Fiola’s thick spaghetti with tomato-basil arrabbiata makes for a tasty lunch. Photograph by Erik Uecke
High-End but Cheap Lunch
601 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-628-2888
One of the buzziest restaurant openings of the past year was Fabio Trabocchi’s mod dining room Fiola. Weekdays at the sleek bar from 11:30 to 2:30, you can sample one of his excellent house-made pastas and a drink—a glass of Prosecco, say, or a lemonade—for $15.
465 K St., NW; 202-682-3123
At night, dining at Kushi can add up. Not at lunch, when the izakaya/sushi house has a list of generous—and gently priced—specials. You can get three skewers for $15, hearty fried-pork katsu for $10, and best of all, jewel-like pieces of sashimi adorning a bowl of rice for $15—what you’ll pay for a bite or two of toro at dinner. All lunch specials come with miso soup and two sides.
775 G St., NW; 202-737-7663
The gleaming Enomatic wine dispenser isn’t the only reason to visit the bar at Proof. Weekdays between 11:30 and 2, you can grab a stool and get a main course and glass of wine for $12. The menu changes often, but the popular shrimp burger—with jalapeños, cucumber, and pickled daikon—is a staple.
Good Burger Fixes
777 I St., NW; 202-742-8550
Peter Smith’s glassy, Modern American PS 7’s features forward-thinking takes on chicken and waffles as well as paella, but we like something more straightforward: the Gruyère-and-fried-egg-topped burger, served on a house-made brioche bun. It’s one of the best in Washington.
713 H St., NW; 202-289-4441
The slider trend peaked long ago. Even so, we’re glad the perfectly seasoned three-bite burgers served with threads of fried onion are still around at Matchbox. They’re billed as an appetizer and served in plates of three, six, or nine, but we could eat them all through dinner.
Grab It and Go
919 F St., NW; 202-393-6880
The cheese shop Cowgirl Creamery is packed with artisanal temptations—Stachowski Brand charcuterie, jars of Toigo Orchards tomato soup, not to mention upward of 75 cheeses. If you’re on the go, head for the sandwich stand in the back room and pick up a soft ciabatta filled with, say, goat cheese, apples, and fig spread.
624 E St., NW; 202-347-3355
Luke’s Lobster is one of the latest New York imports to hit Washington. As the name suggests, the star of the simple seafood shack is the lobster roll, which comes swiped with mayo and butter. The tiny spot seats only 12, and lunch lines get long, but the sandwich holds up for a walk to a bench outside the National Portrait Gallery.
Desserts to Remember
1001 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-626-0015
Famed chef Michel Richard got his start as a pastry chef in France, and the sweets at his upbeat bistro, Central, are just as wonderful as at his high-flying Georgetown flagship restaurant, Citronelle. There are Richard classics—his take on a Kit Kat bar, a deconstructed banana split—along with newer inventions, such as the head-turning, shareable Celebration Cake, layered with chocolate and ladyfingers and lit with sparklers.
1201 F St., NW; 202-347-2277
The baked Alaska at Oceanaire is the definition of over the top. The mountain of meringue, lit at the table in a blaze of blue fire, hides chocolate cake and an ice cream that changes seasonally. You’ll want to have plenty of extra spoons.
Chinatown Coffee Co.
475 H St., NW; 202-559-7656
The raw-brick-walled Chinatown Coffee Co. takes its cappuccinos, macchiatos, and French-press coffee seriously. Beans come from such sustainable roasters as Chicago’s famed Intelligentsia, milk is from Amish country’s Trickling Springs Creamery, and sweets hail from the masters at Hawthorne Fine Breakfast Pastry. You might even find the baristas taking part in a latte-art competition.
Red Velvet Cupcakery
501 Seventh St., NW; 202-347-7895
Cupcakes may be a tired food trend, but that doesn’t mean that some confections, such as many of the ones at Red Velvet Cupcakery, don’t hit the spot. We’re partial to the lemony Summertime cupcake and the hazelnut cupcake topped with espresso icing.
801 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-524-4500
The French-import bakery Paul opened its second stateside location here in May. The glass cases hold a rainbow of macarons, apricot tarts, and our favorite, a delicately layered napoleon.
Satisfying Bar Snacks
425 Seventh St., NW; 202-737-7770
Even if you’re with a few people, the portions at the mega-sized Italian-American dining room Carmine’sare likely to be overwhelming. The best barside share? A heap of fried calamari with zippy marinara sauce.
707 Seventh St., NW; 202-349-3700
Oyster fans gather at Clyde’s for the 50-percent-off raw-bar deal Sunday through Thursday between 3 and 6 pm and 11 pm and 1 am. The discount also applies to shrimp cocktail, chilled Jonah crab claws, and littleneck clams.
575 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-637-6100
If you’re willing to dine early (between 4 and 6), Wolfgang Puck’s the Source offers one of the area’s best food happy hours. You can get three Asian-themed shareable plates—such as shrimp dumplings, pork-belly-filled bao, shrimp-tempura rolls, and miniature bánh mì—for $20.11.
A Bite Before a Show
707 Sixth St., NW; 202-289-3600
Mike Isabella’s popular Graffiato, behind the Verizon Center, has become known for thin, calamari-topped pizzas, robust pastas such as chestnut agnolotti, and very rushed service. The upside? Even if you carbo-load with abandon, you’ll likely be in and out in less than an hour.
633 D St., NW; 202-637-1222
Some of our favorite dishes at the amber-lit Indian hot spot Rasika, a neighbor of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, are on its $35 pre-theater menu, weekdays from 5:30 to 6:30 and Saturdays starting at 5. It includes such greatest hits as feathery fried spinach with tamarind and yogurt, tangy chicken makhani, and syrupy, apple-filled fritters.
Jaleo (480 Seventh St., NW; 202-628-7949), Zaytinya (701 Ninth St., NW; 202-638-0800), and Oyamel (401 Seventh St., NW; 202-628-1005)
We’d happily hit any of José Andrés’s small-plates houses for a quick early-evening bite. Next to Shakespeare Theatre Company is the Spanish Jaleo, with sherry cocktails, béchamel-filled croquetas, and tomato-rubbed bread with Manchego cheese. Zaytinya, Andrés’s most strikingly designed restaurant, is home to Greek, Turkish, and Lebanese specialties. And at the Mexican Oyamel, we order chicken tamales with tomatillo sauce and baby-pig-confit tacos.
This article appears in the December 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.