100 Best Restaurants 2011: Liberty Tavern

Only the top 40 restaurants were ranked in 2011's Best Restaurants list.

This popular two-story hangout is the place for a caloric splurge. Chef Liam LaCivita’s Italian-inflected menu reads like that of a typical neighborhood pub (pizzas, fries, steaks), but his dishes are a grade above, thanks to his made-from-scratch philosophy and unusual flavor pairings. That means a meatball pizza gets unexpected tang from pickled fennel, and braised short ribs are made more interesting by hay-smoked marrow and mashed potatoes with parsnips.

LaCivita’s winter menu is sprinkled with forward-thinking touches—beet and huckleberry gels, blood-orange froth, pear powder—but it’s the more rustic plates, such as house-made garganelli with Taleggio-cream sauce and sweet Italian sausage or thick banana doughnuts with an anglaise, that we keep coming back for. Even on weeknights the dining room fills up fast, so reservations are a good idea. There’s a takeout window in back, and it’s nearly as good as eating there.

Also good: Fried shrimp and clams with fennel; peanut soup with crisp-skinned pork belly; Vermont pizza with Cabot cheddar, prosciutto, and apples; roasted-to-order chicken with onion gravy and lemon marmalade; parfait inspired by Boston cream pie, with devil’s-food cake, vanilla custard, and fudge sauce.

Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Bar open daily until 2 am. Moderate to expensive.

>> See all of 2011's Best Restaurants

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 Petworth.