Updated on December 28, 2016. Restaurant menus subject to change.
Three decades ago, the French ruled the city’s restaurant scene. Today the Gallic presence is mostly confined to casual restaurants. This veteran from one of Washington’s most respected chefs, Jeff Buben, is among the few remaining bastions of the destinations of yore. It might call itself a bistro, but its intention is to woo you with the kind of elegantly sumptuous cooking that inspired countless cookbook writers to pen love letters to French cuisine. There’s nothing innovative about this approach, but to take a first, swooning bite of snails in garlicky butter, or fried sweetbreads so light they might as well be dumplings, is to feel gratitude for rear-guard stubbornness.
15 E St., NW; 202-661-2700.
This snug bagel shop draws snaking lines, and it’s easy to taste why: The small, hand-rolled rounds are soft and chewy inside with a slightly crisp exterior and just enough seasoning (we love the everything and salt varieties). Even better with roasted-jalapeño cream cheese or a heaping of smoky whitefish salad.
1341 H St., NE 202-494-2609.
This former corner store in DC’s Atlas District makes a concerted effort to hew to Ethiopian cuisine’s origins. The vegetable stews have zip and body, and the excellent doro wat has a chunky gravy of berbere and caramelized onions that deserves the kind of contemplative appreciation usually reserved for fine French cooking. Dinner unspools in a tiny room warmed with tasteful fabrics and a few mesobs—woven tables and stools traditional in Ethiopian restaurants.
401 H St., NE; 202-675-2066.
You might recognize the name Rob Weland from his stints at Poste and at Cork. Or not. Weland keeps a low profile, choosing to spend his time in the kitchen, cooking—quaint thought! The great benefit of this single-minded devotion is that every dish is carefully wrought, with none of the sloppiness that can creep into a kitchen with an absentee chef. Weland works closely with a local farm, and the bounties are prominently featured. Pastas remain his signature. There are only two, but both are testament to the art. Beware the mind/body split that results after just one forkful: The body wants to devour the entire plate; the mind wants you to savor each remarkable bite.
524 Eigth St., SE; 202-506-2445.
Chef Erik Bruner-Yang is behind this ambitious spot, which mixes a coffee shop and bakery, men’s street wear from Durkl, and a Southeast Asian restaurant. Drop by during the day for Cambodian sandwiches and pork buns, or in the evening for a larger menu of small plates and shareable platters, such as Taiwanese fried chicken.
1351 H St., NE; 202-838-9972.
New York chef Michael White has cloned his more rustic SoHo restaurant, Osteria Morini, and brought it to DC’s blossoming Navy Yard. The kitchen offers plenty of robust yet refined comfort in the form of dishes from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region. Pastas are among the surest bets, whether a hearty crock of lasagna or twirls of gramigna with carbonara and crumbles of pork sausage.
301 Water St., SE; 202-484-0660.
“Anything goes as long as it’s enjoyable” is chef Aaron Silverman’s motto at Rose’s, one of the hottest dining destinations in town. Silverman produces small plates with influences from all over the globe—pork sausage with lychee salad and habanero sauce, smoked brisket with slaw and horseradish cream. It’s not the eclecticism of these dishes that makes Rose’s so exciting; it’s the precise execution by Silverman and his team.
717 Eighth St., SE; 202-580-8889.
The menu at Minoru Ogawa’s sushi spot is small, which means prices are lower than at most places in its tier—the omakase, or tasting menu, is a relative steal (about 15 small courses for $50)—and the chef eschews flashy rolls and the charcoal-grilled items that have become de rigueur in recent years as izakayas have gone mainstream. All he’s interested in is showcasing terrific fish.
325 Pennslvania Ave., SE; 202-627-0325.
Burgers and sandwiches may be front and center on the menu here, but what the place really serves up is nostalgia. A guy behind the counter slathers icing on pop tarts, while the grilled cheese sandwich that comes with a bowl of creamy tomato soup is filled with slices of American, not Gruyère. It’s hard not to give into kidlike excess—the milkshakes are delicious. For weekend brunch, be prepared to wait an hour or more.
505 Eighth St., SE; 202-544-8337.
With graffiti-painted walls and cartoon figurines, this 27-stool shoebox is the epitome of Washington’s next restaurant generation: edgy, scruffy, and loud. But customers don’t wait two hours (only limited reservations here) for the vibe—the Taiwanese ramen lives up to the hype.
1234 H St., NE; 202-388-3086.
This article appears in our Washingtonian Welcome Guide.