100 Best Restaurants 2010: Zaytinya

No. 16: Zaytinya

Cuisine: Greek, Turkish, and Lebanese classics get the José Andrés treatment at this Penn Quarter mezzeteria: The peripatetic chef amps up the flavors so they’re bolder and brighter, while downsizing the portions so they fit his small-plates format. His protégé, Mike Isabella, recently flamed out on Bravo’s Top Chef. No such problems here—his kitchen is a model of consistency and high quality.

Mood: Soaring ceilings, sharp angles, and sculptural jars of olive oil—for which the restaurant is named—set a downtown vibe, as does the near-constant roar from the packed bar almost every evening.

Best for: Lunch, when the place is less crowded and loud (even better on the patio in warm months); pre-game and pre-theater diners in search of value; groups, which are handled well here.

Best dishes: Htipiti, a spread of red peppers, feta, and fresh thyme; crispy fried eggplant; taramasalata; zucchini-and-cheese fritters; poached salmon with spicy eggplant; veal cheeks with chanterelle-mushroom purée; prawns with Persian-style charred-tomato sauce; salmon shawarma sandwich (lunch only); Greek-yogurt-and-apricot parfait; chocolate visne, a milk-chocolate cream with cherry sorbet; Eros cocktail featuring dried baby roses and honey dust.

Insider tips: The mezze theme carries through to the desserts, which can be ordered regular size and in a smaller mezze portion.

Service: ••

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

See all of 2010's 100 Best Restaurants

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Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.