Tabard Inn

From January 2006 100 Very Best Restaurants

THE SCENE. One of the few spots in the city where people are inclined to let their hair down is in this tucked-away townhouse that boasts a fireplace, a museum's worth of bric-a-brac, and a cozy but spirited dining room equally accommodating to couples out for a romantic dinner or groups of coworkers letting off a little steam after hours. Official Washington seems far, far away.

. The kitchen, a proving ground for many bright culinary lights in its 88 years–Pedro Matamoros is the latest–goes out of its way to sweat the details, from developing a relationship with a local oyster purveyor to embroidering a simple steak dinner with a creamy marrow flan to rolling its own pastas. Few brunches are more worth setting aside time for–don't miss the house-made doughnuts.

. The vaunted coziness can become cloying as you find yourself in the midst of conversations on either side of you; service that aims to be unobtrusive can turn neglectful, particularly at peak hours; and the prices push dining here beyond every-so-often into the realm of the special occasion, which is more than it can reliably deliver.