… ordering the Orca Platter—a feast of lobster, oysters, clams, crab claws, and shrimp—at the historic Old Ebbitt Grill (675 15th St., NW; 202-347-4800), various incarnations of which have hosted presidents as far back as Andrew Johnson. The sprawling space is as opulent as the seafood.
… walking the leopard-print carpet at the Prime Rib (2020 K St., NW; 202-466-8811) to eat the titular hunk of meat, the power dish of choice at this throwback dining room where jackets are still required for dinner.
… grabbing a seat at the bar at Kinkead’s (2000 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-296-7700) to enjoy oysters, crab cakes, lobster rolls, chowder, and glimpses of politicos.
… ogling the caricatures on the wall at the Palm (1225 19th St., NW; 202-293-9091)—and trying to talk maître d’ Tommy Jacomo into giving you a special table from which to watch the parade of politicians and media mavens.
… having a picture snapped with Ben Ali of Ben’s Chili Bowl (1213 U St., NW; 202-667-0909). The high-profile actors, musicians, and politicians who can’t resist the chili half-smokes with cheese have made this neon-lit shack a legend.
… presiding over a power breakfast, lunch, or dinner in one of the private booths at Johnny’s Half Shell (400 N. Capitol St., NW; 202-737-0400), a hit since its move from Dupont Circle to Capitol Hill a few years back. The food remains real and rooted in classics such as crab cakes and apple pie.
… sampling the small plates at José Andrés’s restaurants, headed by DC’s most beloved Iron Chef America contestant. Zaytinya (701 Ninth St., NW; 202-638-0800), Oyamel (401 Seventh St., NW; 202-628-1005), Jaleo (480 Seventh St., NW; 202-628-7949), Café Atlántico (405 Eighth St., NW; 202-393-0812), Minibar (405 Eighth St., NW, Second Floor; 202-393-0812)—take your pick; they’re all pretty wonderful.
… spotting celebrities at Georgetown’s Cafe Milano (3251 Prospect St., NW; 202-333-6183), where beautiful people dine on pastas named for Italian designers and where a room was added to allow Plácido Domingo to eat more peacefully.
That’s a start. But newcomers should know you’re not a real insider until . . .
. . . you drive past the Source by Wolfgang Puck on your way to a four-hour Mediterranean extravaganza at Dupont Circle’s Komi (1509 17th St., NW; 202-332-9200)—fine dining at its most personal and soulful.
. . . you can define pupusa, horchata, and carne deshilada. For primers on Salvadoran dishes, start with the menus at Irene’s Pupusas III (11300-B Georgia Ave.,Wheaton; 301-933-2118), El Golfo (8739 Flower Ave., Silver Spring; 301-608-2121), and Samantha’s Restaurant (631 University Blvd. E.; 301-445-7300).
. . . you make your way to Little Ethiopia, around Ninth and U streets in Northwest DC, and sample the wats and tibs at Etete (1942 Ninth St., NW; 202-232-7600).
. . . you’ve tasted the winner of 2008’s burger wars—Ray’s Hell-Burger (1713 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-841-0001), where high-quality beef patties can be topped with runny Époisses cheese or sherried mushrooms.
. . . you’ve had your fill of two other DC dining crazes: frozen yogurt at Tangysweet (2029 P St., NW; 202-822-2066) and cupcakes at Georgetown Cupcake (1209 Potomac St., NW; 202-333-8448).
. . . you’re not bothered by the line at Market Lunch in Eastern Market (306 Seventh St., SE; 202-547-8444). The crab-cake sandwich and “blue buck” (blueberry and buckwheat) pancakes are worth it.
. . . you know where to get great Asian food: Falls Church’s Eden Center for Vietnamese, Annandale for Korean, Columbia Pike in Arlington for Thai, and northern Rockville for Chinese.
This article appeared in the January, 2009 issue of The Washingtonian.