100 Very Best Restaurants 2014: Palena and Palena Café (CLOSED)

No. 17 on this year's list.
Ravioli with roasted sweet potato, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

It’s a terrific time to try both the low-key cafe and the formal dining room at Frank Ruta’s Cleveland Park stalwart. The more casual room’s two most famous dishes—roast chicken and a cheeseburger—have never tasted better, and a seasonal salad of warm vegetables in walnut-anchovy dressing honors gorgeous ingredients with beautifully balanced flavors.

In the hushed dining room, choose from three- or five-course prix fixe menus featuring lovely fish dishes such as cardamom-rubbed, rare-grilled tuna, and fluke crudo with passionfruit sabayon. Despite the occasional disappointment—roasted red peppers overpowered one clunky salmon-and-shrimp dish—this remains a best bet for special-occasion dining.

Cafe open: Monday through Friday for dinner, Saturday for brunch and dinner. Dining room open: Tuesday through Saturday for dinner.

Don’t miss: In the cafe: Salad with beets and hazelnuts; brodetto, a broth with fennel, halibut, and shrimp; cookie plate. In the dining room: Pan-roasted sablefish; gnocchi; kabocha-squash agnolotti; wood-grilled venison; chocolate torte.

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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.

Anna Spiegel
Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.