Chef Frank Ruta's Modern American dishes dazzle at Palena (3529 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-537-9250). Guests choose from four or six courses of delicately layered consommés, pastas flavored with lobster roe and saffron, and entrées such as pan-roasted pork leg with cardamom and sweet garlic. For a more casual experience, head to the adjacent Palena Cafe— well loved among regulars for its truffled-cheese-topped burger and crisp-skinned roast chicken.
Weygandt Wines (3519 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-362-9463)—owned by importer Peter Weygandt—is known for its fine selection of lesser-known Old World wines, including an array of affordable whites. Stop in on your way to a dinner party—the friendly, informed staff excels at picking the right bottle for every occasion.
Sick of generic multiplexes? Opened in 1936, the Art Deco Uptown Theater (3426 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-966-5401) only has one screen, but at 40 by 70 feet—one of the largest in the area—it delivers quite a show. Balcony seats add to the old-timey feel.
Ripple (3417 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-244-7995) is as much a casual snacks spot as it is a dressy dinner destination. Grab a high-top table in the long, lean bar area and settle in for a charcuterie sampler and one of the best by-the-glass wine lists in town. Sunday through Thursday, happy hours (5 to 6:30 and 10:30 to midnight) draw a crowd for half off selected wines and beers on tap and a grilled-cheese menu with fancy melts like the Stinky Pete: Époisses cheese, asparagus, and anchovy. In the daytime, the restaurant's tiny shop, Sugar Magnolia, is the spot for house-made ice cream.
There's no shortage of Firehook Bakery & Coffee House locations in the area, but behind the Cleveland Park outpost (3411 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-362-2253 ) is a little-known, lattice-lined porch with cozy nooks for whiling away an afternoon with the newspaper, a latte, and maybe an extra-large cookie or two. Settle in only if you're truly looking to unplug—the bakery's wi-fi doesn't extend outdoors.
For nearly four decades, the squat Connecticut Avenue building on the southern end of Cleveland Park was home to the bar Ireland's Four Fields. Originally named Ireland's Four Provinces, it closed this summer to make way for Uptown Tap House (3412 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-244-2030), which boasts a marble-topped bar and tables, 17 high-definition TVs, and a handsome red-and-black color scheme. Pub grub includes pork and beef sliders and fried chicken; there's also a raw bar with oysters, clams, and shrimp cocktail.
Staplers shaped like sushi rolls? Check. Wooden alarm clocks? Check. From plush toys for kids to gag gifts for adults, the eclectic shop Wake Up Little Suzie (3409 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-244-0700) has a trinket for everyone.
What can you get for $5.25 these days? At the Italian deli Vace (3315 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-363-1999), it will buy you a thick-cut Italian hard roll stuffed with fresh-cut deli meats or tomato and sweet mozzarella. The shop's devoted neighborhood following also stocks up on house-made thin-crust pizza (by the slice and pie) plus to-go gourmet imports that include sauces, pastas, and Sanbitter, an addictive and complex Campari-like soda.
At Tangerine Boutique (2643 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-652-1461), you can find brightly patterned blouses and dresses at starting-salary-friendly prices—dresses typically don't go over $75, tops average less than $40, and accessories are in the $20-to-$30 range. The warehouse-style shop is also open late—until 9 Monday through Saturday—making it an ideal stop before drinks in Adams Morgan.
There are so many tempting beginnings at District Kitchen (2606 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-238-9408) that you might not make it to the mains: Mason jars of house-made chicken-liver mousse, smoked-bluefish dip, and handcrafted pickles. Or bite into a crisp, battered soft-shell crab or a forkful of pasta with basil cream. There are also clever cocktails such as the Gia Paloma, tart with lime and grapefruit and Burlesque Bitters.
In the intimate dining room at New Heights, chef Ron Tanaka serves such fare as grilled pork loin with mustard-glazed white beans and rib-eye atop rye spaetzle. Downstairs at the twinkly, tiny Gin Joint (2317 Calvert St., NW; 202-234-4110), bartender Nicole Hassoun whips up seasonal tonics that combine flavors like basil and fennel or lime and orange flower. She pairs these with a carefully curated collection of boutique gins to create the best G&Ts in town. Hosting a party? Give Hassoun 48 hours' notice and she'll make custom tonics for the occasion.
As at its sister restaurants—Tryst and the Diner in Adams Morgan—laptop loitering is perfectly acceptable at Open City (2331 Calvert St., NW; 202-332-2331), a hybrid coffee shop, diner, and bar. It's just the spot for a solo dinner (bonus: breakfast is served all day) or an afternoon beer break at the marble bar. No time to linger? Grab a fresh pastry and a foamy cappuccino from the to-go counter and be on your way.
It's not just about pizza at 2 Amys (3715 Macomb St., NW; 202-885-5700). Part osteria, part wine bar, this always-jammed hot spot is a trove of esoteric Italian morsels courtesy of chef/owner Peter Pastan. Pleasures include a briny octopus-and-potato salad and bright-green rapini spicy with red pepper. Don't overlook the well-sourced and beautifully sliced cheeses and salumi. And, yes, the pizzas are more than fine—a recent special with artichokes, sausage, and fontina was sublime.
Marjorie Merriweather Post's Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens (4155 Linnean Ave., NW; 202-686-5807) is a hidden trove of lush gardens. Stroll through the serene Japanese garden, browse the Russian imperial art and artifacts, then top your visit off with a gourmet sandwich in the cafe, which lends picnic blankets for lunching on the grounds; $15 suggested donation.
This article appears in the November 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.