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Readers’ Favorite Restaurants 2006

L'Auberge Chez Francois again takes top honors, but this year's list pulses with new energy, too, and signs of change.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, and even something blue. That’s one way to describe the winners of this year’s Readers’ Favorite Restaurants poll.

For the 21st year, L’Auberge Chez François was voted the all-around favorite restaurant. Readers also singled out the Haeringer family’s Alsatian dining room in the categories of Most Romantic, Best French, and Best Service.

Alongside L’Auberge and popular runner-up the Prime Rib stands a relative newcomer, Zaytinya. José Andrés’s modern mezzeteria—where the small plates average $6—has vaulted into a category typically reserved for more formal restaurants.

Roberto Donna—Washington’s only Iron Chef winner—again took honors for favorite celebrity chef. His downtown DC dining room, Galileo, won for Best Italian. It’s closed for a year of renovations, but you can catch the jovial Donna at his temporary perch, Bebo Trattoria in Crystal City—the space that once belonged to Andrés’s Oyamel.

The blue? That would be the Blue Duck Tavern, lauded as favorite newcomer. Chef Brian McBride’s roasts and braises, coupled with his straight-from-the-farm approach, have won many fans. It’s one of the year’s most important restaurants.

“Too many chains!” was one of readers’ biggest gripes. But nationally owned restaurants did well across the board. Ruth’s Chris and Morton’s edged out local worthies for Best Steakhouse. And many more people here have tucked into a whipped-cream-drenched slice of Oreo cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory than into one of Michel Richard’s soufflés at Citronelle. How else to explain why his masterful sweets placed second to the California chain’s defrosted desserts?

Still, the winner in the Best Chain category isn’t a national behemoth but the DC-based Clyde’s, an eminently comfortable, consistent operation with 13 area locations. The 14th, a 30,000-square-foot complex in Loudoun County, opens in December.

Best Restaurant

L’Auberge Chez François, Great Falls. It’s the 21st time readers have given the nod to this elegantly rustic Alsatian dining room.

The Prime Rib, Downtown DC. Enjoy great steaks and crab imperial with gleaming mirrors and a tinkling piano in the background.

Zaytinya, DC’s Penn Quarter. This stunning dining room, awash in white and blue, specializes in Mediterranean mezze.

Best New Restaurant

Blue Duck Tavern, DC’s West End. Rustic roasts, straight-from-the-farm ingredients, and a gorgeous open kitchen.

Coastal Flats, Tysons Corner and Fairfax City. A Florida-inspired mall eatery.

Acadiana, Downtown DC. Jeff Tunks and company offer unabashedly buttery Louisiana cooking.

Best Service

L’Auberge Chez François, Great Falls. The red-vested waitstaff has mastered relaxed formality.

The Prime Rib, Downtown DC. Serious without being stiff.

The Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Virginia. Even the littlest details are considered.

Best Special-Occasion Restaurant

L’Auberge Chez François, Great Falls. Still a holiday and anniversary favorite after all these years.

The Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Virginia. The wow factor is high at this foodie destination.

Mrs. K’s Tollhouse, Silver Spring. This Tudor cottage dining room has been around for more than three-quarters of a century.

Most Underrated

Corduroy, Downtown DC. It might look like your average hotel restaurant, but Tom Power’s terrific cooking has a passionate following.

Carlyle, Shirlington. Creative spins on comfort classics, plus friendly, on-point service equals a reliably feel good experience.

La Chaumière, Georgetown. This firelit charmer of a bistro draws plenty of regulars.

Best Burgers

Five Guys, ten area locations. This rapidly expanding chain keeps its focus narrow—just freshly ground burgers and fries.

Fuddruckers, six area locations. You choose the fixings at these quickie burger spots.

Sweetwater Tavern, Sterling, Centreville, and Merrifield. A burger that people don’t mind paying $9 for.

Best Steakhouse

Ruth’s Chris Steak House, five area locations. Hulking porterhouse for two is this chain’s signature.

Morton’s, six area locations. Classic, clubby power dining rooms.

The Prime Rib, Downtown DC. The bone-in rib eye shines.

Best Seafood

Kinkead’s, DC’s Foggy Bottom. Nantucket classics share space with Asian- and Latin-accented plates.

McCormick & Schmick’s, six area locations. These raw bars and dining rooms have great early and late-night happy hours.

Oceanaire Seafood Room, Downtown DC. This loud, banquette-filled seafood palace is an instant mood-lifter.

Best Desserts

Cheesecake Factory, Chevy Chase and Clarendon. As the name suggests, the California chain offers towering slices of cheesecake in 34 flavors.

Citronelle, Georgetown. Chef Michel Richard got his start in pastry. Don’t miss his trompe l’oeil creations.

Carlyle, Shirlington. The flourless chocolate waffle has a loyal following.

Best Late-Night Dining

Bistro Français, Georgetown. Steak frites and carafes of Cabernet, 24/7.

Silver Diner, 15 area locations. Grab a booth and crank up the Elvis at these ’50s-inspired diners.

Amphora, Herndon and Vienna. 350 menu items—from pancakes to moussaka—are served all night long by tuxedoed waitstaff.

Best French

L’Auberge Chez François, Great Falls. Classics both Alsatian (choucroute garni) and formally French (Chateaubriand).

Citronelle, Georgetown. Nouvelle cuisine shot with a good bit of playfulness.

La Chaumière, Georgetown. A cozy bistro that’s especially lovely in wintertime.

Best Italian

Galileo, DC’s West End. The Piedmontese dining room is closed this year for renovations. In the meantime, Roberto Donna has opened Bebo Trattoria in Crystal City.

Cafe Milano, Georgetown. Angelina Jolie and Michael Douglas have been spotted at this sceney spot this year.

Ristorante Tosca, DC’s Penn Quarter. A sleek place with a great pretheater menu.

Best Japanese

Makoto, DC’s Palisades. The dining room verges on austere, but the cooking coaxes you to indulge.

Sushi-Ko, Georgetown. Pristinely fresh sushi both inventive and traditional.

Matuba, Bethesda. You can pluck your maki from a conveyor belt at this reliable sushi and teriyaki house.

Best Thai

Tara Thai, six locations. Flashy, colorful bistros for trendy cocktails and spicy fare.

Duangrat’s, Baileys Crossroads. The glittering dining room now serves small plates.

Thaiphoon, DC’s Dupont Circle. A neighborhood standby for fiery curries.

Best Vietnamese

Nam Viet Pho-79, DC’s Cleveland Park. One of the few places in DC for bun and pho.

Taste of Saigon, Rockville and McLean. You can really taste the French influences on Vietnamese cuisine here.

Pho 75, five area locations. Warming, restorative bowls of “Vietnamese penicillin.”

Best Indian

Indique, DC’s Cleveland Park. Colorful cocktails match traditional and fusiony small plates.

Heritage India, DC’s Glover Park. A kitchen that isn’t afraid of spice, as evidenced by complex curries and blazing vindaloos.

Haandi, Bethesda and Falls Church. Comfortable neighborhood staples that appeal to both Indian expats and Westerners.

Best Bakery

Best Buns, Shirlington. Fresh-baked breads for you, fresh-baked dog biscuits for your pooch.

Firehook, 11 area locations. A local chain specializing in breakfast pastries and birthday cakes.

Panera, 25 area locations. Spiffy sandwiches and soups served in bread bowls elevate these fast-casual cafes.

Best Chain

Clyde’s, 14 area locations. What started as a Georgetown saloon has grown to include outposts in the suburbs, plus an 800-seat Gallery Place eatery.

The Cheesecake Factory, Chevy Chase, Clarendon, Columbia, and White Flintmall. There’s something for everyone at this California chain—seriously; the menu’s ten pages.

P.F. Chang’s, four area locations. These pan-Asian bistros brought Thai lettuce wraps to the masses.

Best Barbecue

Red Hot & Blue, seven area locations. The Laurel location of this Memphis-style-barbecue chain is tops.

Rocklands, DC’s Glover Park, Arlington, Alexandria, Rockville. 150,000 pounds of pork get served each year at these pit stops.

Famous Dave’s, eight area locations. St. Louis-style ribs and Texas brisket.

Best Sushi

Sushi-Ko, Georgetown. An upper Georgetown gem. Don’t miss the Tuna Six Ways.

Sushi Taro, DC’s Logan Circle. Japanese dignitaries are among the regulars at this quiet second-floor restaurant.

Cafe Asia, Rosslyn and Downtown DC. Happy-hour crowds love these pan-Asian hangouts.

Best Power Lunch

The Palm, Downtown DC. The loud lunchtime playground for DC’s media and political elite.

The Prime Rib, Downtown DC. K-Streeters love to powwow at this jacket-and-tie steakhouse.

Capital Grille, Downtown DC. The quintessential expense-account dining room.

Best Cheap Lunch

Potbelly, 14 area locations. There’s usually a line for the warm subs served at local outposts of this Chicago-based sandwich chain.

Chipotle, ten area locations. Design your own burritos at these sleek Tex-Mex stops.

Five Guys, ten area locations. These burger-and-fries joints are expanding up and down the Eastern seaboard.

Best Bar Scene

Zaytinya, DC’s Penn Quarter. Greek wine and Mediterranean small plates in a soaring, dimly lit space.

Clyde’s, 14 area locations. Wings, beer, and classic cocktails draw college kids and sports fans.

Coastal Flats, Tysons Corner and Fairfax City. The bar stays open late at this tropically influenced mall restaurant.

Celebrity Chef

Roberto Donna, Galileo and Bebo Trattoria. This past year, the ebullient chef cooked at the Olympics with Katie Couric and conquered Iron Chef.

José Andrés, Café Atlántico, Jaleo, Zaytinya. His cooking show is a hit in Spain, and he’s got lots of fans here, too.

Michel Richard, Citronelle. The French jokester just released a gorgeous cookbook and is about to open a new brasserie.

Most Romantic

L’Auberge Chez François, Great Falls. Lobster, foie gras, Champagne, and other trappings of a romantic evening.

The Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Virginia. At a cozy table for two by the garden, it’s easy to forget about the rest of the world.

Mrs. K’s Tollhouse, Silver Spring. Tradition—from the sorbet courses to the frocked waitstaff—is king here.

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