If you’re as enamored as we are of the chicken-liver mousse at the wine bar Cork, you can find it and other goodies to go at Cork Market & Tasting Room. The wine/gourmet-food shop is best for a spread of nibbles such as cheese, charcuterie, and oil-cured tomatoes. We haven’t had as much luck with prepared foods such as bacon-and-egg salad or fried chicken. If you’ve fallen in love with a Brunello at the bar, chances are you’ll find it here.
The improbable star of the menu at the Greek Spot, a tiny, cheap takeout, is the vegetarian gyro made with soy “steak” strips. There’s a good rendition of spanakopita, upgraded with mint. Ordered as a platter—with green beans and orzo—it makes a filling meal for less than $9.
Good Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken can be tough to find within the city limits, but one of the most satisfying versions is at Chix, an eco-conscious cafe/carryout (2019 11th St., NW; 202-234-2449). Whole birds also come in a faintly sweet house marinade or a coconut-milk/coffee Colombian blend, and sides include roasted sweet potatoes and sautéed greens.
For something a little more sinful, head to JJ’s Cheesesteaks (1939 14th St., NW; 202-518-7777). The leather chairs and polished wood floors make it seem like a four-star restaurant compared with the hole-in-the-wall counters in Philadelphia, but the signature sandwich, the Ben Franklin, comes close to one from South Street. It’s anchored by bread from the famous Amoroso’s bakery, and the meat is topped with—what else?—Cheez Whiz.
In search of a sugar fix? Swing by the DC outpost of Baltimore’s artisan gelateria Pitango (1451 P St., NW; 202-332-8877). The creamy scoops and sorbets are made with local fruits and dairy. We love the almond and crème fraîche gelati and the grapefruit sorbet, but plain chocolate and vanilla are pretty fabulous.
Around the corner is ACKC, a chocolate shop/cafe with pastries, truffles, and 14 kinds of hot chocolate, ranging from tame (the Doris Day, a mixture of milk and semisweet chocolate with whipped cream) to over the top (the Rita Hayworth, dolled up with clove, orange, and caramel).
Meals on the Cheap
Some of Washington’s best soul food comes off the trio of stoves at Oohhs & Aahhs, a storefront that turns out value-driven portions of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens. Starting at midnight on Friday and Saturday, the place serves chicken and waffles.
El Rinconcito Cafe (1129 11th St., NW; 202-789-4110) is as much about the food as it is about the scene: A group of regulars packs the 17 seats, the TV is tuned to soccer, and Spanish music plays in the background. Menu highlights include fried plantains with sour cream, cheese pupusas, and sweet-corn tamales.
The folks behind the Thai restaurant Rice also own DC Noodles, a similarly design-savvy spot for pan-Asian soups (we like the spicy pork with egg noodles), coconut curries, and a not-too-sweet pad Thai.
The few blocks known as Little Ethiopia are anchored by Etete, a quiet, welcoming bistro for robust lamb wats and vibrant vegetarian dishes, all scooped up with the spongy bread called injera.
In business 65 years, the Florida Avenue Grill is as much a fixture in the neighborhood as Ben’s Chili Bowl. Bleary-eyed brunch-goers vie for seats on weekend mornings, when the diner sends out heart-stopping plates of house-made biscuits smothered in sausage gravy as well as pancakes that get a splash of butter before leaving the grill. The lightest it gets is an excellent side of fried apples, swimming in a cinnamon-laced juice.
A more updated—but still rib-sticking—approach to soul food can be found at Eatonville, the extravagantly colorful dining room inspired by writer Zora Neale Hurston. There you can start your day with country-style eggs Benedict layered with buttermilk biscuits and Creole hollandaise or a more lunchy crab burger.
Brunch standby Creme takes cues from the South, too, putting forth chicken and waffles, steak and eggs, and five kinds of Benedict
Dine and Drink
Beer lovers rejoice at the date-friendly restaurant Birch & Barley and its upstairs bar, ChurchKey, where beer director Greg Engert curates a list of 555 brews, including 50 on draft. The line snaking out the door is usually for the more casual bar, where you can graze on fig-and-Gorgonzola flatbreads, shrimp-stuffed “corn dogs,” and a riff on the Hostess cupcake.
The lowlit Bar Pilar, named for Ernest Hemingway’s fishing boat, feels like a speakeasy, only with really good food. To go with the innovative cocktails, there’s a roster of small plates that change with the seasons, and they’re usually simple, flavorful, and not expensive (most run $6 to $10). A recent winter meal brought a comforting bowl of red beans and rice with pickled pork, long-cooked carrots in honey and thyme, and spicy roasted olives with goat-cheese crostini.
At the smoky-mirrored bistro Marvin, you can down blond and tripel ales over fried chicken and waffles, pork and beans, and moules frites. The reason for the Southern/Belgian split personality? Singer Marvin Gaye—for whom the place is named—grew up here but lived in Belgium for a time. After dinner, join the party on the rooftop.
Long before Anthony Bourdain dropped in to film the sizzling grill or Barack Obama ate there, Ben’s Chili Bowl was the granddaddy of late-night eats. Until 4 am on weekends, you’ll find revelers lining up to ward off hangovers with chili-cheese fries and Ben’s most famous dish, the extra-thick sausage known as a half-smoke. One piece of advice: Make your nightcap a Tums.
For a less frenetic experience, the Ethiopian institution Dukem keeps the injera rolling—along with spicy stews and kitfo, Ethiopia’s answer to steak tartare—until 3 am on weekends and 2 during the week.
At Masa 14—the new but buzzing Latin/Asian collaboration between sushi chef Kaz Okochi and restaurateur Richard Sandoval—an abbreviated menu of fusiony small plates, such as teriyaki-sambal chicken wings and yuca fries with lime aïoli is offered till 3 am on weekends, 2 during the week. To go with it are 150 kinds of tequila.
There’s nothing surprising about the menu at the two-month-old Bistro La Bonne (1340 U St., NW; 202-758-3413), and that’s exactly why we like it. Chef/owner Daniel La Bonne, a veteran of Tabaq and Bistrot du Coin, turns out solid versions of French-bistro classics—steamed mussels, onion soup, and steak frites—that are comforting and familiar.
Beyond Pinot Noir
The tiny wine bar Cork kick-started the neighborhood’s growth into a foodie destination. It’s hard to say what the bigger draw is—the wine or the food. Former CityZen sous chef Ron Tanaka’s rarely changing menu includes shareable plates (avocado crostini, French fries with house-made ketchup) and a grilled prosciutto-and-fontina sandwich you’ll want to keep all to yourself. The wine list focuses on the Old World, and the smart servers help you navigate beyond your usual fallbacks.
Italians insist that wine, not beer, goes best with pizza, and Posto has more than 100 bottles to pair with the wood-fired pies. We like both the Bismarck—creamy with two kinds of cheese and a runny egg—and the unadorned Margherita accompanied by a glass of fizzy Pederzana Lambrusco. For a fast pre-theater meal, a pizza and salad can feed two.
Catch a Buzz
In just five years, Busboys and Poets—Andy Shallal’s bookstore/cafe/restaurant/bar/stage—has become an integral part of the U Street landscape. Daily events—from book readings and roundtable discussions often focusing on African-American culture to open-mike, poetry, and musical performances—make for an ever-changing clientele.
The laptop crowd takes up residence at Mid City Caffé (1626 14th St., NW; 202-234-1515), a quiet, second-story perch with a small array of muffins and croissants, bagels slathered with Nutella, and French-press Counter Culture coffee.