The 87th annual Academy Awards is on Sunday, and a number of bars and restaurants are rolling out the figurative red carpet to customers for viewing parties, all-night happy hours, and more.
Unlimited tapas and drinks at Boqueria
1837 M St., NW
Celebrate the Oscars in Spanish fashion with unlimited tapas such as smoked-salmon toasts, lamb meatballs, and garlic shrimp, plus bottomless sangria, draft beer, and cava ($45 per person). The party is hosted in the restaurant’s private dining room, equipped with televisions, from 7 to midnight. Call 202-558-9545 for reservations.
When: 7 to midnight
Red carpet happy hour and VIP prix-fixe at Commissary
1443 P St., NW
The Logan Circle neighborhood joint hosts its third annual Oscar party, complete with a full wall projection screen. Festivities start at 4 with a red carpet happy hour until 8, featuring specialty cocktails and appetizers ($3 to $7). Guests can order off a Hollywood-themed menu, which includes one complimentary drink and a free popcorn bar. High rollers can opt for the $49 prix-fixe, which includes a three-course menu, two drinks, bottomless popcorn, and first-row seating (reservations for the latter are required). Also! A ballot competition for all.
When: 4 to close
Champagne buffet at Cafe Milano
3251 Prospect St., NW
The see-and-be-seen Georgetown Italian hosts a viewing party in honor of regular star patron Bradley Cooper and his nomination for American Sniper. Tickets are $125 per person and include a Champagne buffet. Partial proceeds benefit neighboring Dog Tag Bakery, which donates all its profits to veterans' programs.
When: Starts at 7
Oscars happy hour at Helix
1430 Rhode Island Ave., NW
Sip a Red Carpet Cosmo alongside bacon jam-topped sliders at this Kimpton Hotel soiree, where drinks and food are discounted throughout the evening ($3 to $6 snacks, $8 cocktails).
When: 5 to 11
Wine-filled watch party at Eno
2810 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
The Georgetown wine bar hosts a viewing party with $5 wines on tap, Oscars-themed chocolates, and free popcorn while the ceremony plays on flat screen televisions. Guests are encourage to fill out a ballot—the best three guesses receive gift cards up to $75.
When: 5 to 11
Themed cocktails (and a mocktail) at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House
950 I St., NW
The show is screened in the restaurant’s private dining room, equipped with a 65-inch television with surround sound. Keeping things festive: three themed cocktails, like the Birdman with whiskey, blackberries, and lemon sour.
When: 5:30 onward
Brews and pros at the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse
2903 Columbia Pike, Arlington
Join the DC Film Society for its 23rd annual Oscars party, hosted by local film critics Bill Henry and Tim Gordon. The evening includes trivia contests, giveaways, and a silent auction. Tickets are $21, and can be purchased in advance online.
When: Door ticket sales start at 6:30; open at 7
A combination snow day and Fat Tuesday in Washington mean double the celebration—though a few of the parties have altered their plans and dates due to the storm. Despite the chill, there’s no need to feel left out if you didn’t make it to Bourbon Street for Mardi Gras this year. Washington bars and restaurants celebrate with are plenty of music, king cakes, and New Orleans-style eats. Here’s what’s going on this week.
901 New York Ave., NW
The downtown Louisiana spot hosts an exclusive Mardi Gras party with an all-you-can-eat and drink spread, including mini muffulettas, broiled oysters, peel-n-eat shrimp, and cocktail crab claws. Tickets are $100.
When: Tuesday, February 17, from 6 to 10
2519 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Join Bayou for its fifth annual Mardi Gras celebration, an evening full of live music and food. The parade from Dupont Circle has been canceled due to snow, but the indoor fun is still on. A $25 buffet gives you access to traditional Cajun/Creole fare, and live music will be playing until 1 AM.
When: Tuesday, February 17
1515 N. Courthouse Rd.
David Guas’s popular eatery is hosting its fourth annual Bayou Gras Block Party with plenty of New Orleans-inspired fare, snow be darned (plows and heaters are in the works). Food, drink, and beer tickets are all sold separately, starting at $15.
When: Tuesday, February 17, from 6 to 9
1837 M St., NW
Celebrate Mardi Gras with a Spanish twist. This Fat Tuesday party is filled with unlimited tapas and Mardi Gras sangrias. Tickets are $45, and reservations can be made by calling 202-558-9545.
When: Tuesday, February 17
1001 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
The restaurant is closed Tuesday due to the storm, so the party has been moved to Thursday. Look for a special Mardi Gras menu with Louisiana favorites like jambalaya, oyster gratin, crusted cod Creole, and bananas Foster crepes. Live music by Laissez-Foure will also play from 7 to 10.
When: Thursday, February 19
2121 14th St., NW
The 14th Street eatery is offering a free slice of king cake, discounted Abita bottles and drafts, and a happy hour that runs from 4 to close.
When: Tuesday, February 17
3115 14th St., NW
At the Heights, Mardi Gras is a weeklong celebration packed with specialty old-time Louisiana cocktails and jambalaya and gumbo specials.
When: Week of February 16
2010 Crystal Dr.
This brand new Crystal City hangout is serving Mardi Gras food and drink specials to the tune of live music all night.
When: Tuesday, February 17
1813 Columbia Rd., NW
Jambalaya, beignets, and blackened fish all grace the special Mardi Gras menu at this popular French bistro. Additionally, the restaurant will serve specialty cocktails such as a French 75, a hurricane, and milk punch, alongside a brass band playing throughout the night.
When: Tuesday, February 16, from 5:30 to 10
2031 Florida Ave., NW
The bar is celebrating the occasion with a week full of Bourbon Street-inspired cocktails, from hurricanes to absinthe frappes.
When: Week of February 16
1612 14th St., NW
Head to Black Jack for the Capital Cocktail Competition. Bartenders from eight local restaurants face off to win the honor of best Mardi Gras cocktail. Tickets are $30 and include hor d'oeuvres, oysters, and discounted drinks. Downstairs at Pearl Dive, the usual (and delicious) Louisiana fare is served, as well as king cakes that can be taken to go.
When: Tuesday, February 17, at 9
1900 M St., NW
Participate in the 14th Annual Bourbon Street Bash, with plenty of Cajun food, a brass funk band, and cheap drinks. If you’re feeling brave, you can even enter a hot wing eating contest. Doors open at 4, and if you come early, the cover charge is discounted. Advance passes are $5.
When: Tuesday, February 17
Strathmore Mardi Gras Concert
5301 Tuckerman La., Rockville
Enjoy a night full of New Orleans jazz with a performance by Grammy winner Irvin Mayfield. Tickets are $39 to $69.
When: Wednesday, February 18
It’s a big weekend folks: Valentine’s Day on Saturday and Presidents’ Day on Monday, meaning three days of brunch-time fun. These spots are all serving brunch on the federal holiday, so go forth and find your bottomless mimosas and Benedicts.
1837 M St., NW
Unlimited tapas and drinks can be yours at this Dupont Spanish spot, which serves brunch from 10:30 to 2. Think huevos Benedictinos with Serrano ham, garlicky shrimp, and tortillas Española, all washed down with unlimited red, white, and rosé sangria, mimosas, and draft beer.
4021 Campbell Ave., Shirlington
Eating is an all-afternoon affair at this seasonal American eatery, open for brunch on Monday from 10 to 4. The menu includes dishes like bagels and house-cured lox, and short rib Benedicts.
901 Ninth St., NW
This Penn Quarter brewhouse serves à-la-carte brunch from 11 to 3, where the likes of biscuits and sausage gravy or smoked salmon hash can be ordered alongside a bottomless drink bar with Bloodys, mimosas, and beer-mosas ($18 per person).
1847 14th St., NW/1833 14th St., NW
These sister 14th Street restaurants both offer brunch starting at 11. Different menus, same laid-back (not to mention hangover-friendly) vibe.
108 Rhode Island Ave., NW
The newest addition to the Bloomingdale dining scene serves its regular Mexican brunch from 11 until 3. The bar will also be open for margaritas and beers between the end of brunch and dinner (starting at 5:30).
3313 11th St., NW; 1825 18th St., NW
Both of these relaxed spots from Jackie Greenbaum and Gordon Banks—one in Columbia Heights, the other Adams Morgan—open at 10 on Monday for bottomless mimosa brunch. Look for Mexican specialties such as chilaquiles at Chucho, and American fare such as fried chicken and waffles at Bar Charley.
Downtown DC/Potomac, Maryland/Tysons Corner, Virginia
All three of these American eateries dish up bountiful brunches. The District and Maryland branches offer the full à-la-carte menu, while the newest (and biggest) Tysons location rolls out a generous buffet with pastries, egg dishes, carving stations, and a pancake bar. Cousin restaurant Farmers Fishers Bakers in Georgetown is also open for Presidents' Day brunch from 9 to 2, with a $30 buffet on the waterfront.
1323 Connecticut Ave., NW
Say cheers to a Monday off with bottomless brunch punch, fried chicken, and fresh doughnuts from this Dupont joint.
707 Sixth St., NW
Cookies n’ cream waffles and brunch pizzas topped with eggs and bacon can be yours at Mike Isabella’s Penn Quarter Italian, which serves brunch from 11:30 to 3.
1601 14th St., NW
Celebrate a short week by splitting a shellfish plateau, baked eggs, and a bottle of bubbly at this popular brasserie, open for regular brunch.
1110 Vermont Ave., NW
Note: This brunch is on Sunday, not Monday, but it’s still a special holiday event. The restaurant named for our 16th President hosts a big brunch bash on Sunday from 11 to 3 with tunes from DJ Neekola (Honest Abe loved deejays), omelet and waffle stations, and specially priced cocktails.
Medium Rare Capitol Hill
515 Eighth St., SE
The Barracks Row location of this popular steak frites joint serves an all-inclusive deal for just $23: bottomless Bloodys, screwdrivers, mimosas, and coffee, plus a choice of yogurt or salad and entrées like steak and eggs or steak-mushroom Benedicts.
1926 14th St., NW
Drop in from 10 to 3 for an à-la-carte brunch menu that ranges from a smoked salmon platter to spicy fried chicken with fennel slaw and a breakfast burrito. Bottomless mimosas or Bloodys are also available ($19, with a two-hour limit).
Many of restaurateur Richard Sandoval’s restaurants offer their all-you-can-eat-and-drink brunches on Monday, including Masa 14, both locations of El Centro D.F., Toro Toro, and Ambar. The deal includes bottomless small plates and several choices of brunch drinks, all for $35 to $39 per person (prices and cuisine vary by restaurant).
1940 11th St., NW
Opt for bottomless mimosas ($15) or a lineup of brunch cocktails at this wine bar, alongside Nutella crostini and pan con tomate with fried eggs.
Valentine’s Day weekend is upon us—and it’s a long one, both literally and figuratively. The amorous holiday is on Saturday of Presidents' Day weekend this year, meaning you technically have from Friday to Monday to celebrate. Need a restaurant recommendation? Want help finding gifts and chocolates? Hoping to avoid the Valentine's dinner crush altogether? We’re here to help.
Take cues from a food critic.
Washingtonian food and wine editor Ann Limpert shares a few fantastic ideas for Valentine’s dining—many of which are perfect for last-minute plans, like where to find killer takeout or a casual platter of oysters. Perhaps the best piece of advice: Go to Shake Shack for a burger and Sauvignon Blanc.
Make a last-minute reservation—or pick a wait-worthy option.
By now the Marcel’s of Washington are full, but there are many more delicious options on our 100 Very Best Restaurants, including ones that serve their regular menus for V-Day and/or don’t take reservations. Here’s what the Top 25 have planned; the list is narrowed for the sake of brevity, so don’t forget about stellar spots that take walk-in diners, such as Baby Wale, Bangkok Golden, and Etto.
Think beyond dinner in a restaurant.
Don’t feel like eating elbow-to-elbow with all the other couples? Go out for Valentine’s brunch, or head to one of the luxe new cinemas where cocktails and snacks are delivered to the seats. There are plenty of offbeat yet romantic ways to spend the weekend that don’t involve prix-fixe.
Find a present (preferably under $50).
Done and done—great ideas for him and her that won’t cost more than a Grant. You can also learn tips for a creating an impressive (and not clichéd) Valentine's bouquet. Or, for less delicate flowers, we have details on a 50 Shades-themed workshop and a recommnded list of take-home accessories.
And what about the chocolates?
Skip the box of Russell Stover and go with a local chocolatier, such as Fleurir Hand Grown Chocolates in Georgetown and Alexandria; Arlington’s Artisan Confections; or Praline Bakery in Bethesda. Health-minded? Check out these tips for selecting the most nutritious treats.
Thinking outside the chocolate box, District Doughnut delivers six-packs of cocoa-infused doughnuts (free in the District) on Friday and Saturday, while Astro sells mini-doughnut boxes with flavors like Nutella-glazed and chocolate-cherry. If your date loves over-the-top gestures, check out these six insane desserts.
Screw all this—Valentine’s Day is the worst!
These places couldn’t agree more, and are hosting anti-Valentine's Day parties, dinners, and concerts. Though if you’re looking for love, check out our Singles Soiree at Penn Social, with plenty of booze and fun games.
Valentine's Day doesn't have to be all about pricey prix-fixe menus, schmoopy promotions, or cheesy Fifty Shades of Grey specials. It can be a tolerable—and even fun—holiday, if you do it right.
Toast over brunch
Valentine's lands on a Saturday this year, meaning the whole weekend is fair game. Instead of a forced romantic dinner, why not opt for fun brunch? Cheers with lobster rolls and mimosas at Hank’s Oyster Bar; treat yourselves to short-rib hash and sticky buns at Blue Duck Tavern; linger over eggs Benedict at Mintwood Place; or go casual for dim sum at the best spot in Washington right now, A & J Restaurant (Annandale and Rockville locations). Washington is a brunch town, and there are plenty of spots to try. A number of places also offer special Valentine’s menus, including a “sweethearts brunch” at America Eats Tavern ($50 per couple); a three-course menu at Trummer’s on Main ($42 per person); and another at Commissary that includes a bottle of bubbly and oysters ($60 per couple).
Have dinner at the movies
Don't feel like battling restaurant crowds? You can still do dinner and a movie—just roll it all into one. Three new cinemas have opened recently that serve food and alcoholic beverages in the theater, along with other perks. Angelika at Mosaic scoops addictive popcorn in flavors like beer-cheddar and offers dishes such as kimchee dogs and a stellar draft list; you can also bring carryout from the theater's cafe inside. The iPic Theaters in North Bethesda have an even bigger in-theater menu—lobster rolls! Champagne!—delivered to your plush leather recliner in the premium seating section. Bethesda's ArcLight Cinemas also have a cafe inside the theater complex, though you can only bring beer, wine, and other drinks inside while watching the flick.
Eat all the food, drink all the drinks
Valentine's Day is excessive by nature, so endless food and/or drink fits perfectly. DGS Delicatessen serves hungry mensches with all-you-can-eat pastrami, corned beef, latkes, mac 'n' cheese, and more for two hours at dinner, plus wallet-friendly sips ($8 martinis, $5 beers). More into drinking your date under the table? Try Boqueria, where the $65 set tapas menu comes with optional unlimited cava and sangria for $20. If you'd rather overindulge in the daylight, check out Del Campo. The South American steakhouse offers a fancy V-Day set menu, but also serves an unlimited Saturday and Sunday brunch for just $45 per person with excellent dishes such as crab toast with caviar, Wagyu skirt steak and eggs, and smoked-pineapple mimosas.
No, we're not talking chocolate body paint. Taking a class together can be a great Valentine's experience and/or gift. Bourbon Steak hosts a cocktail and dessert course on Saturday from 11:30 to 2 with barman Duane Sylvestre and Tiffany MacIsaac of Buttercream Bakeshop ($60 per person). Over at Union Market, Righteous Cheese leads guests through a cheese, chocolate, and Champagne pairing on Friday and Saturday ($70 per person). And while it's not an official seminar, couples can learn a lot about the spirits world at Dram & Grain's six-cocktail tasting ($85 per couple), held in the basement of Jack Rose on Saturday; call or text 202-607-1572 for availability.
Stay home, even if you can't cook
Don't know stock from sauce? You can still have a great meal at home. Three locations of Red Apron Butchery make homey meals for two, including antipasti, Caesar salad, lasagna Bolognese, and cheesecake ($60 for two; preorder and pickup). Society Fair is also a great bet, with a package that includes coq au vin and a bottle of wine ($110 for two; preorder and pickup). Really want to impress you date? Hire a personal chef through online service Kitchensurfing. The new service allows you to pick trained toques—rated by past users—and choose from their menus online, and then he or she shows up at your door ready to whip up a meal ($150 per person, alcohol not included).
Valentine's Day—it brings out excessive behavior. The calmest people get a little crazy, and chefs who would never write "erection" on the menu, well, do. Don't believe us? Check out these six insane, over-the-top desserts at Washington restaurants.
The Titanic at Carmine’s
427 Seventh St., NW
Your heart may not go on after taking down this anti-Valentine’s dessert (see above), which can sink a table with five scoops of ice cream, whipped cream, bananas, strawberries, candied pineapple, and chocolate sauce. The glacial mass sits atop a flourless chocolate torte, and is served with a bottle of Prosecco ($65; feeds six). Alternatively, romance-haters can dig in as part of a garlicky prix-fixe dinner for six ($125).
La Bomba at Toro Toro
1300 I St., NW
Servers dropping dessert sounds like a bad end to dinner, but it’s all part of the plan at Toro Toro. “Bomba” literally translates to bomb—a giant chocolate egg filled with mousse, passionfruit sorbet, chocolate cookie crumbs, strawberry and dulce de leche ice creams, berries, caramel, and creme anglaise. Tables are wrapped in acetate to prepare for the explosion, which happens when the delicate shell is smashed, sending sweets everywhere to be scooped up by the couple. As far as tableside delivery goes, this is probably the most messy—and the most fun. Try it as part of a $85 set menu for two, or on the regular à-la-carte menu.
“Flavor tripping” platter at Ping Pong Dim Sum
900 Seventh St., NW; One Dupont Circle, NW
A plate with raw lemons, Sour Patch kids, potato chips, and a pool of Sriracha sauce hits the table after dinner. No, the cooks aren’t stoned. You’re “flavor-tripping.” As part of a Fifty Shades of Grey promo, diners are blindfolded and given taste-altering tabs that melt on the tongue and make bitter foods seem sweet. The offerings aren’t all sour; a real dessert sampler follows, and diners leave with a goodie-box of “bedroom accessories.” The cost: $25, Friday through Sunday (hey, it’s cheaper than the $1,500 alternative).
Chocolate risotto at Trummer’s On Main
7134 Main St., Clifton
Count Chocula meets Marcella Hazan for this cocoa risotto, which makes for a rich dessert. Grandma’s rice pudding has nothing on chef Austin Fausett’s creation, which is made with dark chocolate, raspberries, toasted almonds, and Chantilly cream. Try it on Saturday and Sunday as part of a three-course brunch ($42 per person).
The “banana split erection” at Mansion on O
2020 O St., NW
Most restaurants play coy with their menus, but the Mansion dives right in—and up. True to the name, this sundae is what would happen if Ben & Jerry's came out with a Cialiscious flavor. Chef Karida Celestine’s concoction includes three kinds of ice cream—strawberry shortcake, honey-lavender, and “tingling” mint—caramel sauce, and four very obvious bananas. The dessert is part of a $69 (heh) package on Friday and Saturday.
Blood cake with liver sauce at the Pig
1320 14th St., NW
You’re in for a bloody Valentine at the swine-centric Logan Circle restaurant, where chef Michael Bonk adds pig’s blood to his chocolate cake. The addition isn't just for holiday spirit—blood is similar to egg whites in protein and water content, and contributes to the cake's structure. The literal topping on the cake: "liverscotch," or butterscotch made from pork liver. There's also a pork-fat doughnut for medium-adventurous eaters. Try either as part of a four-course menu ($55 per person).
We'd be happy dining at any of the restaurants on this year's 100 Best Restaurants list, but for the sake of brevity, here's what the top 25 have planned for Valentine's Day. Like on any regular evening you'll find a mix of blowout menus and casual options, hot tables and places that welcome walk-in customers.
11315 Fern St., Wheaton
It’s business as usual at the most casual of the eateries in our top 25—a great option for anyone who wants to spend February 14 dining on delicious, fiery Thai food without any hoopla.
2201 14th St., NW
Pick from three options at Mike Isabella’s haute Greek eatery: a chef’s tasting menu ($65 per person), a Valentine’s menu ($85), or regular à la carte with a few amorous specials. Note that the regular lineup is great for vegetarians as well as carnivores who like spit-roasted meats.
1520 14th St., NW
Look for the regular menu of Spanish share plates and shareable porron pitchers. What's more romantic—albeit slightly messy—than pouring effervescent wine mixed with lemon soda and orange bitters into each other's mouths?
309 Middle St., Washington
Reservations are currently booked for V-Day weekend at chef Patrick O’Connell’s landmark restaurant, but anyone who can slip away during the week may be able to snag a table.
2010 Clipper Park Rd., Baltimore
Make it a Valentine's night out in Baltimore at Spike Gjerde's destination-worthy restaurant. It's also a great spot for brunch if dinner is booked.
2401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
It always feels like a special occasion at Marcel's, which is unfortunately booked for the holiday. Try gifting a dinner for another night, or score a table at the more casual sister restaurant Brasserie Beck (number 58 on this year's list), which has availability.
19. Izakaya Seki
1117 V St., NW
You won't find prix-fixe menus or reservations at this cozy neighborhood Japanese, which is why the anti-V-Day crowd will love it. The restaurant will text parties when seats are ready if there's a wait, so you can grab a glass of wine nearby; we're fans of Vinoteca, just a short walk away.
1200 16th St., NW
Anyone looking to make their sweetheart swoon can rely on this innately romantic Jefferson Hotel restaurant, with its roaring fireplace and luxurious surroundings. A five-course tasting menu ($145 per person) is offered on Saturday.
17. Mintwood Place
1813 Columbia Rd., NW
This warm, boisterous bistro may not be the place for hushed conversation, but the room's glow, friendly service, and hearty dishes like cassoulet and beef bourguignon make it holiday-worthy.
7421 Maple Lawn Blvd., Fulton
Stately rooms lit by fireplaces make an attractive Valentine's setting at this ambitious Indian restaurant. The regular menu is served, and includes standout dishes like jumbo grilled shrimp tandoori with mango-avocado chutney, and braised lamb.
1001 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Love is all about sharing here, with a three-course menu a deux featuring a shareable hamachi-salmon sashimi platter, rack of lamb, and a chocolate-raspberry heart ($100 per couple, or à la carte). The special menu is offered on Friday and Saturday, in addition to the regular lineup.
14. Le Diplomate
1601 14th St., NW
Reservations may be tough to score at Stephen Starr's hot French bistro, but if it were up to us, we'd cuddle up at the bar for a shellfish plateau and bottle of Champagne any day.
13. Casa Luca
1099 New York Ave., NW
Chef Erin Clarke prepares a rustic Italian five-course tasting with options like chilled lobster with puntarelle and caviar, black truffle risotto, and venison with roasted mushrooms ($80 per person; 140 with wine pairings). The special menu is offered Friday through Sunday.
12. Del Campo
777 I St., NW
Here's an outside-the-box option for dinner: a meal cooked by visiting chef Antonio Soriano of Astor Bistro in Buenos Aires. The toque collaborates on an à-la-carte holiday menu with dishes like lobster gnocchi with smoked caviar and beef Chateaubriand.
11. Seasonal Pantry
1314 1/2 Ninth St., NW
It's no surprise that chef Dan O'Brien's intimate supper club is booked for the holiday. Hint, hint: Seats for an upcoming dinner make a wonderful Valentine's gift for your favorite food lover (reservations are booked and paid for online).
10. Vin 909 Winecafe
909 Bay Ridge Ave., Annapolis
Regular dinner is offered for Valentine's Day at this homey Eastport eatery, so go in for a bottle of wine and fantastic charcuterie pizza. Also be prepared to wait for a no-reservations table.
42461 Lovettsville Rd., Lovettsville
Take a drive into the country for chef Tarver King's progressive, locally focused dishes, served in a greenhouse-turned-dining room. Note that allergies can't be accommodated on a special Valentine's menu.
601 Pennsylvania Ave., NW (entrance at 678 Indiana Ave.)
Chef Fabio Trabocchi pulls out the stops with a five-course lineup of oysters with Prosecco zabaglione and Osetra caviar, and Wagyu beef short ribs with foie gras and truffles ($125 per person; wine pairings $80 to $100). The special menu is served Friday and Saturday evening (closed Sunday).
7. The Red Hen
1822 First St., NW
This Bloomingdale Italian may be the most romantic of the casual set with its warm, rustic room, unusual wine list, and delicious dishes that won't break the bank. Be prepared to wait, given that the place is already crowded on a regular weekend.
6. Little Serow
1511 17th St., NW
A line forms long before the doors open at 5:30 for a seat at Johnny Monis's Thai eatery, which serves a set $45 menu. Be flexible with your evening plans—groups are seated on a first-come, first-serve basis. Fortunately the friendly staff will text when your table is available, so you can spend the in between time grabbing drinks at one of the many neighboring establishments.
Penn Quarter and West End locations
Treat your sweetie to a four-course menu (sample) of modern Indian dishes, wonderful for vegetarians and meat eaters alike ($85 per person; $40 with wine pairings). The lineup varies between locations, but specials include ahi tuna with chilies and mango, lobster with curry leaves, and a dessert sampler.
4. Fiola Mare
3050 K St., NW
Take a trip to the Adriatic via this white-hot Georgetown waterfront restaurant, which offers a five-course menu of dishes such as oysters with apples and smoked caviar, wild turbot with foie gras, and "roses & cream" for dessert ($125 per person; $80 to $110 wine pairings). The menu is served Friday through Sunday evening.
717 Eighth St., SE
This is one of the best options for impressing your food-loving Valentine without burning a hole in your wallet, though caviar service is available upon request alongside eggplant Parm and smoked brisket. Be prepared to line up long before doors open at 5 for a guaranteed table.
855 E St., NW
Reservations are notoriously tough at José Andrés's blowout restaurant, which is priced at $250 per person for food alone. Anyone looking for a taste at a gentler price should try Barmini next door, which offers inventive cocktail and bar snacks (and has availability Valentine's week).
1509 17th St., NW
The best approach for getting a last-minute table at Komi—and by last minute, we mean booking less than a month in advance—is to call and inquire about cancellations. Otherwise the first-come Little Serow (see above) offers a chance to try chef Johnny Monis's food.
“What should we do for Valentine’s Day?” It’s a question I get every year. And it’s a question that—more than the one about birthdays or New Year’s Eve—always stumps me. Because romance is different from mere celebration. One couple’s gifts of Godivas and roses is another’s cause for eye rolling. While one pair might relish the ceremonial trappings—freshly ironed tablecloths, dramatically decanted wine—of a place like Restaurant Eve in Old Town, I just want to go to Shake Shack. That’s right: All I want for Valentine’s Day is a $5 burger. And not just because going to fancy three-hour dinners is part of my job.
You’ve surely heard the term “amateur night” every time V Day rolls around—the idea that cooks know they’re churning out dishes for restaurant rookies (those fabled, poorly tipping folks who would wrinkle their noses at the idea of eating sea urchin, or even monkfish) and are thus going through the motions, sending tables molten cakes and filets mignons that nobody, not least they themselves, are all that psyched about. That’s true at many places—like the neighborhood joint that all of a sudden is putting out a three-course set menu for 75 bucks. They’re just capitalizing. It’s less so for the highest echelon of restaurants (think Minibar and Fiola), which routinely stage a grand show for couples every night. They tend to keep doing what they always do.
But it’s not just about amateur night. And it’s not really about the food, either. For me, the things that kill, or at least dampen, the thrill of romance are the elements that constitute the old-school notion of a romantic restaurant. The stiffly suited servers who are perpetually hovering within earshot. The church-like quiet, so oppressive that you’re worried you’ll laugh a little too loudly. The awkward pomp. (I once spent a good six minutes watching a trembly young waiter peel an orange and cut it into segments for a tableside dessert.) When I look around at these places, I see far more couples who seem as if they’re more tensely worrying about having a good time than actually having a good time. And that’s got to make the bill, inevitably $200 and upward, sting even more.
There was a time when Washington’s restaurant scene was dominated by these sorts of dining rooms. When showing you cared directly translated to shelling out lots of cash. Nowadays, the investment you can expect to make is time. Leaving work an hour early to wait in line for one of the 28 stools at Dupont Circle’s Little Serow. (The reward: getting giddily drunk on Riesling while sharing seven searing Thai courses.) Having the foresight to book one of the prime banquettes at Le Diplomate a month ahead. Sleuthing out which wine shop carries the exact bottle of Falanghina you shared on your first date.
But if you’re a Valentine’s avoider like me, there’s always Shake Shack. It’s no bastion of romance, but it allows for spontaneity (something tells me the holiday won’t be its busiest night, so you can go whenever); the salty, diner-style ShackBurgers are fantastic; and actually, it serves a pretty good Sauvignon Blanc.
Dine like it’s 1959
For some, bowing waiters, bursting bouquets, and veal Oscar can seem fusty. For others, haute cuisine formality feels as luxurious as a day at the spa. If you fall into the latter camp, get yourself to L’Auberge Chez François (332 Springvale Rd., Great Falls; 703-759-3800), where you can begin dinner with foie gras and Sauternes, move on to duck with Grand Marnier, and wind things down over baked Alaska.
At the Jefferson hotel’s Plume (1200 16th St., NW; 202-448-3227), you’ll find the same level of pampering—women will even get a teensy stool for their purses—but the luxe dishes (white-truffle-strewn risotto with a languidly cooked egg, lobster gratin bearing a whiff of blood orange) are more in step with the 21st century. Head to the hotel’s swank cocktail lounge, Quill, for a nightcap to the tune of a live pianist.
Binge on oysters
Yes, the whole oyster-as-aphrodisiac thing is a cliché. But here’s the thing: Slurping through a few dozen Kumamotos, Kusshis, and Olde Salts is just plain fun. At Hank’s Oyster Bar (633 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, 202-733-1971; 1624 Q St., NW, 202-462-4265; 1026 King St., Alexandria, 703-739-4265), spiff up the meal with a bottle of sparkling Chenin Blanc and a buttered lobster roll.
At Eat the Rich (1839 Seventh St., NW; 202-316-9396), down those suckers to the tune of Guns n’ Roses. Aphrodisiac? Who knows? But there’s something to a dinner that doesn’t leave you feeling leaden and lazy for the rest of the night.
Get outta town
Valentine’s Day falls on a Saturday this year, broadening your options into daytime. Stroll the snow-globe-cute main drag in downtown Frederick and stop into Ayșe Meze Lounge (6 N. East St.; 240-651-5155) for a late lunch of Turkish dips and flatbreads.
Though the Eastern Shore can be blustery this time of year, the jewel-toned Bartlett Pear Inn (28 S. Harrison St., Easton; 410-770-3300) is a nice place to stave off the chill. We’d hit the folksy nearby BBQ Joint (216 E. Dover St., Easton; 410-690-3641) for a low-key dinner, then relax over the inn’s excellent breakfast the next morning.
A relaxed, budget-friendly dinner can feel special, or it can feel sloppily planned—it’s all about the place. If you choose the right spot, your night is guaranteed to be way more fun than sitting in a somber dining room and shelling out ten times more for the tab.
We’d hit the Satellite Room (2047 Ninth St., NW; 202-506-2496) for gooey patty melts and bourbon-spiked Vincent Vega shakes. (Bonus points if you book tickets for SpeakeasyDC’s Valentine’s-inspired storytelling fest at the 9:30 Club next door.)
Or head to Victor Albisu’s Taco Bamba (2190 Pimmit Dr., Fairfax; 703-639-0505) for rounds of guac and wondrously crispy fried-beef-and-tongue-filled El Beso tacos. And unless you like slapped-together salads and cooked-to-death salmon, just say no to any place hawking a too-good-to-be-true-sounding prix-fixe menu . . . or any place attached to a drive-through (but you knew that).
Stay in the kitchen
Provided you’ve got a big-enough stock pot and a non-squeamish cook, there may be no easier special-occasion dinner than steamed lobsters with drawn butter.
We like the crustaceans from Maine at BlackSalt (4883 MacArthur Blvd., NW; 202-342-9101) and Lobster Maine-ia (4280 Henninger Ct., Chantilly; 703-439-9750)—just make sure you order them the day before. There’s also cacio e pepe, the ultra-simple, gloriously rich Roman pasta dish, which you can throw together using just four ingredients: butter, black pepper, pecorino cheese, and long strands of pasta. Make it with the hearty bucatini Dan O’Brien sells at his Shaw market, Seasonal Pantry (1314½ Ninth St., NW; 202-713-9866).
For a killer restaurant meal without the crowds, the Postmates app is your best friend. For a $5-to-$20 surcharge, a courier will deliver an order (in DC, Bethesda, and Arlington) from anywhere that does takeout. That means you can have Rasika’s lamb rogan josh, Le Diplomate’s cheeseburger, or Sushiko’s hamachi crudo—all items that travel exceptionally well—while nestled on your couch.
Share the love
There’s something inherently romantic about tearing into one shared centerpiece dish—whether the rustic roast pork blanketed with thick, coconutty red curry at the cozy Thai joint Rabieng (5892 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church; 703-671-4222), an herb-stuffed whole branzino filleted tableside at Lupo Verde (1401 T St., NW; 202-827-4752), or an over-the-top seafood platter piled with chilled lobster, clams, and shrimp at Brasserie Beck (1101 K St., NW, 202-408-1717; 311 Kentlands Blvd., Gaithersburg, 301-569-4247). And it’s far easier than haggling over which small plates to order.
Delicious takeout and delivery options abound, from classic Buffalo to Korean fried chicken. Make sure to preorder at most places, especially sports bars that'll be packed on game day.
Multiple locations in Virginia and Maryland
It's safe to say Bonchon's Korean-fried wings are the most popular in the area; last year the Arlington location alone sold a whopping 10,000 wings on Super Bowl Sunday. So yes, order early. The double-fried chicken keeps its crunch longer than American varieites.
Super Bowl specials: Varies by location.
The Buffalo Wing Factory
Multiple Virginia locations
The name says it all. Chicken can be ordered in wing form, bites, or boneless fingers, with 30 options for seasoning. Buffalo, bulgogi, or Peruvian verde?
Super Bowl specials: Preorder as few as ten wings, or feed a crowd with packages of 100.
First Down Sports Bar & Grill
4213 N. Fairfax Dr., Arlington
Pick between 40 flavors of wings at this sports bar, which hosts a big viewing party as well as catering to takeout/delivery needs.
Super Bowl specials: Preorder wings by Saturday. All eat-in specials will be announced on Sunday.
400 Florida Ave., NW
If the idea of battling the Bonchon crowds gives you a headache, check out the Korean fried chicken from this independent shop. The tasty double-fried wings come in flavors like honey-spice and soy-garlic.
Super Bowl specials: No.
Delivery: Not directly, but through delivery service Caviar.
Metro City Wings
4404 St. Barnabas Rd., Temple Hills, MD
Metro City offers delicious classic wings, but you can also order styles like jerk, General Tso, curry, and hot garlic-Parmesan.
Super bowl specials: No.
1433 P St., NW; 2101 L St., NW
Get a taste of this popular bar at home with a variety of Super Bowl carryout specials, including Buffalo or lime-Sriracha wings that come in batches of 25, 50, or 100.
Super bowl specials: Yes, a whole menu. Make sure to e-mail requests before game day.
3207 O St., NW
This Georgetown spot is only taking orders until Saturday, so plan ahead. A wide range of sauces includes teriyaki, barbecue, and mumbo.
Super Bowl specials: Preorder batches of 50 ($46.99) and 100 ($89.99 wings.
What better way to feed a crowd? These local chains and independent shops offer tasty pies.
Seven area locations in DC, MD, and VA
While classic pepperoni is an option from this chain, the menu offers a variety of Mediterranean-style pies like spinach and artichoke with feta, or prosciutto with caramelized onions.
Super Bowl specials: No
1778 U St., NW
The late-night line at this AdMo joint for Jumbo Slice can lead one to think that the pizza has a three-drink minimum, but it's pretty delicious in any state (including sobriety).
Super Bowl specials: TBD.
Eight locations in DC, MD, and VA
The menu is divided between red and white pies, with classic toppings like pepperoni and meatballs, or marinated peppers and pesto.
Super Bowl specials: Varies by location.
Fuel Pizza & Wings
1606 K St., NW; 600 F St., NW
We're fans of this thin-crust pizza out of North Carolina, especially the "ultimate pepperoni" with double layers of pepperoni and Parm. A variety of wings is also offered.
Super Bowl specials: A package that includes 45 wings (boneless or traditional); two 19-inch, one-topping pizzas; and two 2-liter sodas for $99. The special feeds about 20.
2436 18th St., NW; 1030 Elden St., Herndon
Big, cheesy pies loaded with toppings are the signature of this chain (there's a reason for that hippie-stoner aesthetic). Go with the flow and get the Funky Q Chicken with bacon, caramelized onions, and a barbecue sauce swirl.
Super Bowl specials: Eat-in specials in DC include 50-cent wings, $12 pitchers, and a free half order of pretzels with large pizzas. In Herndon, look for $10 pitchers and 50-cent wings.
Delivery: Not directly, but through delivery service Caviar in DC. Otherwise it's takeout only.
Clarendon, Silver Spring, Columbia Heights, and Friendship Heights
The New Haven-style pies deliver well, and are fancy-ish enough to impress a party. Go with Sunday's theme and order The Game with salami, hot cherry peppers, and artichokes.
Super Bowl specials: A "grab and go" deal. Call to reserve 18-inch cheese or pepperoni pizzas for pickup between 3 and 6 on game day, and get a discount.
3155 Mt. Pleasant St., NW
Go local with big, thin-crust pizzas named after neighboring streets, like the cauliflower-and-feta-topped Kilbourne or the lamb sausage Monroe.
Super Bowl specials: For delivery get two 18-inch cheeses for $20, or pepperonis for $24. They're also showing the game with specials like $4 Jameson, $5-off pitchers, chili, and meatball subs.
3315 Connecticut Ave., NW; 4705 Miller Ave., Bethesda
These sister Italian delis make a mean pizza pie with an iconoclastic sauce-on-top method, and you can pick from a variety of meats and veggies. Round out a party spread with subs and cannoli.
Super Bowl specials: No
We, the Pizza
305 Pennsylvania Ave., SE; 2100 Crystal City Dr., Crystal City
Spike Mendelsohn's pizzas range from simple cheese to football-friendly options like Buffalo chicken and barbecue pulled pork.
Super Bowl specials: Not exactly, but the restaurant offers regular "pizza party" packages for groups.
Wiseguy NY Pizza
300 Massachusetts Ave., NW
We like the huge, New York-style pies and slices from this shop, which carry out well. Simple is a good way to go—like the house-made mozzarella and marinara—but there are more elaborate creations like one topped with penne pasta.
Super Bowl specials: No