Baked & Wired
1052 Thomas Jefferson St., NW; 202-333-2500
Cupcake shops keep sprouting up, but few have been better than one of the originals, Baked & Wired. Besides oversize cupcakes in flavors such as Texas sheet cake and raspberry-jam-stuffed lemon, there are honey-flecked bee-sting cookies, icing-filled cake sandwiches, and, come summer, the best fruit pies in town.
1560 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-333-4646
You’ll never see strawberries in winter at Dolcezza, a gelato shop that takes its flavor cues from the farmers markets—around now, look for honey-tangerine and grape-Campari. Luckily, chocolate, dulce de leche, and Thai coconut milk never go out of season. The couple behind the place and its Bethesda and Dupont Circle siblings learned to make gelato in Argentina, and the result is dense and rich yet somehow half the calories of most ice creams.
1645 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-342-3248
Some of the area’s best French confections—buttery twirls of croissant, ultra-light macaroons, flaky napoleons—can be found at narrow, elegant Patisserie Poupon. There are also ham-stuffed sandwiches and wonderfully light wedges of quiche, and the fresh and bountiful salads are very good. The back patio is a lovely spot for an afternoon latte.
3291 M St., NW; 202-625-6625
The fillings are unconventional, but they often work. The Omega 3, stuffed with shredded tuna, corn, and celery, gets a tangy punch from lime juice and shallots, and the Buffalo chicken is spicy and excellent. The secret lies in the crepe, which is flat on one side but slightly puffy and soft on the other. The sweet crepes are heavy on the sugar.
1062 Thomas Jefferson St., NW; 202-965-7627
For dessert, go to Snap, a sunny sliver of a cafe where the sweet crepes are best. The Nutella-and-banana combination has a bigger-than-normal serving of chocolate-hazelnut cream, and the tart lemon-and-sugar can be a refreshing pick-me-up after a day of shopping.
2444 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-337-0004
With its pulsing reggae, margaritas, and rooftop deck, the laid-back Surfside, just north of Georgetown in Glover Park, feels as if it were plucked from a West Coast beach town. But a serious chef, David Scribner, is behind the Cali-Mex menu. The grilled-shrimp tacos come laced with fresh mango-and-pineapple salsa, the guac is citrusy and mashed with extra-virgin olive oil, and the specials board usually boasts ambitious seafood creations. Monday night, kids eat for free, and on Wednesday margarita pitchers are half off. The absence of salt in the air is the only reminder you’re still in the city.
3333 M St., NW; 202-337-9338
In a little hut that seems straight out of Hansel and Gretel is the original Sweetgreen, a chainlet from three Georgetown University grads that has spawned seven more locations and a food truck. We applaud the salads for their local ingredients (the Guacamole Greens mixture is especially good), but it’s the tangy frozen yogurt, made from Stonyfield brand, that keeps us coming back—the best of its kind in an ever-growing field of low-cal soft serve. Toppings, whether baked apples or fresh mint, often come from the farmers market.
1264 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-333-7370
Martin’s Tavern is as old school as it gets. Around for more than seven decades, it claims to have fed many Presidents (most famously JFK and Jackie). Pub grub reigns: artichoke fritters and fried crabcakes start things off well, and patrons with a hearty appetite can indulge in the Martin’s Delight—a cast-iron skillet of roast turkey slices, cheesy Welsh-rarebit sauce, and bacon. Leave time for an afternoon nap.
3236 M St., NW; 202-333-9180
There are now nine area Clyde’s, each new one bigger and more extravagant than the last. But the saloon’s original location, which opened in the heart of Georgetown in 1963, has largely remained the same, with cozy red-leather booths, brass fixtures, and a pine-paneled bar. Thick burgers and crabcake sandwiches are sure things, as are hot-sauce-doused wings. Creamy artichoke-and-lump-crab dip, pork-belly quesadillas, and darkly fried crawfish hushpuppies make great shares. The menu is more ambitious when you get off the bar-food track—duck-liver linguine, Wagyu-beef pot roast—but also less reliable.
3282 M St., NW; 202-337-1245
Ruth Gresser kick-started Washington’s artisanal-pizza scene 20 years ago with Dupont Circle’s tiny Pizzeria Paradiso. Her Georgetown spinoff has more space than the original, and the wood-fired Neapolitan-style pies are identical. Our favorite is the fiery Atomica, with salami, black olives, and chili flakes; the simple Margherita is satisfying, too. Downstairs is the birreria, a space devoted to boutique beers and cask ales.
FOR HIGH ROLLERS
Four Seasons Hotel, 2800 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-944-2026
From the complimentary black-truffle-showered rolls to a lobster-pot-pie entrée whose market price has topped $80 (it’s currently $65), celebrity chef Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak is made for expense-account dinners and all-out splurges. Mina’s specialty is seafood, so good bets are such dishes as bass with lemon curd and eggplant or tuna tartare with chili and mint.
Latham Hotel, 3000 M St., NW; 202-625-2150
Over the past few years, Michel Richard has gotten lots of attention for his bistro Central in downtown DC’s Penn Quarter. But his home is still Citronelle, a favorite for big birthdays and anniversaries. Here you’ll find the dishes that put him on the map, such as a tuna-layered napoleon, a caviar tin holding pearls of pasta and lobster, and clam-and-mussel chowder, one of the most memorable soups in town. More recent standouts are melty sablefish braised in red wine and beet juice as well as a thin crab-flecked tart. For elegance without the sky-high expense, head to the upstairs bar and sample what might be Richard’s best fast-food riff yet, the lamb burger.
1226 36th St., NW; 202-965-1789
The half-century-old 1789, done up with fresh flowers and Currier & Ives prints, feels suspended in an era of jackets-required dining. But the menu, organized by ingredients rather than courses, is a different story. Entrées on the regularly changing menu have included roasted leg of lamb, beautifully complemented with bacon, braised kale, and roasted onions. Rockfish from the Chesapeake is accented with tangelos and vanilla. For those who just want simple beef tenderloin and potatoes, that’s there, too.
AROUND THE WORLD
Ching Chang Cha
1063 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-333-8288
The extensive tea menu includes blooming jasmine teas and herbal infusions. For $12, diners can order a Chinese prix fixe lunch of tomato soup, three vegetables (the kale and snow peas are standouts), and a choice of salmon, curried chicken stew, or teriyaki tofu. Also good are the lamb or chicken dumplings. End with the sweet lotus-root dessert.
2400 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-333-3120
The dining room at Heritage India, in nearby Glover Park, has the air of a banquet hall, but what the room lacks in flash, the food makes up for in fiery curries (lamb vindaloo), spice-laden salads (potato-and-vermicelli-based bhel puri), and tender tandoori meats (lemon-marinated prawns). To avoid a mouth-numbing meal, order a couple of mild plates—such as the restaurant’s signature cream-enriched black lentils—for balance.
2400 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-333-3120
Heritage India's downstairs sibling, is also heavy-handed when it comes to chilies and spices. The affinity for hot flavors works particularly well with a shrimp-tempura appetizer, tossed in a spicy marinade. For a tamer option, look to the Vietnamese lemongrass-grilled pork and the fish filet in a ginger-and-lemon broth.
Kafe Leopold & Konditorei
3315 M St., NW; 202-965-6005
With its mod white furniture and airy dining room, Kafe Leopold & Konditorei feels like a museum cafe. The long menu is hit or miss: The assorted tea sandwiches can be satisfying (egg salad with paprika mayo, truffled grilled cheese) or lackluster (soggy smoked salmon). A salad of shredded kale with pine nuts and currants is a smart mix. For a heartier meal, go for the pan-roasted bratwurst, a flavorful sausage with a side of celery sauerkraut. For dessert, scan the glass case to see what looks fresh.
1070 31st St., NW; 202-333-4400
Past the faded awning at Moby Dick, the small kitchen is turning out flavorful Persian kebabs. The kubideh version—ground beef marinated with ginger—is especially good, while hunks of boneless chicken are milder but with a hint of lemon. The naan-like bread, doughy on the edges and crispier in the center, is as much of a reason to visit as the meat. It’s a great scoop for thick hummus or a wrap for the kebabs.
Shanghai Tea House
2400 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-338-3816
Shanghai Tea House, in Glover Park, has both hot teas—some rarely found outside China—and bubble tea. Use them to wash down a crispy scallion pancake, spicy stir-fried pork with veggies, or boiled pork dumplings. Steamed pork buns are filled with a greens-spiked meatball that really showcases the flavor of the sweet meat.
2309 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-333-4187
DC’s first raw-fish restaurant, the 35-year-old Sushiko, also in Glover Park, is still a top player in Washington’s expanding mix of Japanese restaurants. When it comes to small plates, owner Daisuke Utagawa is willing to trade authenticity for creativity. That means fried eel comes not with soy but with balsamic, and sushi rolls might include mayonnaise or jalapeños. Glover Park residents are lucky—perhaps no other area has a better option when it comes to takeout from a neighborhood sushi joint.
Zed's Ethiopian Cuisine
1201 28th St., NW; 202-333-4710
Zed’s brings white-tablecloth Ethiopian dining to Georgetown. A large, round platter draped with injera—the spongy bread used to eat with—is topped with small piles of stew-like entrées. The meat and vegetable samplers are a great way to see what you like best. Vegetables outshine meats—especially the garlicky collard greens and the sweet cabbage.
BRING A DATE
1736 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-333-0111
For the best of what Bistrot Lepic has to offer, head upstairs to the wine bar and focus on appetizers. A patty of boneless crispy pig’s feet is a marvel of textures and rich, meaty flavor. Creamy mussel-and-leek soup is a warming antidote to a cold night. Or try the homey cassoulet, a casserole of beans and duck confit.
1834 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-338-1747
Great food and a stylish setting often mean big-ticket prices. Not so at Cafe Divan, a Turkish restaurant wrapped in windows and accented with cherry-red walls and abstract art. A mezze sampler is a way to try some of our favorite small plates, including a thick hummus; cigar-shaped phyllo-enrobed feta; and grape leaves with currants, pine nuts, and rice. Slices of lamb and veal come off a vertical spit for the doner kebab, spicy ground beef gets a char on the grill, and the wood-burning oven turns out excellent soft bread.
3241 M St., NW; 202-625-4488
Since opening in 2006, Hook has had a hard time making its food as exciting as its fashionable clientele. Chef Alex Bollinger took the reins in the kitchen early this year, and a recent meal showed he might be what the restaurant needs. Bluefish, often oily and overpowering, was fresh and well matched to its herb-based sauce. And a mahi mahi filet was cooked just right and set atop a tasty pile of coconut-flavored rice. The departure of Heather Chittum, one of the area’s best pastry chefs, dealt a blow to the dessert course. Instead, spend your money on the front end: Weekdays from 5 to 7, a selection of raw oysters is just $1 a pop.
This article first appeared in the March 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.