100 Best Restaurants 2011: Johnny’s Half Shell

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

No single thing keeps us coming back to this Capitol Hill haunt—many things do: the tiled floors, reminiscent of an old-time New York oyster bar; the energy of the bar at happy hour, where both sides of the political aisle come to blow off steam; the impromptu party on Friday nights in the summer, when a jazz trio commands the covered patio.

Johnny’s is a reminder of what restaurants used to be before chefs became celebrities. The menu, devoted to seafood dishes from the Chesapeake to the Gulf, rarely changes. The gumbo (chef and co-owner Ann Cashion is a Mississippi native) is dark as night, the crabcakes (small but carefully made) are as good as any in the area, and the roasted lobster amounts to a trip to Maine in summer.

The richness of the food may lead diners to skip dessert, but that would be a mistake. The homestyle pies and cakes are a rebuke to trendy restaurant desserts. The same could be said of this winning throwback.

Also good: Spicy barbecue shrimp with grits; roasted-beet-and-cucumber salad; fried oysters; crab imperial; barbecue crabs (in late summer); banana-coconut cream pie.

Open Monday through Friday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Expensive.

>> See all of 2011's 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.