Food

These Are Washingtonian Readers’ Favorite Restaurants in 2021

The votes are in!

Winner Menu. Washingtonian readers named the Shaw vegetarian spot Oyster Oyster 2021’s best new restaurant. Photograph by Deborah Rubba.

For the 44th year, Washingtonian asked readers what they’ve loved most about our food scene. From new restaurants to cocktail spots, fine-dining destinations to pizza shops, here’s where you most loved to eat this year.

New Restaurant

1. Oyster Oyster, Shaw

Never been wowed by a dish centered around toasted barley? Then we’re guessing you haven’t tried Rob Rubba’s plant-based tasting menu.

2. Ruthie’s All Day, Arlington

This mod-Southern spot serves pimiento-cheese-slathered egg sandwiches by morning and meat-and-three plates at night.

3. Spanish Diner, Bethesda

José Andrés has transformed his former Jaleo space into a morning-to-night shrine to potatoes, eggs, and chorizo.

 

The open kitchen at Maydan. Photograph of Maydan by Scott Suchman

Best in DC

1. Maydan, 14th Street corridor

The multi-course tawle menu is the best way to sample your way through dips, breads, and fire-licked meats.

2. Le Diplomate, Logan Circle

Stephen Starr’s French place still packs them in every day of the week.

3. Albi, Navy Yard

Michael Rafidi’s gorgeous dishes are rooted in Lebanese, Palestinian, and Turkish cuisines.

 

Best in Maryland

1. Bob’s Shanghai 66, Rockville

The soup-dumpling destination takes the top spot for the fourth year in a row.

2. Woodmont Grill, Bethesda

Head to this Hillstone Restaurant Group outpost for generous cocktails, approachable American cooking, and nightly live jazz.

3. 2fifty, Riverdale

Some of the area’s best barbecue comes out of this Texas-inspired spot (and its spinoff stall in DC’s Union Market).

 

Best in Virginia

1. Ambar, Clarendon

Balkan share plates are the thing here and at the restaurant’s Capitol Hill twin.

2. Ruthie’s All Day, Arlington

The folksy, family-friendly place is centered around a wood-burning hearth.

3. Green Pig, Clarendon

Former Willow chef/owner Tracy O’Grady is now in charge at this neo-Southern kitchen.

 

Service

1. Le Diplomate, Logan Circle

Expert service is part of the reason this French hot spot has become a favorite of big-name politicos and celebrities.

2. Rose’s Luxury, Capitol Hill

Rose’s service is sharply informed but fun and familiar.

3. Ambar, Clarendon

Managing a room often filled with all-you-can-eat diners is daunting, but this place pulls it off.

 

Happy Gyro’s strawberry-buttermilk ice cream. Photograph of ice cream courtesy of Happy Gyro.

Pop-Up

1. Ghostburger, Shaw

The popular cheesesteak-and-smashburger delivery service, run out of the Mexican restaurant Espita, is going permanent.

2. Lucky Danger, Pentagon City

Tim Ma’s American/Chinese takeout venture started in DC but this year found a forever home in Arlington.

3. Happy Gyro, Dupont Circle

Since the pandemic began, Johnny Monis and Anne Marler have run their fun, mostly vegetarian carryout out of the space that has held their tasting-menu destination, Komi.

 

Outdoor Dining

1. Le Diplomate, Logan Circle

The area’s standard-setter when it comes to streetery design.

2. Iron Gate, Dupont Circle

The Mediterranean gem has always had a lovely, all-weather outdoor dining room arrayed with fire pits and plants.

3. Barca, Old Town

The Spanish-inspired, wine-focused bar boasts more than 200 waterfront seats.

 

Special Occasion

1. The Dabney, Shaw

Kamala and Doug recently celebrated a birthday at this Mid-Atlantic dining room.

2. Albi, Navy Yard

Spring for the open kitchen’s chef’s table and its tasting menu.

3. The Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Virginia

The area’s only three-Michelin-star restaurant is all about playful luxury.

 

Fancy Carryout

1. Le Diplomate, Logan Circle

Who knew that burgers and onion soup traveled so well?

2. Maydan, 14th Street corridor

Rose Previte’s still-happening spot offers celebratory takeaway menus for groups big (up to 25) and small.

3. Rasika, West End and Penn Quarter

Lush curries and brightly flavored chaats are the hallmarks at these national-class Indian restaurants.

 

Carryout lo mein at Lucky Danger. Photograph by Anna Meyer.

Family-Style Carryout

1. Unconventional Diner, Shaw

We, too, are big fans of the fried-chicken-and-biscuit feasts.

2. Lucky Danger, Pentagon City

The takeout-only Chinese spot makes a killer orange beef.

3. Chiko, Capitol Hill, Dupont Circle, Bethesda, and Shirlington

Chinese and Korean stews and noodle dishes are the draws at these cheffy fast-casual joints.

 

Food Hall

1. Union Market, Northeast DC

The area’s most famous food hall will celebrate its tenth birthday next fall.

2. The Roost, Capitol Hill

The Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s year-old emporium features square pizza, Scandi snacks, and a low-ABV-beer bar, among many other things.

3. The Block, Annandale, downtown DC, and Rockville

These small pan-Asian food halls are our go-to’s for bubble tea and bulgogi cheesesteaks.

 

Cocktails

1. Columbia Room, Shaw

DC’s premier cocktail destination—now partially taken over by a pop-up called Disco Mary—still serves a three-course drink menu.

2. Green Zone, Adams Morgan

Take the Middle Eastern–accented cock-tails in the snug bar or to go.

3. Residents Cafe, Dupont Circle

You’ll find a mean espresso martini here.

The award for coolest decor goes to Residents Cafe. Photograph by Hawkeye Johnson Photography.

Decor

1. Residents Cafe, Dupont Circle

There’s a beachy vibe at this chic all-day cafe and bar.

2. Maydan, 14th Street corridor

The firelit dining room is now joined by a boho-cool patio.

3. El Techo, Shaw

Perched on a rooftop, this hangout feels more lush and tropical than urban.

 

Breakfast

1. Call Your Mother, Park View, Capitol Hill, Georgetown, Pike & Rose, and Bethesda

The chewy, slightly sweet bagels make for a terrific morning sandwich. (We like the pastrami-egg-and-cheese with spicy honey.)

2. A Baked Joint, Mount Vernon Triangle

At this bread bakery, you can kick off the day with crème brûlée French toast and a lineup of toasts.

3. Cracked Eggery, Cleveland Park

A breakfast-sandwich shop that evolved out of a farmers-market stand and food truck.

 

Brunch

1. Le Diplomate, Logan Circle

The sparkling cocktails start flowing at 9:30 am.

2. Unconventional Diner, Shaw

Brunch is served daily at this French/American dining room.

3. Ambar, Capitol Hill and Clarendon

Come hungry—brunch here is an all-you-can-eat affair.

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Bakery

1. Tatte, West End, Dupont Circle, Bethesda, and Clarendon

The first location of this Boston-based, Israeli-accented pastry shop arrived in the summer of 2020, and it quickly expanded.

2. Seylou, Shaw

The bread shop is known for sour, hearty loaves made with house-milled, whole-grain flour, and it now serves pizza on Fridays.

3. Bread Furst, Chevy Chase DC

Owner Mark Furstenburg is the forefather of the local bread-baking movement.

 

Restaurant Desserts

1. Filomena, Georgetown

Layer cakes are joined by Italian standards such as tiramisu and spumoni.

2. Le Diplomate, Logan Circle

Get the profiteroles stuffed with banana ice cream.

3. Thompson Italian, Falls Church

Co-owner and longtime pastry chef Katherine Thompson’s olive-oil cake is deservedly famous.

 

Vegetarian/Vegan

1. Fancy Radish, H Street, Northeast

The ambitious vegan dining room comes from the owners of Vedge in Philly.

2. Chaia, Georgetown, Chinatown, and Bethesda

The kale-and-potato taco is worth lining up for.

3. Shouk, Union Market and Mount Vernon Triangle

Bethesda and Rockville branches of this Israeli-style fast-casual place are on the way.

 

Burgers

1. Duke’s Grocery, Dupont Circle, Woodley Park, and Foggy Bottom

The Proper Burger at these pubs was readers’ first choice last year, too.

2. Lucky Buns, Adams Morgan and Union Market

Double patties are stacked with condiments such as bacon-XO jam and Hatch-green-chili relish.

3. Le Diplomate, Logan Circle

The offering here set off a small wave of Big Mac–style burgers in French restaurants.

 

A barbecue feast at 2fifty in Riverdale. Photograph courtesy of 2fifty.

Barbecue

1. Federalist Pig, Adams Morgan and Hyattsville

Rob Sonderman’s barbecue is also available via Ensemble, a carryout-only food hall in Bethesda.

2. 2fifty, Riverdale and Union Market

It’s wise to order the wood-smoked meats here a day in advance.

3. Rocklands, Glover Park, Arlington, and Alexandria

John Snedden’s ’cue shops have been serving the area for more than 30 years.

 

Soul Food

1. Oohh’s & Aahh’s, U Street and Brightwood

You’ll find ace fried wings and whiting here.

2. NuVegan, Park View, Howard University, and College Park

Plant-based takes on such classics as crab-cakes and fried chicken, plus a long list of creative sides.

3. Hitching Post, Petworth

The neighborhood joint, which opened in 1967, has evolved into a DC institution.

 

Sandwiches

1. Capo Italian Deli, Shaw and Foggy Bottom

The Italian subs here can now be found at DC’s newly opened Western Market food hall.

2. Compliments Only, Logan Circle

Sandwich connoisseurs have followed owner Peter Sitcov from Yang Market to Subbies to this carryout.

3. Jettiesfive DC and Maryland locations

The star of the lineup is the Thanksgiving-inspired Nobadeer, piled with freshly roast-ed turkey and stuffing.

 

Seafood

1. The Salt Line, Navy Yard and Ballston

The menu teeters between straightforward fry-ups and creative crudos.

2. Fiola Mare, Georgetown

Come for lavish imports such as Spanish red king prawns and Hokkaido scallops.

3. Hank’s Oyster Bar, Dupont Circle, the Wharf, and Old Town

Jamie Leeds’s New England–inspired places serve the area’s best lobster roll.

 

Pizza

1. All Purpose, Shaw and Navy Yard

The crisp-bottomed, deck-oven pies will soon be available in Bethesda, too.

2. Pupatella, four Virginia and DC locations

Look for Springfield and Mosaic-district locations of this Neapolitan pizzeria in the next year.

3. Andy’s Pizza, four Virginia and DC locations

Owner Andy Brown’s top-notch NYC–style pizza is served by the slice or in giant pies.

 

Italian

1. The Red Hen, Bloomingdale

Lovely small plates join wood-grilled meats and housemade pastas.

2. RPM Italian, Mount Vernon Triangle

Bill and Giuliana Rancic are co-owners of this Chicago-born dining room.

3. Sfoglina, downtown DC, Van Ness, and Rosslyn

Don’t feel like dining out? The elegantly packaged takeout pastas here travel surprisingly well.

 

Mexican/Latin American

1. Oyamel, Penn Quarter

Pair José Andrés’s mod-Mex small plates and tacos with a pitcher of salt-air-topped margaritas.

2. El Sol, Logan Circle and Vienna

Siblings Alfredo and Jessica Solis honor their Mexico City roots at these twin taquerias.

3. Taqueria Habanero, Columbia Heights and College Park

Puebla natives Mirna and Dio Montero excel with tacos and masa-wrapped huaraches.

 

Japanese

1. Sushi Taro, Dupont Circle

As great for a quick chirashi bowl as it is for a blowout omakase feast.

2. Izakaya Seki, U Street

We love the sashimi and small plates, and also co-owner Cizuka Seki’s doodled-up menus.

3. Raku/Rakuya, Cathedral Heights and Bethesda (Raku) and Dupont Circle (Rakuya)

Our go-to when we’re in the mood for dragon rolls and other elaborately accessorized maki.

 

Chinese

1. Panda Gourmet, Gateway

Shaanxi and Szechuan specialties come out of this Days Inn kitchen.

2. Chiko, Capitol Hill, Dupont Circle, Bethesda, and Shirlington

The Dupont and Bethesda locations now offer a takeout dim sum brunch on weekends.

3. Queen’s English, Columbia Heights

Henji Cheung is behind the Hong Kong–inspired share plates, and wife Sarah Thompson scopes out offbeat finds for the wine list.

 

Thai

1. Beau Thai, Shaw and Mount Pleasant

Flavorful, carryout-friendly takes on standards such as spring rolls, curry puffs, and pad see ew.

2. Baan Siam, Mount Vernon Triangle

The folks behind the late Baan Thai conjure up fiery salads and destination-worthy khao soi.

3. Sisters Thai, Cabin John, Fairfax, and Alexandria

Street snacks and noodle dishes in tastefully maximalist dining rooms.

 

A thali platter at Bombay Street Food. Photograph by Scott Suchman

Indian

1. Rasika, Penn Quarter and West End

Longtime chef Vikram Sunderam gives an elegant spin to kebabs, stews, and biryani.

2. Indigo, NoMa

The patio at this graffiti-scrawled restaurant is booming—as is the takeout business.

3. Bombay Street Food, Adams Morgan, Capitol Hill, and Columbia Heights

Punchy snacks, Indo-Chinese stir-fries, and generous thali platters are the draws.

 

Ethiopian

1. Zenebech, Adams Morgan

What was once an injera bakery is now a thriving dining destination.

2. Keren, Adams Morgan

The all-day cafe is in fact Eritrean and excels with ful, a dish of mashed fava beans.

3. Chercher, Shaw and Bethesda

The generous vegetarian platters make for a great communal meal.

 

Happy Hour

1. Bar Charley, Dupont Circle

The deals run every day—and all night on Mondays.

2. Chaplin’s, Shaw

The daily three-hour window offers half-off wine, beer, and cocktails.

3. King Street Oyster Bar, NoMa, Leesburg, Middleburg, and Potomac

An easy-to-remember combo: $7 drinks, $7 snacks, every day starting at 3 pm.

This article appears in the December 2021 issue of Washingtonian.

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.