Should you have any doubts about the quality—or even existence—of a worthy dining scene in the nation’s capital, consider the fact that Bon Appétit magazine named Washington, D.C., its “Restaurant City of the Year” in 2016. Plus, the city’s restaurants, chefs, sommeliers, and other top pros in the trade, regularly show up on the vaunted James Beard Foundation Awards lists (the Oscars for excellence in championing American cuisine), whether as nominees or winners.
So that’s settled. Now comes the two-fold tricky part: how to choose where you want to eat from a world’s choice of options, and then score a table. Washingtonians dine out a lot. A LOT. Wheeler-dealers and socializing urbanistas fill restaurants throughout the city, from the newly bustling waterfront communities to hot-hot-hot Shaw to Barracks Row on Capitol Hill and old reliable chestnuts near the White House. Be sure to make a reservation.
The city is also notable for its casual dining, and often the food is as sensational in these places as at the higher-priced restaurants, from the empanadas at Colada Shop to the ramen at Daikaya. Bistros serving "small plates" are here to stay, no matter whether the cuisine is American, as at Rose’s Luxury, or the Middle Eastern mezze of Zaytinya. Some restaurants, like Hank’s Oyster Bar, hedge their bets with menus of small plates and large plates. Something else you should know is that a boisterous bar scene is now a dining-out fact of life. And it can get loud.
Good restaurants are in every neighborhood, and this chapter leads you to a range of possibilities, spanning diverse cuisines, budget considerations, even trendiness (some of the best restaurants have been around for a while).
Along with the recommendations below, for solid diner fare and lively local color, I recommend Pete’s Diner and Carryout at 212 2nd St. SE (btw. Independence Ave. and Pennsylvania Ave. in Capitol Hill), and for an insider’s experience, head to Market Lunch inside Eastern Market.
Keep in mind that the price categories refer to dinner prices, and that some very expensive restaurants offer affordable lunches, early-bird dinners, tapas, or bar meals. The prices within each review refer to the average cost of individual entrees, not the entire meal.
Inexpensive $14 and under
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.