DC Gains Five New Starred Restaurants in 2021 Michelin Guide

No restaurants lost stars this year

Jont received two Michelin stars. Photograph by Rey Lopez.

Michelin announced a new two-star restaurant and four one-star spots in its latest DC guide. No places previously on the list lost or gained stars, bringing the total number of starred dining destinations to 23.

Tasting counter Jônt joins Minibar and Pineapple and Pearls as DC’s only two-star establishments. Eclectic Rooster & Owl, Spanish-Japanese Cranes, modernist Colombian El Cielo, and fine-dining Spanish Xiquet all earned one star. The Inn at Little Washington continues to be the only place in the region to earn three stars, the highest rating.

Most dining critics have paused starred reviews as restaurants struggled through the uncertainty of the pandemic. Michelin is one of the rare exceptions.

“Worldwide we had the opportunity to have a lot of discussion with the industry and with the chefs, and when we asked them directly, ‘What can we do for you?,’ the answer was always the same: continue to keep moving,” says Michelin International Director Gwendal Poullennec.

Despite the industry’s complete upheaval, Michelin’s criteria has remained the same. Anonymous inspectors continued to look for quality of ingredients, cooking technique, consistency, value, and the chef’s personality expressed in the cuisine. Michelin has never officially factored in service in its ratings. Still, inspectors did not factor takeout meals into their decisions, so restaurants that were only open for meals to-go were not considered for stars. 

Several starred restaurants, such as Minibar and Pineapple and Pearls, have been closed since the start of the pandemic. Others have pivoted to something completely different. Komi, for example, transformed into Happy Gyro with all-vegetarian Greek diner-inspired food.

Michelin’s anonymous North American Chief Inspector told Washingtonian that the inspection team was able to get through “a good deal of the selection” in early 2020 before the pandemic began. Visits resumed when local restrictions allowed and “when it was appropriate based on the individual establishment and their circumstances.”

“If a restaurant wasn’t seen this year because it was temporarily closed, we have a good history in terms of previous visits that make us feel confident that the restaurant is at the correct level that we say it is,” the Chief Inspector says.

Michelin leadership hopped around the question of whether they intentionally decided not to remove stars because of the pandemic.

“Chefs proved to be really resilient and they did manage the storm well,” Poullennec says. “Of course we had to be benevolent in certain cases to make sure we make no decision based solely on the impact of the current crisis.”

Michelin unveiled its Bib Gourmand list on Tuesday, recognizing more moderately priced restaurants. Six places were added, including Mount Pleasant restaurant-bakery Elle and Hong Kong-inspired Queen’s English. Meanwhile, nine businesses were dropped from the list (goodbye Tiger Fork and Ambar), while some that have been closed over the past year remained.

This year, Michelin also gave out its first “green star” for “strong commitment to sustainable gastronomy and environmental protection” to the Inn at Little Washington. The guide notes that chef Patrick O’Connell pioneered regional American cuisine using products from local farmers, ranchers, and its own garden. So, the Inn basically now has four stars.

Three stars:
The Inn at Little Washington

Two stars:
Jônt (NEW)
Pineapple and Pearls

One star:
Cranes (NEW)
The Dabney
El Cielo (NEW)
Little Pearl
Rooster & Owl (NEW)
Rose’s Luxury
Sushi Nakazawa
Sushi Taro
Tail Up Goat
Xiquet (NEW)

And here’s what inspectors had to say about the new additions:

This anticipated opening by Chef Ryan Ratino of Bresca is a showstopper with impeccable technique and pristine ingredients.

Spanish kaiseki is a unique concept for Washington, D.C. Chef Pepe Moncayo’s menu is delightful and “unbound by geography.”

El Cielo
With locations in Medallín and Bogotá, this star-worthy tasting menu arrives to Washington D.C. courtesy of Chef Juan Manuel Barrientos. The level of showmanship and flair is admirable.

Rooster & Owl
Chef/owner Yuan Tang runs this delightful new venture in partnership with his wife Carey Tang. The menu is contemporary with global influences from Asia to Europe and everywhere in between.

Chef Danny Lledo crafts an outstanding paella, but that is only a small part of the menu that focuses on a contemporary take of the Valencia region of Spain. The kitchen cooks with confidence, touches of elegance, subtlety and, of course, flavor.

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.