12+ Best Restaurants (right now) in Washington D.C.
Story by Renee Sklarew
Washington D.C.’s restaurant scene is diverse, with multi-cultural restaurants serving African, Indian, East Asian, Middle Eastern, European, South and Central American, to name just a few of the culinary options. Come taste the bounty of seafood caught in the Chesapeake Bay and the harvest from MidAtlantic region farms. Some menus showcase wine from the vineyards of Maryland and Virginia as well as dairy and meats from the Shenandoah Valley.
Washington D.C. has renowned chefs living and working here, including José Andrés, the chef nominated to receive a Nobel Peace Prize for his World Central Kitchen disaster relief efforts. Andrés has 10 D.C. restaurants (including Zaytinya and China Chilcano, detailed below).
This list reveals my top picks for restaurants that are currently offering first-rate takeout and outdoor dining, along with limited indoor seating. As a native Washingtonian, I have eaten at more than 100 restaurants across my home city in recent years. My book, The Unofficial Guide to Washington D.C., features 50. But of course, the restaurant scene changes quickly, so please check the restaurant’s website for up-to-date information before venturing out.
Without further ado, here’s the list in alphabetical order. Please note that all these restaurants require diners to wear face coverings unless seated and eating at their own table.
Two great things come together at Bluejacket: baseball and beer. Located near Nationals Park—home of the Washington Nationals, the 2019 World Series Champs—this sports bar/microbrewery has a welcoming vibe. The restaurant offers outdoor seating, but indoors is bright and airy, with three levels overlooking the brewery. At Bluejacket’s popular brunch, try the cinnamon buns or breakfast burrito. For a snack with craft beer, indulge in a jumbo everything pretzel with beer cheese. Crunchy chicken wings with D.C.’s signature sweet mumbo sauce is a crowd pleaser, too. If you’ve got kids in tow, head to nearby Yards Park to play.
The crackling hearth is a sizzling focal point in the open kitchen of The Dabney. The unpretentious pastoral setting symbolizes chef/owner Jeremiah Langhorne’s focus on ingredients sourced from the MidAtlantic. The Michelin-starred restaurant in the Shaw neighborhood has a small outdoor garden and a cozy wine cellar with a robust wine list. All the craft beers on draught are local. The seasonal menu changes, but look for oysters from the Chesapeake Bay, heritage pork with root vegetables, ember-roasted beets with sheep milk ricotta, and save room dessert: the chess pie and Virginia peanut ice cream are worth the calories.
The brightness of Vietnamese street food will leave you feeling warm inside, even when you’re dining outside at this eatery in Logan Circle. The staples are here—dumplings, Banh Mi (sandwiches), curry rice and noodle dishes, pho (noodle soup), and sweet Vietnamese coffee—but Chef Wade Fatt’s kitchen perfects them by using only the freshest ingredients. Notable are the 30 sauces and 15 marinades that deliver flavor in a big way. The menu is simple during these times, whittled down to the hits. Try the suan nuong grilled pork chop, Saigon fried rice, and the banh bao sampler plate (steamed buns). Doi Moi also offers inventive cocktails, matcha and frozen fruit smoothies, and $7 daiquiris seven days a week before 7 p.m.
Iron Gate diners adore the vine-covered patio warmed by a collection of fire tables and heaters, so you’ll need a reservation in advance to dine in the space. This iconic restaurant, featuring Greek and Italian dishes, is located in the heart of the vibrant Dupont Circle neighborhood. And while the Mediterranean garden is prized, the restaurant’s indoor décor is welcoming, too, like an elegant lodge accessorized in wood and leather. Chef Anthony Chittum is driven by the seasons, sourcing many ingredients from local farmers and makers. Don’t miss the sweet potato fritters, focaccia style pizza topped with fennel seed sausage, and the hearty green Caesar. The menu will reflect what vegetables are in season.
The winner of a Michelin star and other accolades, Maydan has always been a tough reservation to get. But since the pandemic, the Arabic restaurant in a historic laundry building near Meridian Hill Park has expanded its takeout options, so you can taste owner Rose Previte’s fire-kissed food with relative ease. Maydan recently opened its outdoor dining in an alleyway decorated with patterned carpets and plants where you can sample the “Tawle,” a selection of Maydan’s acclaimed dishes, all of which are cooked on the crackling hearth. Try the whole head cauliflower and ribeye kebab, served with sides of cabbage salad, hummus and labneh. Consider adding beet pickled turnips or passionfruit baklawa. Previte also owns the delightful Compass Rose, also in the U Street neighborhood, known for its globally-influenced small plates.
Officina is a multi-storied restaurant with a Mercato (market) and Terrazzo (rooftop bar). For takeout, pick up the fresh-made pasta or bread, desserts and salads. Dine indoors for an elegant dinner in the Trattoria overlooking Washington D.C.’s Historic Fish Market or head to the Terrazzo for a stellar view of the Potomac River while sipping the restaurant’s signature Amari cocktails. Chef Nicholas Stefanelli rolls out some of the city’s best Italian gastronomy, including the bucatini all’Amatriciana, homemade pasta with pancetta and pecorino. Note that on Wednesdays every pasta dish is only $11. Save room for a scoop of gelatti or sorbetti made in-house using seasonal ingredients.
This fast casual restaurant is locally owned and blazingly good. Choose to dine in, take out, or eat on the small patio. With three locations—Navy Yard, Mount Vernon near the Convention Center, and Arlington—it’s the perfect place to grab something quick yet entirely memorable. Select one of the signature bowls, like “Tikka Chance on Me” or design a custom bowl with bright, fresh ingredients. Some highlights include the mango salsa, charred eggplant, sauteed spinach, and spiced beef. RASA’s owners are two local families that sought to introduce locals to Indian food that is approachable yet showcases the power behind the cuisine. RASA is a fun and affordable way to try something new.
This splurge-worthy dining experience earned a three-star review from The Washington Post, a recognition seldom achieved by a first-year restaurant. Chef Yuan Tang deftly incorporates Asian, Italian, and Middle Eastern dishes into his menu, so even the most particular diners find something that impresses. Located in the U Street neighborhood—where all-star restaurants are the rule not the exception—Rooster & Owl is a standout. Notable menu items include buttermilk grit cakes, scallion pancakes, ricotta toast with pickled kumquats, striped bass over leeks, and the restaurant’s signature pineapple buns.
Try to snag a spot on the outdoor patio or private roof garden to taste why Rose’s Luxury has earned accolades from global reviewers. Located along Barracks Row in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, this popular restaurant is known for its multi-course tasting menu and the friendliness of local Chef Aaron Silverman’s kitchen and wait staff. While indoor seating is limited, you can order Roses To Go, a four-course menu of bold and imaginative dishes. Silverman’s second restaurant Little Pearl, located inside a historic carriage house, is another option. While the menu changes nightly, look for fixtures like pork sausage with lychee salad, family-style smoked brisket, farro reginetti with kale and mustard greens, and fluffy homemade bread.
Grab an outdoor table in the heated tents or order a feast-to-go from Chef José Andrés’s Zaytinya. The sleek, contemporary, Turkish-inspired restaurant in Penn Quarter is just steps from CityCenter, D.C.’s designer shopping district. Zaytinya’s menu focuses on vibrant dishes and shareable mezza plates. Outstanding choices are the charred eggplant Pide, which is similar to a pizza yet shaped like a canoe. The Fattoush salad bursts with tangy bites of freshness, and the kebob platter allows for a sample of all the grilled meats spiced with lemony sumac. The fresh baked flatbread arrives with olive oil drizzled in pomegranate syrup.
It would be a shame to visit Washington D.C. and not try Ethiopian food. There’s a sizeable Ethiopian population here, and as a result, the city has an abundance of excellent East African restaurants. Zenebech is located in the Adams Morgan neighborhood and the owners enjoy familiarizing diners through sharable platters of Ethiopian staples. One unique feature of Ethiopian cuisine is the forgoing of flatware—food is scooped up using soft-spongy Injera bread (you can ask for utensils though). For the full experience, choose between a vegan, vegetarian, or combination platter with meat and egg. Highlights are the beef sambusa (fried pastries), a tibs dish (specify how spicy you like your food and the server will guide you), miser wat (red lentils) and atkilt wot (a mixture of mild cabbage, potato, and carrot).
More Great Tastes…
I can’t bring myself to limit this list to just 12 restaurants! When in D.C., don’t miss the chance to try Peruvian rotisserie-charred chicken, the city’s go-to family-style meal. This crisp-skinned seasoned chicken is accompanied by fried plantains, black beans, fluffy white or Tumeric-infused vegetable rice, fried yucca, and—if you’re lucky—decadent El Salvadorean pupusas, cheesy pancakes with vinegary slaw. You’ll be licking your fingers and dipping everything into the spicy cilantro sauce. There are several Peruvian restaurants throughout the region, and you owe it to yourself to try some for lunch or takeout. Among the options I recommend El Pollo Sabroso in Mount Pleasant, District Rico on H Street, NE, Crisp & Juicy near American University, and other restaurants located throughout the suburbs of Virginia and Maryland. For an upscale, modern version, try China Chilcano in Penn Quarter.
Plan A Trip
Spring is a beautiful time to visit the Nation’s Capital. Cherry blossom trees are blooming around the Tidal Basin and tulips blanket the gardens near the White House. During the coronavirus pandemic some attractions may be closed, but you can always stroll the National Mall to see the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
Other outdoor attractions to explore include The Kennedy Center’s REACH (an outdoor garden and music venue), Hillwood Museum & Gardens, and the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. For the best natural scenery, walk the towpath at C&O Canal National Historic Park or the forested trails inside Rock Creek Park. The U.S. National Arboretum is filled with an array of blooming magnolia, rhododendron and azalea shrubs.
You can reserve a timed ticket to the International Spy Museum, The Bible Museum, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and Lincoln’s Cottage. More museums will reopen as conditions permit. Check the Convention and Tourism Corporation’s website for up-to-the-minute information: