Classics Revisited: Old Ebbitt Grill

The restaurant world is notoriously fickle, but these15 places—all a half century old or more—have withstood the test of time.
The bar here is steeped in Washington lore: The mounted walrus head (above, at the far right of the bar) supposedly belonged to Teddy Roosevelt. Photograph by Scott Suchman.
The bar here is steeped in Washington lore: The mounted walrus head (above, at the far right of the bar) supposedly belonged to Teddy Roosevelt. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

To watch diners pour in every night by the taxi- and busload, you might guess this was a tourist trap, a place that trades hard on its history as the cherished watering hole of Presidents Grant, Cleveland, Teddy Roosevelt, and Harding. Well, guess again. This is a large operation but also a polished one, with gracious service and a kitchen that turns out the kind of dishes that defined American cookery before the food revolution—short on innovation but long on satisfaction.

The reason to visit is the raw bar. Go during off-hours (from 3 to 6 pm or 11 pm to 1 am), and you can live it up on the cheap with the Orca, a multitiered platter of iced clams, crab claws, shrimp, oysters (there are sometimes as many as ten varieties daily), and lobster that lists for half its usual $120. From a deep and well-priced wine list, choose one of the many excellent and crisp Sauvignon Blancs to pair with it. For those who prefer the cooked to the raw, a Parmesan-crusted trout, with sides of roasted potatoes and steamed broccoli, is a standout, the sort of simple, satisfying plate many American restaurants in Washington deem beneath them—to their great detriment.

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

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