Cuisine: Stylized American comfort food (fried chicken, hamburger, mac and cheese) as translated by an haute French chef.
Mood: A shot of chef Michel Richard’s laughing mug on the wall sets a tone of joie de vivre that attracts the full spectrum of Washington diners—from politicos and media stars to food lovers who can’t afford Richard’s four-star Citronelle—to this blond-wood dining room five blocks from the White House.
Best for: Convivial groups, foodies, hard-to-impress out-of-towners.
Best dishes: Expertly shucked West Coast oysters; plump asparagus in a tarragon vinaigrette; a cone of gougères, as cheesy as they are airy; an elegant mussel chowder; lobster-claw meat bound in a scallop mousse and served in a butter-topped bun; “72-hour short ribs” cooked for three days so the meat requires no knife; intensely chocolatey chocolate mousse topped with miniature cocoa puffs; a plain but perfect apple brown Betty.
Insider tips: Don’t splurge on a bottle of wine—as good as the list is, there are worthy picks by the glass, plus terrific beers, including the brewed-for-Central Blusser, which pairs beautifully with oysters. Besides, you may want to splurge on the glorious $29 lobster burger. Central is slightly cheaper at lunch, when there’s also the option of enjoying DC’s best corned-beef sandwich.