch. House-made salsas and tortillas elevate the experience but not the prices.

Mood: The bar is a favored spot for the in-a-hurry Shakespeare Theatre– and Verizon Center–bound, while the dining room, with its orange nooks and metal butterfly mobiles, draws an eclectic, young crowd.

Best for: Diners who appreciate the differences between regional Mexican cooking and Tex-Mex as well as the before- and after-theater/sports event/concert crowd.

Best dishes: House-made guacamole; short ribs with chili-tomatillo-cilantro mole; tacos of pit-barbecue pork with pickled red onions; grilled skirt steak with green chili sauce; shrimp with a spicy/nutty sauce of pumpkin seeds and serranos; fried potatoes with almond-and-chocolate-spiked mole; warm chocolate cake with Mexican-hot-chocolate froth.

Insider tips: Happy-hour specials—drinks and food—make an ideal repast for diners on the run. Classic margaritas by the pitcher are better and cheaper than top-shelf takes. The novelty grasshopper tacos are just that—you won’t pine for them after the first time.

Service: ••

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Inexpensive to moderate.

63 Leopold’s Kafe & Konditorei ★★

3315 M St., NW | 202-965-6005

Cuisine: The full bar and elaborate pastry display draw the eye, but wait for the menu. The kitchen, which understands the power of simplicity, is the draw—a genuine vindication of often heavy-handed Austrian fare. Ingredients are allowed to speak for themselves. The mixed salads remind you why they’re clichés—they’re classics. The wine list, though not large, has Austrian and German options noteworthy for their clarity.

Mood: With its gleaming white walls and DayGlo retro-modernist furniture, Leopold’s looks like a showroom for one of its Cady’s Alley home-design neighbors. In warm weather, the courtyard seating, protected by high walls and buffered from noise by a fountain, might be Georgetown’s nicest.

Best for: Romantic twosomes (seating for more is limited); cocktail-hour dining; dessert and coffee; breakfast or brunch.

Best dishes: Classic wiener schnitzel; grilled branzino filet with wilted baby spinach; watercress-endive-pear-and-Gorgonzola salad; sliced cucumbers, radishes, dill, and walnuts with honeyed yogurt; bratwurst with sauerkraut; grilled salmon with fennel, dates, walnuts, and crushed cucumber; skirt steak, as steak frites; roasted-tomato soup with lime crème fraîche and sliced almonds; smoked salmon pizzette.

Insider tips: Salads can be substantial—pair them with one of the plates to share (smoked fish or charcuterie platters or croque monsieur) for a bargain meal.

Service: ••

Open Monday through Friday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for breakfast, brunch, and dinner. Moderate.

62 Minh’s ★★

2500 Wilson Blvd., Arlington | 703-525-2828

Cuisine: Beautiful, boldly flavored dishes from North and South Vietnam. The kitchen is consistent, confident, and masterful with the fryer.

Mood: Glass cubes and a whole lot of mauve make this quiet dining room look very 1980s. But the space is graced with Champagne-colored tablecloths and lacquered chairs.

Best for: A casual, not-too-expensive celebration (some tables seat ten); low-key dates and family dinners.

Best dishes: The appetizer sampler brings together two favorites, the spring roll and the sweet-potato-bound shrimp cake; green papaya salad with just enough lime and heat; vermicelli bun with pork, both northern and southern styles; crepe stuffed with bean sprouts, shrimp, and pork; lemongrass-marinated short ribs.

Insider tips: Your buck goes far here—portions are family style. Instead of dessert, look to the Vietnamese coffee, strong and thick with sweet milk.

Service: ••

Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive.

61 Brasserie Beck ★★

1101 K St., NW | 202-408-1717

Cuisine: Rich Belgian fare—beer braises, root vegetables, and bacon-studded stews—served in herculean portions.

Mood: Vintage train-station touches conjure the romance of backpacking through Europe, while the squished-together tables can make it feel as though you’re actually on a Eurorail train. The open kitchen glows, giving the high-ceilinged room a warm feel.

Best for: Enjoying mussels and fries at the lively bar, a happy hour with colleagues, or a sit-down dinner with friends.

Best dishes: Poached egg and toasted baguette atop a garlicky mushroom sauce and spaetzle; golden fries with a trio of mayos; lush pea soup with veal-cheek meatballs; hand-ground lamb sausage with lentils; coq au vin with large bits of good bacon.

Insider tips: You might be tempted to drink Delirium Tremens or Stella Artois, but beer director Bill Catron has been knighted by a Belgian beer guild, so here’s your chance to branch out and try rare varieties—some found nowhere else in this country.

Service: ••½

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate to expensive.

60 Black’s Bar and Kitchen ★★

7750 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda | 301-652-5525

Cuisine: Jeff Black has perfected the upscale/downscale model at his flagship restaurant, one of four. The kitchen turns out trendy comfort food that aims high, but not so high as to scare off customers. That translates to a menu heavy on sure-fires such as roasted-beet salad, wood-grilled meats and fishes, and fried chicken with mashed potatoes—though many of the better dishes have Northern California twists or nod to Europe.

Mood: The clean-lined dining room could make you think you’ve wandered into a high-gloss sushi bar. The warm, attentive service acts as a counterweight against the starkness.

Best for: Diners looking for downtown-DC style without having to go there.

Best dishes: Boneless fried chicken; house-made pappardelle with wild mushrooms, sweet dates, and cured pork cheek; fragrant Thai-red-curry-inspired stew with lobster, mussels, and fish-of-the-day chunks; seasonal crème brûlée.

Insider tips: Salads are a weak spot—an abundance of greens and not much accompaniment. A pretheater menu—three courses for $35—is a great deal even if it’s offered only from 5:30 to 6:30.

Service: ••½

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Expensive.

59 Proof ★★½

775 G St., NW | 202-737-7663

Cuisine: In most of the area’s new wine bars, vino comes first. Proof says that food is job one. In addition to a lengthy charcuterie board and what can only be called an exhibition cheese bar, it offers a broad assortment of Asian-inflected fish and meats confidently paired with root vegetables, mushrooms or nuts, and citrus. The wine list, primarily from co-owner Mark Kuller’s own collection, is large, but management is helpful.

Mood: The restaurant is elegantly spare, with expanses of wood and brick, dark leather, wine racks as walls, and rotating slides from the nearby Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery on screens.

Best for: Pretheater or postevent dining; after-office cocktails; relatively affordable entertaining. The late-night menu leans toward deli sandwiches and snacks.

Best dishes: Recent winners on the often-changing menu have been seared swordfish toro tataki brushed with jalapeños; spicy meatballs with goat-cheese agnolotti; gnocchi with wild mushrooms and corn; pan-seared salmon with sunchokes, turnips, and savoy cabbage in Madeira; grilled swordfish with leeks and lentils and horseradish cream; seared duck breast with five-spice powder, roasted hazelnuts, pomegranate reduction, and charred scallions.

Insider tips: If you’re leery of sweetbreads, the “Buffalo” version—bleu cheese and all—may surprise you. If you’re a sports fan, sit near the front windows and you’ll have a view of the Verizon Center’s big outdoor screen. Like Champagne? Ask to see the rolling tray.

Service: •••

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for dinner. Expensive.

58 Liberty Tavern ★★½

3195 Wilson Blvd., Arlington | 703-465-9360

Cuisine: Chef Liam LaCivita’s never-straining sensibility, informed by his Italian heritage and stints in kitchens in New England, drives this likable gastrotavern.

Mood: The downstairs bar is a nightly party. Upstairs, the atmosphere does a 180—the mood in the handsome dining room is low-key and sophisticated, geared to couples and families and right for conversation.

Best for: A rollicking night out; a laid-back dinner with a pal; a family confab.

Best dishes: House-smoked trout with johnnycakes; crisped pork belly au poivre with LaCivita’s offbeat take on “split pea” soup; succulent Amish half-chicken with caramelized-onion gravy; fried smelts with escarole; house-made maccheroni with short-rib gravy; wood-fired pizzas, particularly the Vermont and a version with smoked linguiça; modern-retro beef stroganoff at lunch; meatball sliders on the bar menu.

Insider tips: You can order pizzas, meatball sliders, and other plates to take home from Liberty to Go, a separate operation in the back of the restaurant.

Service: ••

Open Monday for dinner, Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner; bar menu available daily. Moderate.

57 Prime Rib ★★½

2020 K St., NW | 202-466-8811

Cuisine: Big-night-out classics are reliably done, as they have been for decades. This is the place to go when you’re weary of fusion and long for no-tricks cooking.

Mood: Black lacquer paneling, tuxedoed waiters, and a jazz duo Monday through Saturday nights give the place a supper-club feel.

Best for: Anyone after a big-time, beef-laden night out.

Best dishes: Classic oysters Rockefeller; roasted prime rib; crab imperial; crab cake; bone-in rib eye; crispy potato skins with zippy horseradish sauce; sautéed squash and zucchini; retro pink strawberries Romanoff.

Insider tips: The three-course lunch for $24.95—starter, entrée with two sides, and dessert—is a very good deal. Bonus: Ties and jackets for men, required at dinner, are optional at lunch.

Service: •••

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Expensive to very expensive.

56 Mio ★★½

1110 Vermont Ave., NW | 202-955-0075

Cuisine: Nicholas Stefanelli is the third chef in two years to command the kitchen of this Modern American restaurant, but there’s no sign of disunity—he imbues his flights of fancy with homey touches and lightens hearty fare with smart touches.

Mood: Most nights, the action’s at the bar, where young professionals blow off steam over first-rate mojitos. Lunch and dinner are staged in a sleek, multilevel lounge that’s still in search of a personality.

Best for: An intimate date.

Best dishes: Egg raviolo with blood sausage, a savvy, dinnertime riff on breakfast; a plump, crisp-skinned smoked duck with greens and chestnut purée; Virginia-style peanut soup with house-made sausage; sautéed veal sweetbreads (seasonal); roast Amish chicken with sausage; risotto with Grayson cheese and pears; fluffy, hot ricotta fritters; a lightly sweetened chestnut soup with vanilla ice cream.

Insider tips: A three-course lunch at the bar—salad, pizza, and sorbet—is $15 for the first 20 customers Tuesday through Friday.

Service: ••½

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Expensive.

55 Dino ★★½

3435 Connecticut Ave., NW | 202-686-2966

Cuisine: Rustic Italian cooking backed by one of the area’s best wine lists.

Mood: The glass-walled corner space—it used to be a bank—has its disadvantages, but when the wine is flowing and the place is jammed, Dino strikes a neat balance between the charm of a Little Italy–style neighborhood joint and the elegance of one of DC’s upscale Italian dining rooms.

Best for: A round of small plates and half pours of wine before a movie at the Uptown Theater or a leisurely, postshow repast fueled by lots of red wine.

Best dishes: Creamy buffalo mozzarella from Puglia, with olive and red-pepper tapenades; light veal and pork meatballs in tomato sauce; crispy fried squid; house-made fusilli with rich duck ragu; homey lasagnette made with pork, veal, and crispy bacon; a roll-up of rotisserie-roasted milk-fed pig, deboned and stuffed with herbs and garlic; superbly kept Italian cheeses; Nutella-and-mascarpone pot de crème; Venice-style ice-cream sundae with bittersweet-chocolate gelato, hazelnut gelato, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream.

Insider tips: Owner Dean Gold has positioned Dino as a premier destination for oenophiles. Wines more than $50 are a third off Sunday and Monday, and Tuesday and Thursday you can bring a bottle of your own at no charge.

Service: ••

Open daily for dinner. Moderate.

 

54 Ray’s the Classics ★★½

8606 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring | 301-588-7297

Cuisine: Supersize cowboy and Hereford steaks—house-aged and expertly trimmed—are the draw at Michael Landrum’s modest steakhouse, but they keep good company with dishes that pay homage to Maryland’s rich culinary heritage, including crab bisque and an inspired crab royale.

Mood: This spinoff of Ray’s the Steaks in Arlington is bigger, fancier, and more comfortable. Oversize booths impart a clubby feel in one small room, while wooden beams and bookshelves lined with wine bottles make a larger space cozy.

Best for: Diners who value serious steaks over opulent decor, quiet success over a dog-and-pony show, and three dollar signs over four.

Best dishes: Juicy, thick entrecôte; decadent crab bisque; crab royale, a generous, butter-drenched mound of lump meat sprinkled with Old Bay; hanger steak; creamed spinach; tangy Key-lime pie.

Insider tips: Portions are likely to leave you too full for dessert, making the small mug of complimentary hot chocolate that arrives with the bill in winter welcome. Want a meal that’s an even better value? The bar offers three courses for $23.95. The prime burger, aged and ground in-house like the steaks, is a hefty ten-ouncer imported from Ray’s Hell-Burger in Arlington. It can be enjoyed at the bar here—with a beer and without the lines.

Service: •½

Open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner. Moderate to expensive.

53 Mourayo ★★½

1732 Connecticut Ave., NW | 202-667-2100

Cuisine: Traditional Greek goes chic with truffle-infused sauces, plates covered with octopus-ink art, and such old/new mash-ups as diced-duck moussaka.

Mood: The tightly spaced bistro has a nautical theme: white-and-blue color scheme, porthole mirrors, waiters dressed in theatrical Greek-sailor getups—jaunty hat, striped shirt, and all.

Best for: Intimate dates and light meals with lots of grazing (almost every section of the menu offers some kind of sampler platter).

Best dishes: Intense squid-ink soup; octopus two ways—warm and grilled on one side, diced and turned into a vinegary salad on the other; symposium edesmata, a sampler of Greek spreads; whole grilled fish of the day; manouri cheese with preserved, spiced walnuts; dense yogurt with thyme honey.

Insider tips: The squid-ink soup may not be the best date dish—the ink temporarily tints your teeth and lips. For all others, it’s worth it. Mourayo practically doubled its space last month, so diners can now wait—or sip—at an expanded bar.

Service: ••

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for dinner. Moderate to expensive.

52 Kotobuki ★★½

4822 MacArthur Blvd., NW, Second Floor | 202-281-6679

Cuisine: The menu at this Palisades walkup is as stark and streamlined as the roster of Beatles tunes that plays on chef/owner Hisao Abe’s loop—a small selection of sushi and sashimi, a smaller allotment of the rice casseroles known as kamameshi, and a couple of specials. No tempura, no noodles, no entrées. It’s this laserlike focus that allows Abe to turn out food of such consistency and quality.

Mood: In a space the size of an efficiency, the only decoration is a painting of a Japanese character on one wall—translation: “meeting”—and an air of calm prevails. Only the sounds of the Fab Four and the pleasing simplicity of the cooking engage you.

Best for: A low-key, low-calorie afternoon lunch, alone or with friends.

Best dishes: Eel kamameshi, tiny black-iron pots of steamed rice, glazed fish, and vegetables accompanied by an assortment of antipastolike snacks; well-carved sashimi and classically portioned nigiri (look for yellowtail, eel, scallop, and white tuna); oshizushi, a long log of mackerel-topped rice at once salty, sweet, and rich; chewy green-tea mochi.

Insider tips: Ask your server what’s come in that day. Abe procures unusually fine uni—fresh, clean, and custardy—and better-than-average ankimo, a monkfish liver sometimes called the foie gras of the sea.

Service: ••

Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive.

51 Villa Mozart ★★½

4009 Chain Bridge Rd., Fairfax | 703-691-4747

Cuisine: Northern Italian cooking that sometimes veers into the nonsensical—does the excellent beef carpaccio really need cubes of foie gras on top?—but often soars, especially the risottos and pastas.

Mood: This small cottage bears all the hallmarks of traditional romance: red roses on the tables, lilting opera, and street photos of Italy. There are white tablecloths and heavy silverware, but you’ll also feel comfortable in jeans.

Best for: Cozy dinners for two; anniversary or birthday celebrations (the waiters sing).

Best dishes: Chestnut soup with caramelized chestnuts; arugula salad; penne drizzled with butter and balsamic vinegar and hiding nubs of lobster; linguine with langoustines and shrimp; risotto with lobster and mushrooms; lacquered breast of pheasant with sauerkraut and Asian pear; saddle and leg of rabbit.

Insider tips: The lunch deal offers three courses for $18. It’s a simpler menu than you’ll find at night, but dinner dishes are available on request.

Service: •••

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Very expensive.

50 Cork ★★½

1720 14th St., NW | 202-265-2675

Cuisine: A perfect rendition of a Spanish wine bar/tapas spot but with a French accent on the wine list and a Mediterranean flair on the menu. Like several other wine bars, it can be overly cautious with seasoning.

Mood: An evening at Cork, in a vintage rowhouse with a tin ceiling, sometimes feels like an old-fashioned cocktail party with the hosts pouring wine, servers passing hors d’ouevres, classic hits on the sound system—and an escalating volume. A lovely little back dining room looks into the kitchen; a sunken wine room allows for a mini-mezzanine as well.

Best for: Early nibbling; curious wine buffs; pre- or posttheater fare.

Best dishes: Grilled bread with oil-cured tomatoes and goat cheese or avocados and pistachio oil; Pernod-braised lamb shank with seasonal beans; roast chicken with prunes and preserved lemon and olives; a sort of brioche croque monsieur with fontina and prosciutto.

Insider tips: The bar staff and owners give better wine info than some of the servers. The back room is the quietest.

Service: ••

Open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner. Moderate.

 

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.

Service: ••½

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.

Service: ••

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.

Service: ••

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.

Service: ••

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.

Service: ••

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.

Service: •••½

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.

Service: ••  

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.

Service:••

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.

Service: •••

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.

Service: ••

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.

Service: ••

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.

Service: ••

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.

Service: ••

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.

Service: ••

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.

Service: ••½

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Expensive.

34 Mendocino Grille and Wine Bar ★★½

2917 M St., NW | 202-333-2912

Cuisine: Don’t put too much store in the name. The wine bar remains, but having disavowed its allegiance to California cuisine, this Georgetown haunt concocts an appealing Franco-American fusion (more Franco than American) that results in exceptional terrines and fish treated with a purity that borders on reverence.

Mood: The cozy dining room in back summons the feel of dinner in a vintner’s cellar; the crammed bar up front mixes the best of Georgetown’s pub scene—it’s loud and lively—with better food and drink.

Best for: A cozy dinner for two; a night of fine dining that conveys some of the luxuriousness of the most sumptuous tables in town at about half the cost.

Best dishes: Country rabbit pâté with house-made pickles and violet mustard, a virtuosic display of culinary craftsmanship; branzino with chanterelles, braised fennel, and a sauce pissaladière; beer-braised wild boar with black-pepper pappardelle; cod with house-made cotechino, a fatback-enriched Italian sausage—a novel riff on surf and turf; cheese flights with beer jelly, pear-and-fig preserves, and warm olives.

Insider tips: Of all the charcuterie-loving chefs in town, Barry Koslow might make the best pâtés and terrines. They’re rapturously rich.

Service: ••½

Open daily for dinner. Expensive.

33 Nava Thai Noodle and Grill ★★½

11301 Fern St., Wheaton | 240-430-0495

Cuisine: The area’s best, most authentic Thai cooking, with made-to-order dishes that reproduce the fresh, full-bodied flavors of Thailand’s popular market stalls.

Mood: Owners Ladavan and Suchart Srigatesook recently hauled their woks across the parking lot to the space that housed Taverna Kefi. It doesn’t yet feel like home—Kefi’s tabletop olive-oil bottles are now filled with fish sauce—but it’s several times bigger.

Best for: Thai-food purists who complain about Western-tailored dishes that are too sweet and not spicy enough.

Best dishes: A pungent papaya salad; a kind of frittata of crispy mussels; the area’s best pad Thai; lard na, a stir-fry of broad noodles with broccoli; drunken noodles; Panang curry with pork; Floating Market Soup—sweet, sour, hot, and rich; hot-and-sour squid salad with celery; a grilled half chicken with sticky rice and tamarind sauce.

Insider tips: The heavily fortified soups, the heart of the menu, hold up surprisingly well in takeout.

Service: ••

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive.

32 Café du Parc ★★½

1401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW | 202-942 7000

Cuisine: French bistro cooking full of technical rigor and subtle artistry. Pulling the strings, mostly from afar, is consulting chef Antoine Westermann, who earned three Michelin stars for his Strasbourg restaurant and also runs two superlative Paris cafes.

Mood: Depends where you’re sitting. Under the umbrellas on the outside patio, it’s the epitome of cafe society. The upstairs dining room lacks charm. A seat at the downstairs bar splits the difference and is the best bet in cold weather.

Best for: Satisfying longings for Paris without getting on a jet.

Best dishes: The area’s best mussels; classic steak tartare; masterful pâté en croûte, the terrine of veal, pork, and foie gras cooked with wine and Armagnac and swaddled in crispy pastry; roast chicken in its natural juices; a square of pork belly, expertly rendered; old-school renditions of profiteroles and mille-feuille.

Insider tips: The cafe serves breakfast, making it a destination for power diners—the White House is two blocks away.

Service: ••½

Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Expensive.

31 Ray’s the Steaks ★★½

1725 Wilson Blvd., Arlington (scheduled to move to 2300 Wilson Blvd. in late January) | 703-841-7297

Cuisine: Whether you go for the hulking cowboy cut, the Guinnness-marinated short rib, or the fajita-style sirloin, you can be sure that Michael Landrum’s beef, which he butchers himself, will be excellent. It’ll also cost less than at the big-boy steakhouses.

Mood: Landrum is moving his steakhouse to a much bigger space down the street, where one dining room will have the same stark feel—skull-and-crossbones flag and all—as the old Ray’s the Steaks and another will echo the mood of Silver Spring’s supper-clubby Ray’s the Classics. One big change? The restaurant will start taking reservations by phone.

Best for: A budget meal that still feels special.

Best dishes: Seared scallops seasoned for garlic lovers; deviled eggs filled with steak tartare; crab royale; hanger steak with thick béarnaise or luscious mushroom-brandy sauce; picanha, a churrascaria cut that’s as flavorful as a hanger steak and as tender as a New York strip; rib eye with creamy horseradish sauce; the 28-ounce cowboy cut.

Insider tips: Ray’s hanger steak has always been one of the best deals in town—$19.95 gets you a sizable cut of flavorful meat plus the creamed spinach and mashed potatoes that come with every entrée—and now Landrum has implemented a steak menu with eight cuts for less than that price.

Service: ••

Open daily for dinner. Expensive.

30 2 Amys ★★½

3715 Macomb St., NW | 202-885-5700

Cuisine: Come for the Neapolitan pizzas, stay for the small plates. Peter Pastan’s noisy Cleveland Park cafe has always been about more than wood-fired pies—the seasonally changing antipasti capture the glories of rustic Italian cooking.

Mood: With its black-and-white tiled walls, too-close tables, and bare-bones decor, the dining room feels only slightly nicer than a cafeteria. For more ambience and less noise, try the back bar, the patio in summer, or upstairs, where nonparents—and parents who have babysitters—can escape the din.

Best for: Mild evenings when you’re not too hungry—get there after 6:30 or so and you’re in for a wait. Probably outside.

Best dishes: The antipasti change frequently, but good starters have included lentils with speck and parsley; batter-fried sardines, onion rings, and lemon slices; and white beans with bottarga and lemon zest. Elsewhere on the menu, look for Abruzzese pizza with meatballs; Vongole pizza topped with cockles; house-made sorbets and ice creams (the vanilla might be the city’s best ice cream); and almond cake with spiced cherry compote.

Insider tips: Specials make the most of the season’s best ingredients—pizzas might be topped with zucchini flowers, house-made sausage, or summery sweet bell peppers.

Service: •½

Open Monday for dinner, Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. Moderate.

29 Sushi-Ko and Sushi-Ko Chevy Chase ★★½

2309 Wisconsin Ave., NW, 202-333-4187 | 5455 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase, 301-961-1644

Cuisine: DC’s first sushi bar opened more than a quarter of a century ago in Glover Park. It remains the best, procuring its fish five times a week—most sushi bars have a standing order for two days a week—and upholding founder Daisuke Utagawa’s adherence to purity and simplicity. Still, that designation hardly does justice to the variety of plates on offer here or at the newer Chevy Chase location.

Mood: The Glover Park branch is serene and simple, outfitted on the cheap—strings of lights, molded plastic chairs—in an austere style that stops just short of trendy. The hushed quietude encourages diners to focus on the subtlety of the flavors. Sushi-Ko Chevy Chase is bigger and more dramatic, with high-backed booths, a long, eye-catching sushi bar, and a soundtrack out of a European nightclub.

Best for: A leisurely lunch or a light and restorative dinner.

Best dishes: Smoked-mussel-and-eggplant miso; rock-shrimp-and-asparagus tempura; Tuna Five Ways, a progressive tasting of the prized fish concluding with a meltingly rich slab of o-toro; beef tataki made with tenderloin; salmon with red and white miso; selections of sashimi including yellowtail, scallop, eel, and uni.

Insider tips: The handful of Burgundies on the wine list—Utagawa discovered years ago that they go surprisingly well with the nigiri and sashimi—are as good as any of the chilled sakes on offer.

Service: ••½

DC branch open Sunday and Monday for dinner, Tuesday through Friday for lunch and dinner; Chevy Chase open daily for lunch and dinner. Moderate to expensive.

28 Vermilion ★★½

1120 King St., Alexandria | 703-684-9669

Cuisine: Tony Chittum is as dedicated a craftsman as chefs come. The cod in his parsnip chowder? Smoked in-house. Pastas and sausages? He makes those, too. Influences range from Greece and Italy to the Eastern Shore, but the common denominator is a hearty simplicity that lets every ingredient shine.

Mood: A bordellolike brick-and-velvet space done up with flickering gaslights. The excellent cocktails—a gin fizz with port/pear reduction, old-school hot buttered rum—keep the mood around the bar high.

Best for: Dates you want to lean closer to (it can get loud); dinner with parents; cocktails and a few nibbles; weekend brunch, one of the best around.

Best dishes: Parsnip chowder; butternut-squash soup sprinkled with crushed almond cookies; lamb sausage with chestnut; charcuterie board with both rustic, spicy lonza (cured smoked pork loin) and Armagnac-slicked duck pâté; seafood salad topped with a stone-crab claw; rockfish with crispy oysters.

Insider tips: The lounge menu is less expensive and full of big plates designed to be split, such as the charcuterie and cheese board, hush puppies with sweet pickles, and a light fritto misto.

Service: •••

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Expensive.

27 Poste ★★½

555 Eighth St., NW | 202-783-6060

Cuisine: The very definition of contemporary American cooking—by turns playful (a tartare on brioche that conjures a burger on a bun), light (a Kona-kampachi sashimi), and dexterous (a crispy sea bass resting on a fluffy brandade of cod and surmounted by a red-wine-poached egg). The menu changes less often than at some of its bistro rivals, but the kitchen, under chef Rob Weland, is remarkably consistent.

Mood: The busy open kitchen, fronted by newspaper cones waiting to be stuffed with freshly made French fries, looks out onto a retrofitted space as soaring as it is bustling.

Best for: Before- or after-game/theater dining; weekend brunch—one of the best in town.

Best dishes: Chicken-liver-pâté bruschetta; roasted pork belly with apples; charcuterie board of rabbit terrine, fennel salami, porchetta, and bresaola; oversize ravioli stuffed with goat cheese; wild sturgeon with beets and mini-pierogis; roasted poussin with apples and cider vinaigrette; cones of truffled French fries; chili-spiked pot of chocolate crème.

Insider tips: The bar menu is not extensive, nor is it intended for a full meal, but there are some fun treats ideal for postgame snacking, and the wine list is good.

Service: ••½

Open Monday through Friday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Expensive.

26 Four Sisters ★★★

8190 Strawberry La., Suite 1, Falls Church | 703-539-8566

Cuisine: The move to a new location after more than a decade at the Eden Center has reinvigorated this Vietnamese stalwart. The cooking has never been so good: Shrimp toast, a seeming throwaway, is transformed into a little masterpiece of flavor and crunch, while staples such as lacquered quail with lime and black pepper are rendered with newfound refinement. A likable place has grown into something more: a destination.

Mood: The staff is one of the best around, quick to explain the nuances and protocol of the cuisine for a novice (they’ll even keep a baby company), but comfort is now joined by style: The saffron-walled dining room with Monetlike paintings of Vietnamese villages and handsome mahogany booths and chairs is an unexpectedly soothing setting.

Best for: A relaxed afternoon lunch; group dining; parties.

Best dishes: Shrimp toast; lacquered quail with lime-and-black-pepper sauce; spring rolls; deep-fried scallops over baby tomatoes, lettuce, and onion; short ribs with onion; filled rice crepes, both crispy and gelatinous; bun, a bountiful array of grilled pork, spring rolls, rice noodles, julienned carrot, and mint, ready for tossing together with fish sauce; a fizzy limeade; Vietnamese coffee, hot or iced; banana-stuffed sticky rice roll.

Insider tips: Got a large group? Dinner for ten—spring rolls, eight main courses, fresh fruit for dessert—is $168.

Service: •••

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive.

25 L’Auberge Chez François ★★★

332 Springvale Rd., Great Falls | 703-759-3800

Cuisine: Not much has changed on the menu in the 50 years since François Haeringer opened his original Alsatian restaurant near the White House, but son Jacques, now in the kitchen, seems to have found new energy. Often superficially handled classics such as Dover-sole meunière, sweetbreads in puff pastry with Madeira and chanterelles, and Grand Marnier soufflé are redeemed here.

Mood: The decor in this country-inn-style place pushes the nostalgia envelope—grapevine chandeliers, painted plates, a conservatory-style Garden Room.

Best for: Special family occasions.

Best dishes: Provençal-style coquilles St. Jacques; mini-Thermidor of lobster, shrimp, scallops, and crabmeat; veal kidneys; choucroute; braised veal cheeks; frog’s legs; foie gras. Also trust the game specials and shellfish.

Insider tips: The $60-to-$75 “entrées” include appetizer, salad, and dessert plus an amuse-bouche, palate-cleansing sorbet, and a finish of chocolate truffles and tuiles cookies. Some dishes aren’t counted in the prix fixe—soufflés and cappuccinos, for instance. It’s not as hard to get reservations as it used to be, but it’s still a good idea to call a month in advance. In good weather, the patio is lovely for dining, but it’s first come, first served, so go early.

Service: ••••

Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner, Sunday for lunch and dinner. Very expensive.

24 Obelisk ★★★

2029 P St., NW | 202-872-1180

Cuisine: The prix fixe dinner menu at Peter Pastan’s Dupont Circle townhouse restaurant typically begins with a plate of burrata, a creamy cheese from Puglia that’s dressed with just a bit of olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. It doesn’t look like much, yet it inspires “oohs” from diners. And so it goes through a bounty of antipasti plus four unfussy courses, every dish a testament to the power of simplicity.

Mood: Aproned waitresses in ponytails and hipster glasses seem to know every ingredient on the daily changing menu. But underneath the foodie talk, there’s a winning, down-to-earth vibe, and the intimate dining room feels more like a living room than a 21-year-old restaurant. In fact, Pastan might be the one taking your reservation when you call.

Best for: Diners seeking a more intimate, lingering experience than is found at most high-end Mediterranean restaurants; Italophiles who appreciate the details, from the house-made breadsticks to a shelfful of grappas.

Best dishes: Antipasti of lamb meatballs in tomato sauce, tangy eggplant-and-walnut salad, and pork rillettes cut with green-tomato jam; spaghetti alla chitarra with squid, garlic, and red pepper; pork chop marinated in grape must before grilling; rare tuna with preserved lemon and fresh artichoke; vanilla ice cream showered with tangerine granita—a Creamsicle gone Sicilian.

Insider tips: Pacing is important here. It’s tempting to fill up on the six or so plates of antipasti, nearly all wonderful, which hit the table in rapid succession. But the next course, soup or pasta, tends to be heavy, and the entrées, cheese course, and desserts are substantial.

Service: •••

Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner. Very expensive.

23 Tosca ★★★

1112 F St., NW | 202-367-1990

Cuisine: Ethereal hand-rolled pastas, often imaginatively sauced, and robust but elegant interpretations of Northern Italian cooking. The rotation of dishes rarely changes—but it also rarely misses the mark.

Mood: The dining room is dated and austere, as dull as the cooking is engaging, and the servers look as though they’ve been stuffed into their jackets. It’s a fitting setting for a place where lawyers flock and the talk is of billable hours and stalled negotiations.

Best for: A client lunch.

Best dishes: Roasted scallops with chestnut purée and black-truffle sauce, the epitome of earthy elegance; ravioli filled with chestnut and ricotta; ravioli stuffed with veal, prosciutto, and pistachio mortadella in a red-wine reduction; carrot pappardelle with rabbit ragu.

Insider tips: At the bar you can fashion a fine, affordable meal of half-price, half-size portions of pasta, and the wine list is long on earthy Italian reds.

Service: ••½

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Very expensive.

22 Bistro Bis ★★★

Hotel George, 15 E St., NW | 202-661-2700

Cuisine: French bistro cooking as interpreted by Jeff Buben, known for his haute Southern fare at Vidalia. Buben is not afraid of fat, which, coupled with his Southern largesse, makes for lusty plates such as a big mound of Toulouse-sausage-studded white beans with duck-leg confit on top.

Mood: Though modern in design, the amber-lit dining rooms are sized for intimate conversation, and there are booths aplenty. In the shadow of the Capitol, Bis usually has a lively bar scene, with politicos quaffing cocktails and ordering from a more gently priced bar menu.

Best for: Cozy, romantic dinners, power breakfasts and lunches, dinner at the bar.

Best dishes: Quail stuffed with foie gras mousse and truffle risotto; potage gascogne, soup made with rich duck broth and studded with duck meatballs and marrow beans; duck-liver parfait with pickled cherries; crisp pork belly with spaetzle and mustard greens in pork-and-mustard-green jus; caramelized-apple tarte normande with goat’s-milk ice cream.

Insider tips: The main dining room with its gas fireplace is the place to be. Because the crowd ebbs and flows according to what’s happening on the Hill, Bis is an easier weekend reservation than some other top restaurants. Parking in the garage across the street is free with validation. Hand off the car at the hotel door and it will cost $22.

Service: ••••

Open Monday through Friday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for breakfast, brunch, and dinner. Expensive.

21 Teatro Goldoni ★★★

1909 K St., NW | 202-955-9494

Cuisine: In recent years, this darling of the K Street set had slid into irrelevance, home to big plates of overrich cooking that blithely ignored the essential simplicity at the heart of classic Italian cooking. No more. Chef Enzo Fargione has imposed clarity and purpose on the kitchen. The result? Imaginative, elegant, and often rewarding presentations, from elaborately adorned soups to superb pastas and risottos to uncluttered preparations of meats and fishes.

Mood: The circus theme is tired, as are the bad Euro disco tunes, and the staff is prone to a slick magnanimity, but the room pulses with the festive air of a newly big-time restaurant.

Best for: Diners willing to place their trust in a chef whose methods can be wacky—cigar boxes of marinated fish, a Mason jar of condiments flanking an appetizer of veal—but whose aim is traditional and true.

Best dishes: Applewood-smoked branzino that sends up a puff of smoke when you lift the lid on its wooden cigar box; veal tartare with summer truffle, hazelnuts, and 36-month-aged Parmesan; risotto with lobster; palm-size agnolotti filled with salty, crispy-skinned roast breast of duck with black-olive sauce.

Insider tips: Desserts are overpriced at up to $14.50 each. Order one to share, and finish your meal with coffee or splurge on a glass of limoncello or sambuca. The nightly wine special generally features good deals on supple Italian reds.

Service: ••

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Very expensive.

20 Farrah Olivia ★★★

600 Franklin St., Alexandria | 703-778-2233

Cuisine: Fusion at its best and most challenging. Chef Morou Ouattara takes familiar Western ingredients and combinations—a salmon, a Caesar salad—and defamiliarizes them in order to reinvent them. Whether he hits or not—usually he hits—each plate is a conversation piece, boasting powders and foams and wildly inventive sauces (roasted banana and celery heart) in startling arrangements.

Mood: You’d hardly guess what the chef was up to from the serene space on a quiet side street in Old Town. Africa is subtly invoked in the dishes—Morou hails from Ivory Coast—and the dining room follows suit with an iridescent jungle design on one wall. Part of the fun is watching diners with wrinkled brows interrogate the staff—what’s lobster tapioca?

Best for: The food is the focus, and it’s interesting enough to carry an entire meal.

Best dishes: Vanilla-poached lobster atop a creamy lobster tapioca encircled by lobster bisque; “painted soup,” a serving of two soups (black bean, squash) in an artful yin/yang arrangement; “deconstructed” New England clam chowder; chorizo-stuffed roast quail; gnudi, a cousin to gnocchi—light, goat-cheese dumplings with no skins—garnished with white and green asparagus; tender black cod in a Thai-style broth of coconut milk, lemongrass, and chilies; gingerbread-and-pear trifle; dark-chocolate/peanut tart.

Insider tips: Here’s one of the few area restaurants where it’s worth turning your meal over to the chef and ordering a tasting menu. And vegetarians, take note: Morou grew up regarding meat as a seasoning; to him, vegetables aren’t supplements—his soups in particular are exceptional for the flavor coaxed out of simple ingredients without resorting to meat, butter, or cream.

Service: ••

19 Corduroy ★★★

1122 Ninth St., NW | 202-589-0699

Cuisine: In an age of look-at-me chefs, Tom Power is as much a throwback as his Johnny Unitas–style hair. He eschews experimentation and showing off in favor of simple, true flavors—from exceptional soups to hand-rolled pastas to unfussy preparations of fish, seafood, and game.

Mood: Removed from its charmless space in a Sheraton hotel to a townhouse, the restaurant now exudes quiet sophistication, with warm lighting and subtle Asian accents. Power dislikes music, thinking it a distraction from the food. To those fed up with the brassy, noisy new restaurants that now dominate downtown, his policy will come as a relief. But sometimes the room is more hushed than peaceful.

Best for: Diners alienated by forced juxtapositions and bewildered by ingredients they’ve never heard of; anyone seeking a leisurely, elegant meal.

Best dishes: Rouge Vif d’Temps–pumpkin soup, a silken, lightly sweet broth over a small mound of minced bacon; snapper bisque; salad of duck egg and duck-leg confit; roast chicken with shallots and arugula; pan-roasted duck with fig sauce; pepper-edged, seared bigeye tuna with sushi rice; tarte Tatin of local apples; pistachio bread pudding.

Insider tips: The new bar menu offers some of the area’s best cooking at a fraction of the cost of the upstairs dining room.

Service: •••

Open Monday and Saturday for dinner, Tuesday through Friday for lunch and dinner. Very expensive.

18 Rasika ★★★

633 D St., NW | 202-637-1222

Cuisine: Indian food at its most inventive. Chef Vikram Sunderam’s refined gravies and elegant presentations will erase the memory of uninspired Indian buffets.

Mood: Few rooms in the area are trendier than this bead-and-silk-bedecked Penn Quarter place. But though the tables are jammed at night with bright young things, the atmosphere manages not to cross into exclusivity.

Best for: All those who say they don’t like, or don’t get, Indian food. This will likely be their gateway drug.

Best dishes: Black cod lightly sauced with star anise, dill, and honey; spicy chicken green masala with coriander and mint; poached lobster in a hot chili sauce; lamb rogan josh; dal makhani, a rich stew of spiced red lentils, perfect as a dip for any of the flavorful flatbreads; carrot halwa with cinnamon sabayon; apple jalebi, a crispy-fried round of apple, with a scoop of orange-cardamom ice cream.

Insider tips: Rasika bills itself as the place to find wine pairings that stand up to the bold flavors of Indian cuisine, but you’re better off accompanying spicier dishes with a traditional Kingfisher beer. A three-course pretheater meal costs $30.

Service: ••½

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Expensive.

17 Marcel’s ★★★

2401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW | 202-296-1166

Cuisine: Classical French cooking with intense sauces and labor-intensive dishes that no one else makes anymore. Chef Robert Wiedmaier presents a mix-and-match tasting menu of $52 for three courses (called pretheater but available all evening), $75 for four, $90 for five, and $125 for seven.

Mood: Glittering mirrors, black-suited waiters, and silver domes lend a retro-luxe feel to the dining room. Of late, service has been a bit scattered and the pacing slightly off.

Best for: A grown-up meal in a grown-up dining room.

Best dishes: Mussels au gratin; boudin blanc with chestnut purée and lardons; turbot with crisped artichoke leaves and truffle essence; breast of pheasant with pheasant-and-thyme cream; lamb tenderloins in phyllo with cumin Madeira sauce; apple with a beggar’s purse, bread pudding, and apple-butter ice cream.

Insider tips: Book early to take advantage of the restaurant’s free car service to the Kennedy Center—slots fill up. The inviting bar has a wallet-friendly menu and a jazz pianist Tuesday through Saturday nights.

Service: •••½

Open daily for dinner. Very expensive.

16 Bourbon Steak ★★★

Four Seasons Hotel, 2800 Pennsylvania Ave., NW | 202-944-2026

Cuisine: Michael Mina, Washington’s latest celebrity chef, turns the old-style steakhouse on its ear at the Four Seasons—most memorably with his signature butter-poached slabs of charred beef. His love of culinary arcana—aloe in a hamachi-sashimi appetizer, a swipe of evaporated carrot juice on a plate of steak—pumps life into familiar combinations and arrangements.

Mood: The wood-heavy decor is out of sync with the creativity of the kitchen. But the service is gracious, and some of DC’s most recognizable faces already have made the place their roost.

Best for: A splurge. The price tag is steep, but the wines—some produced solely for Mina—and the playful desserts will take the edge off.

Best dishes: Hamachi sashimi with white soy, coconut, and aloe; pork loin, cheek, and belly with parsnip purée and matchsticks of caramelized pear; 14-ounce New York strip; roasted “magical” mushrooms; deconstruction of Brussels sprouts with apple and bacon; Comice-pear tart with cinnamon ice cream; coconut candy bar with salted-caramel ice cream.

Insider tips: If you’re watching your wallet, the complimentary truffle rolls and trio of fries and sauces that inaugurate each meal can serve in lieu of appetizers. Leave room for dessert.

Service: •••

Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for dinner. Very expensive.

15 Volt ★★★

228 N. Market St., Frederick | 301-696-8658

Cuisine: Returning to his hometown of Frederick to open a restaurant in a renovated mansion, former Charlie Palmer Steak chef Bryan Voltaggio exchanged a beefhouse aesthetic for modish plates full of artful detail and savor.

Mood: Locals gather in the swanky bar with caramel-leather couches, while the gallerylike dining room fills up with couples and foursomes. The spacious chef’s dining room, where tasting menus—five courses $69, seven courses $89—are served, is high-energy, with Voltaggio and his busy staff on view in the open kitchen.

Best for: A celebratory meal; an important date; drinks and nibbles with friends in the lounge; lunch or dinner after shopping in downtown Frederick.

Best dishes: Sweetbreads with caper powder; yellowfin-tuna tartare with drizzles of chili oil; oysters on wheat-beer sorbet; an old fashioned with house-made bitters and muddled cherries; butter-poached Maine lobster; lamb loin with merguez sausage, lentils, and mustard greens; chocolate-hazelnut pavé with frozen hazelnut custard; “local fall apples,” a multipart dessert including apple butter with cinnamon doughnuts and caramel frozen custard.

Insider tips: The $14 bar lunch gets you three picks from a menu that includes an Absolut martini and a grilled lamb burger with bleu cheese. Parking is free in the lot next door on weekends and after 5 weekdays.

Service: •••

14 2941 ★★★

2941 Fairview Park Dr., Falls Church | 703-270-1500

Cuisine: Chef Bertrand Chemel’s variations on modern French and American cooking—with their long-coaxed flavors and striking textures—mark him as an alum of New York’s Café Boulud, the celebrated bistro of chef Daniel Boulud. Though the fine print says you can order à la carte, the menu reads as a choice between a three-course $70 meal with options and a tasting menu: four courses for $95, six for $120.

Mood: Playful glass “jellyfish” swinging from the ceilings and tall windows overlooking a wooded lake make this one of the area’s most striking rooms.

Best for: A romantic meal; family celebrations; nibbles and cocktails at the elliptical bar overlooking the koi pond.

Best dishes: Salad of endive, Fourme d’Ambert cheese (a creamy French bleu), walnuts, and fig confit; butternut-squash soup with lemongrass-and-cilantro cream; octopus carpaccio with grapefruit; steamed sea bass in beurre blanc; beef duo, a rib eye wrapped around a bundle of tender short rib and roasted, served with rosemary potatoes and Rossini “red wine” sauce (worth the $12 supplement); cheese board with six varieties ($10 supplement); miniature chestnut soufflé with eggnog ice cream; frozen truffle with Earl Grey–infused crème fraîche.

Insider tips: Tables along the bank of windows are prime. The kitchen is generous with gifts: shots of mushroom bisque as an amuse-bouche on a cold evening, a plate of warm doughnuts and house-made sweets as a postdessert treat, and sometimes, if you tour the kitchen, fresh-made baguettes to take home.

Service: ••••

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for dinner. Very expensive.

13 Central Michel Richard ★★★

1001 Pennsylvania Ave., NW | 202-626-0015

Cuisine: Michel Richard’s version of a bistro is a playground for any culinary style, dish, accent, or seasoning that catches his fancy. He and chef Cedric Maupillier turn out gleefully unfaithful renditions of French comfort cooking along with twists on fish and chips and a banana split.

Mood: An oversize portrait of a jolly Richard anchors the far end of the dining room. Tables are side by side, Parisian style, and the crowd is a who’s who of Washington, from media mavens to politicos.

Best for: Richard fans who aren’t up for the blowout prices at his Georgetown restaurant, Citronelle; New Yorkers; foodies.

Best dishes: House-made, nonalcoholic fruit sodas; duck rillettes and “faux gras” terrine; burrata, a soft Italian cheese, with basil oil and roasted cherry tomatoes; tagliatelle Bolognese; cassoulet; Brussels sprouts with bacon; pearl-pasta risotto with mushrooms; house-made corned-beef sandwich; apple pandowdy; chocolate lava cake.

Insider tips: The kitchen can be uneven, so count on the occasional low amid the highs. Still, it’s one of the hottest tickets in town, and reservations (made well in advance) are needed. At lunch, the corned-beef sandwich will more than satisfy all who long for a great Jewish deli.

Service: •••

12 Kinkead’s ★★★

2000 Pennsylvania Ave., NW | 202-296-7700

Cuisine: The area’s premier seafood restaurant—and one of the last bastions for classic local and regional cooking. Having outlasted several administrations, this Foggy Bottom institution looks well prepared to survive the onslaught of gastrobistros, wine bars, and high-minded fusion restaurants, too.

Mood: In or around the bar is the place to be: the ice-mounded platters of pristine oysters and clams, the salty talk from the bartenders, the live jazz piano, and the camaraderie of fellow diners who’ve come to eat, drink, and blow off steam. Upstairs is the opposite: quieter, more sedate, a bit like dining on a cruise ship.

Best for: Happy-hour eating and drinking; a night out with friends or family who disdain culinary trends and long for classic American regional cooking.

Best dishes: Crispy Ipswich clams with tartar sauce and fried lemons; New England clam chowder; one of the city’s best crab cakes; pumpkin-filled ravioli with brown butter; roast cod with crab imperial, Virginia ham, and spoonbread; cornmeal-crusted flounder with tasso ham, artichokes, shrimp, and crab; pepper-rimmed tuna, seared and sauced with a Pinot Noir reduction; pear tart; milk-chocolate-and-hazelnut dacquoise.

Insider tips: One of the best restaurants in the area for wine lovers now allows corkage: You can bring a bottle of wine not on the restaurant’s list from home for a fee of $25. The bar menu includes such treats as the Maine-style lobster roll with house-made fries.

Service: ••½

11 BLT Steak ★★★

1625 I St., NW | 202-689-8999

Cuisine: New York chef Laurent Tourondel goes way beyond steakhouse clichés. From the expansive raw bar to the bistro-style board of specials to the gratis crock of pâté and Gruyère popovers, this outpost of his BLT empire does a convincing imitation of a fine French restaurant. The artful fare from protégé Victor Albisu may make you forget that steak is why you came.

Mood: The wine flows, and lots of cash is flashed. The sound loop switches from rock to jazz to country, but you probably won’t notice because the conversational hum is loud.

Best for: Expense-account dining; an indulgent meal.

Best dishes: Gruyère-crusted popovers; tuna tartare with avocado; skirt-steak-and-foie-gras sandwich at lunch; connoisseur-quality French fries; Dover sole with brown butter; the BLT Cut, a bone-in sirloin; real Japanese Kobe beef; herb-smeared lamb chops; stuffed mushrooms; chestnut sundae with chocolate sauce.

Insider tips: Portions and prices are steakhouse size, but you can split most steaks and chops.

Service: ••½

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Very expensive.

10 The Source ★★★½

575 Pennsylvania Ave., NW | 202-637-6100

Cuisine: A Wolfgang Puck–inspired take on Asian fusion, which means bigger, bolder flavors than you’d expect to find in Asian cooking, executed with a deftness that could convince you the master chef himself was in the kitchen.

Mood: From the hostesses in short black cocktail dresses to the rock soundtrack—a blast of Steppenwolf with your shu mai?—the airy space may convince you that you’ve wandered into a stylish LA party.

Best for: A no-expenses-spared night of glamour or a comparatively simple meal of dumplings, crispy whole fish, and other Chinese treats—the best Chinese cooking in Washington.

Best dishes: Dumplings stuffed with braised pork belly and swabbed with black vinegar; potstickers of mushroom and chicken; crispy suckling pig with plum purée; shrimp-and-scallop shu mai with lobster sauce; Indian-style Arctic char with cardamom raita; the best lamb chop in the area, double-cut, expertly seared with an Asian glaze, and sauced with a chili-mint vinaigrette; wok-fried whole sea bass, crisp on the outside, creamy within; chocolate truffle cake with masala-spiced chai ice cream; apple-almond crumble.

Insider tips: You can order from both the upstairs menu and the bar menu in the downstairs lounge, which means you can fashion a meal from exquisite pan-Asian cooking and elegant junk food. The bar menu is a little cheaper.

Service: •••

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Very expensive.

9 Oval Room ★★★½

800 Connecticut Ave., NW | 202-463-8700

Cuisine: Power diners used to come to the Oval Room for the glad-handing scene. These days the draw is Tony Conte’s cooking. Light, bright flavors come together in surprising ways—who knew that beet, passion fruit, and horseradish work so beautifully together? Conte doesn’t lean on butter and cream; flavor comes instead from, say, tiny pearls of Bing-cherry juice or dabs of smoked balsamic vinegar.

Mood: It doesn’t have the swagger of the Palm, but the lunch crowd in the pretty celadon dining room usually boasts some boldface names. At night the place turns quieter, with couples and foursomes sharing the tasting menu and swirling glasses of wine.

Best for: Impromptu dinners. Despite the inventiveness and relatively low cost—entrées are generally in the low $20s—there’s usually no trouble landing a nighttime reservation.

Best dishes: Beet salad with red, yellow, and candy-stripe beets, shaved horseradish, and cubes of passion-fruit gelée; chilled cucumber soup; olive-oil poached shrimp with grapefruit in ginger broth; composed salad of burrata and figs; tuna tartare; Parmesan custard with a riff on Southern pepper jelly; striped bass with toasted almonds and licorice vinaigrette; butter-poached lobster showered in micro-cilantro and young-coconut broth; Granny Smith–apple vacherin that tastes like a candied apple gone glam; hazelnut dacquoise.

Insider tips: A six-course tasting menu is $85, but you’d better be hungry—portions are big.

Service:••

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for dinner. Expensive.

8 Inn at Little Washington ★★★½

309 Middle St., Washington, Va. | 540-675-3800

Cuisine: Caviar, lobster, and foie gras still luxe up the menu at Patrick O’Connell’s Modern American inn, an hour-plus drive through the Virginia countryside from DC. O’Connell sources lavishly, and many of his sumptuous creations, such as Tuna Pretending to Be Filet Mignon, are destined to be canonized.

Mood: Even this place may be feeling a bit squeezed: Last year’s amuse-bouche of 12 one-bite morsels in porcelain spoons has dwindled to four to eight. Still, the plush and over-the-top dining rooms are an Anglophile’s dream.

Best for: A landmark birthday or anniversary or popping the question—the staff is well versed in pomp and pampering.

Best dishes: Spicy bigeye tuna with sake-and-yuzu sorbet; porcini-dusted Maine diver scallop with cauliflower purée; elegant mac and cheese with country ham and shaved truffle; mustard-crusted rack of lamb with mint-artichoke ravioli; veal sweetbreads with port over pappardelle.

Insider tips: Main courses have traditionally been the least interesting part of the meal. Table 12 allows you and your love to sit side by side, while the tables overlooking the garden are the most intimate.

Service: •••½

Open daily for dinner; closed some Tuesdays. Very, very expensive.

7 Vidalia ★★★½

1990 M St., NW | 202-659-1990

Cuisine: Shrimp ’n’ grits and pecan pie are still on the menu, and the bread basket is the best this side of the Mason-Dixon Line, but calling this a Southern restaurant doesn’t begin to get at the intricacy and imagination of James Beard Award–winning chef R.J. Cooper’s cooking. Masterful French technique, ingredients from around the globe, and a restless need to experiment (last summer he debuted Ritz Cracker ice cream—as a condiment) are all put in the service of rooted, accessible food.

Mood: Convivial yet elegant, the subterranean dining room exudes sophistication and confidence. It can make you feel buoyant even in the depths of winter.

Best for: Sips and nibbles at the bar; a client lunch; a blowout multicourse dinner.

Best dishes: The area’s best mint julep; smoked golden trout with roasted-onion purée and steelhead roe; braised pork cheeks with red cabbage, hot pickle vinaigrette, and cracklings; luxurious pumpkin soup with chestnut-filled agnolotti; shrimp ’n’ grits; a Southern riff on cassoulet, with pork shank, ham hock, pork cheek, and heirloom beans; warm apple-cider doughnuts; signature lemon chess pie.

Insider tips: Happy hour, 5:30 to 7 weekdays, remains the best around for people who like to eat as well as they drink. Cooper’s free hors d’oeuvres are terrific, and you can sample small pours of the restaurant’s exceptional wine list.

Service: •••

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for dinner. Very expensive.

6 Restaurant Eve ★★★½

110 S. Pitt St., Alexandria | 703-706-0450

Cuisine: Continental cooking by turns elegant and rustic, built on a foundation of superior local produce and meats and informed by chef/owner Cathal Armstrong’s unswerving desire not to let innovation get in the way of classical technique. The roster of house-made craft cocktails signals a seriousness that extends throughout the operation—one that attends to every last detail.

Mood: The cobblestone path leading to the entrance sets the tone. Inside, the space is simultaneously cozy and airy. The staff is expert at reading tables, able to engage in banter about foodie arcana while never veering into pretension or forgetting to take care of the diner.

Best for: Eve is really three places in one—a bar with its own menu, a bistro, and a tasting room—making it one of the area’s most versatile restaurants.

Best dishes: Bacon-egg-and-cheese salad; classic bouillabaisse; lobster-and-lemon ravioli; a tour-de-force charcuterie board fit for two or three; pan-fried sweetbreads sauced with a morel velouté; pan-roasted branzino with mustard veal jus; house-cured pork belly; Irish BLT with house-made bacon; tarte Tatin.

Insider tips: The Lickety-Split Lunch—any two dishes, drinks, or desserts for $13.50—is the best lunch deal around.

Service: ••••

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Tasting room very expensive, bistro expensive, bar moderate.

5 Palena and Palena Cafe ★★★½

3529 Connecticut Ave., NW | 202-537-9250

Cuisine: Franco-Italian dishes both rustic and refined—expert terrines and pâtés, soups of subtle complexity, ethereal pastas—from chef/owner Frank Ruta, a hard-working throwback who shuns publicity, never works the room, and is content to sequester himself in his subterranean kitchen perfecting his compositions. The cafe menu served out front is simpler but no less rewarding.

Mood: The 30-seat cafe has a festive air—you can come dolled up or in jeans and shirttails. The dining room in the back has the feel of a relic—dark, serious, and formal.

Best for: Serious foodies. All food lovers will rejoice in the excellence of Ruta’s cooking, but those who can suss out the nuances of his complex, subtly seasoned dishes will find the greatest reward.

Best dishes: Truffled cheeseburger; roast half chicken subtly flavored with star anise; hand-rolled pastas; house-made pâtés and terrines; any of the extraordinary soups, including a spring consommé with morels, favas, and nettles and a fall consommé made from pheasant; wonderfully light gnocchi; ricotta pie; German apple cake.

Insider tips: You can eat exceptionally well and economically by arriving early and sitting up front—there are no reservations in the cafe—and ordering off both the front menu, where most dishes are around $11, and the dining-room menu, which is offered in three, four, and five courses.

Service: ••½

Open Monday through Saturday for dinner. Restaurant expensive, cafe moderate.

4 CityZen ★★★½

Mandarin Oriental, 1330 Maryland Ave., SW | 202-787-6006

Cuisine: Jaded foodies meet their match at this forward-thinking hotel restaurant, where astonishing discoveries (a slice of monkfish liver impersonating foie gras) and beguiling takes on regional American (an haute version of beef on weck) and classical French cooking are dreamed up daily by chef Eric Ziebold and executed by his well-drilled battalion of cooks.

Mood: The dining room, in the Mandarin Oriental hotel, looks like someone opened an opulent restaurant in the hallway of a palace. Soft lighting creates a sense of intimacy, and the servers—given to long disquisitions on cheese and elaborate explanations of appetizers—are adept at reading diners’ needs.

Best for: Palates looking for the excitement—and shock—of the new.

Best dishes: The menu changes frequently (too frequently—stellar dishes are typically retired and never brought back), but Ziebold, raised in Iowa and trained at the French Laundry in California, excels with preparations of beef, game, and pork. Soups are superb, as are his signature miniature Parker House rolls presented in a hand-stained wooden box. Desserts are precise and light, and the well-kept cheeses make a fine finish, too.

Insider tips: Eating a two-hour dinner while you're perched on a stool might not sound like a great night out, but Ziebold’s $50 three-course tasting menu at the bar is a steal.

Service: •••½

Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner. Very expensive.

3 Minibar ★★★★

405 Eighth St., NW (Café Atlántico) | 202-393-0812

Cuisine: Some of the nation’s most visionary and rewarding cooking can be found at culinary whiz José Andrés’s restaurant/laboratory, where three chefs concoct 30 or so lilliputian courses—from the amusingly ridiculous (a compressed square of popcorn deep-frozen in liquid nitrogen that lets you blow “smoke” out your nose dragon style) to the sublime (custard-filled brioche bun with caviar).

Mood: Dining at the six-seat restaurant on the second floor of Café Atlántico is akin to eating at a sushi bar—diners sit on stools and watch as food is prepared. But here the morsels are presented with military precision, complete with instructions: “Eat this in one bite.”

Best for: Culinary adventurers; food snobs; anyone willing to see dinner as the entertainment and not the fuel-up before the show.

Best dishes: The menu evolves constantly, but recent tastes included olive-oil bonbons that burst open on the tongue; “tumbleweed of beet”; cotton-candy-swathed eel; faux sun-dried tomatoes made with tomato juice; salmon-pineapple “ravioli” with crispy quinoa; roasted Asian baby corn with sweet-corn purée; Thai frozen yogurt with honey and crushed peanuts.

Insider tips: The reservations process seems designed to weed out all but the most persistent. You have to call at exactly 10 am one month in advance and be prepared to hit the redial button. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are nominally easier gets than weekends, and there’s always the waiting list.

Service: •••

Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner. Very expensive.

2 Citronelle ★★★★

Latham Hotel, 3000 M St., NW | 202-625-2150

Cuisine: Michel Richard’s dazzling reinterpretation of French cooking puts the hoot in haute cuisine. Elevating fun over formality, and with a masterly command of technique, he creates a gastronomic experience unrivaled in the area: dinner as theater, from sleights of hand—an “egg symphony” of four tastes that includes not a single egg—to stunning trompe l’oeil, as in a “stained glass” of raw fish. Amid all the play, though, lies a sturdy classicism.

Mood: An open kitchen is the centerpiece of the multitiered space. A seat at Richard’s long chef’s table provides an up-close view of the brigade of toque-wearing chefs circling about. The subterranean dining room is somewhat dated, as are the dark-suited waiters.

Best for: Foodies who think they’ve eaten everything.

Best dishes: Abalone served sashimi style with a rich shallot emulsion; reconstructed oyster-and-clam chowder; sablefish with miso glaze; short ribs for two, the meat deboned and cooked sous-vide for 72 hours, then finished in a searing-hot pan and presented medium rare; loup de mer with black-truffle emulsion; candied apple with caramel ice cream; blueberry cheesecake; chocolate dégustation, a variation on a theme with four different desserts.

Insider tips: Citronelle Lounge—really just a table around the upstairs bar—is a less costly alternative to four-star dining, with some of Richard’s greatest hits on the menu, including his take on Chicken McNuggets and the justly famous 72-hour short ribs.

Service: •••½

Open daily for dinner. Very expensive.

1 Komi ★★★★

1509 17th St., NW | 202-332-9200

Cuisine: Wunderkind chef Johnny Monis’s passionate explorations of his Greek roots have transformed a small Dupont Circle rowhouse into the area’s most intimate and personal experience. Dinner is a leisurely affair, commencing with a generous sampler course called mezzethakia—small, jewellike presentations that showcase the restaurant’s stellar shopping, particularly for raw fish—and ending with lusty plates of rustic meats and fishes that evoke the seaside trattorias of the Aegean.

Mood: The dimly lit room represents the best of Spartan simplicity—though some may find it bare-bones for four-star cuisine. It conveys a solidity that many more lavishly appointed rooms miss—without detracting from the excitement on the plate.

Best for: People for whom a night out means dinner, period—the more interesting and exciting, the better.

Best dishes: A mascarpone-stuffed date doused with olive oil and sea salt that couldn’t be simpler or more exquisite; fresh scallop with dill and black truffle; a miniature cold-cut sandwich with house-made meats and house-baked bread; roasted baby pig or goat for two, the meats meant for layering into fresh triangles of pita and scattered with condiments; Greek doughnuts with mascarpone-enriched chocolate.

Insider tips: The tasting menu is nearly as inventive and interesting as that at José Andrés’s Minibar, and the pacing and attention from the staff make it a gastronomic blowout.

Service: ••••

Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner. Very expensive.

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