Thankfully, times have changed and DC has become an eating destination, named “The Restaurant City of the Year” in 2016 by Bon Appétit Magazine. Here are ten top picks for your next trip to our nation’s capital.
A relative of the highly popular Founding Farmers, this expanded take on their scratch-made, source-matters brand houses one of the first distilleries in DC. Owned by the 47,000 farmers of the North Dakota Farmers Union, along with restaurateurs Dan Simons and Michael Vucurevich, their food comes almost entirely from family farms across the US. They get truckloads of flour and grain direct from North Dakota for not just their bread, pasta, and desserts, but for their craft vodka and other spirits. They call it unbundling the industrial food chain, and their broad-ranging menus really do have something for everyone, whether you want fried chicken, burgers, pizza, seafood or steak, or just one of the best apple pies in town. Obviously, with a distillery in house, the craft cocktails are also excellent. Our favorite is the Whiskey Cobbler Sour, made with their own American whiskey. Farmers & Distillers is centrally located in downtown DC near two metro stops: Gallery Place-Chinatown and Mt. Vernon Square. They serve weekday breakfast, weekend brunch, lunch, dinner, drinks, and dessert.
2. Little Pearl
Tucked away on Capitol Hill, you’ll find Little Pearl, an airy cafe inside an old carriage house that serves coffee during the day and wine at night. Little Pearl’s daytime menu offers sandwiches with fillings, such as eggplant parmesan or smoked brisket, seasonal salads, and unique pastries, such as potato donuts and the cult offering Morning Glory, a puff pastry infused with espresso and orange zest that’s baked in batches of only thirty a day. Cocktails and wine offerings are available all day, but you’ll get a wider booze selection (plus a selection of bar snacks) in the evening.
3. Lucky Buns
Sometimes you just need a burger. Lucky Buns has you covered. Both locations--one in Adams Morgan, another at the Capital One Arena--serve top-quality, hand-formed burgers,
accompanied by imaginative ingredients such as bacon jam or pickled beetroot. Their buns come from a local bakery. Beef burgers aren’t the only choice on their menu. They also offer chicken (fried, indian-inspired, and many other styles), and lentil mushroom patties topped with gouda and grilled onions, a great choice for vegetarians. Don’t try to go there for lunch, because they don’t open until 5 pm, but they keep serving burgers until the wee hours, 2am during the week and 3 am on the weekends.
4. Del Mar
Del Mar is headed by accomplished restaurant power couple Fabio and Maria Trabocchi, and it’s one of the three DC spots nominated for the prestigious best new restaurant James Beard award. Located in the District Wharf, Del Mar offers traditional coastal Spain food such as paella, Spanish raw bar and charcuterie, and tapas. Appropriately enough for a coastal cuisine-inspired restaurant, you can look out on the Potomac while you eat. They are open for weekend brunch, weekday lunch, dinner, and happy hour. Be forewarned: They do have a dress code that includes no flip flops, athletic wear, or ripped clothing for anyone, and no sandals, sleeveless shirts, or hats for men.
Supra offers a less common offering in the current DC restaurant scene: food from the Republic of Georgia. Reflecting the country’s unique culinary mix of Asian, European, and Middle Eastern components, Supra offers appetizers like Beets Tkemalit (beets dressed with smoked Georgian cheese and a sour plum sauce) and entrees such as Lobio Kotanshi (red beans stewed with spices, pickled red cabbage, and cornbread). A new addition to the DC food scene, Supra has a large communal table in the center of the restaurant suitable for multiple parties, as well as more traditional seating. They serve lunch, happy hour, and dinner, and weekend brunch in downtown DC.
Located inside the trendy Line Hotel in Adam’s Morgan, A Rake’s Process is headed by James Beard Award-winning chef Spike Gjerde. An outgrowth of the Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen known for only using local ingredients, A Rake’s Progress features some of the best ingredients, from land and sea, of the mid-Atlantic region. Keep an eye out for “trout on a log,” rockfish chowder, and roast chicken, all cooked to perfection. Only open for dinner.
Another 2018 James Beard award nominee, Chiko is a fusion Korean and Chinese fast casual standout on Capitol Hill. Part of the Fried Rice Collective, Chef Danny Lee and Scott Drewno pair modern cooking techniques with traditional Chinese and Korean flavors. Try ordering the Cumin Lamb Stir Fry, Chilled Acorn Noodles, Kimchi Stew (featuring succulent slices of pork belly), or the Wok Charred Chinese Broccoli. Their general dining room doesn’t take reservations but you can make a reservation for their prix fix option for dining at the Kitchen Counter while watching and talking to the chefs. For night owls, Chiko also offers occasional “after dark” special menus from guest chefs.
Led by celebrity chef Mike Isabella, Requin reinterprets classic French cuisine reinterpreted for modern eaters. Don’t miss the pear salad, escargot “croissants”, or Pavlova. They have an ample wine menu well suited to their food. Requin has two restaurants in the DC area, one in Fairfax, VA, and the newly opened premiere space in the District Wharf development. Their service is attentive, the space is open windowed (weather permitting) with a patio outside, and their food and drink tastes delicious and it is carefully presented. They are open for dinner every night of the week, and for brunch on the weekends.
This fast casual Indian restaurant was founded by two friends whose fathers were also DC restaurateurs. They say their “chef-driven meals are handcrafted with love, and sourced with the best ingredients possible from their trusted local partner.” Diners can order a specialty creation from the menu--which offers dishes like “Tikka Chance on Me,” a mixture of tikka chicken, tomato garlic sauce, rice, spinach, and spices, or “Open Sesame,” lamb kebab with peanut sesame sauce and charred eggplant cubes. Or they can build their own combo bowl. Rasa is located on the Capitol riverfront near Navy Yard Park. They are open daily for lunch and dinner.
10. Union Market
This isn’t just one restaurant; it’s dozens of them in one fun and interesting space in northeast DC. Named one of the best food halls in America by Bon Appétit Magazine, Union Market contains Prescription Chicken, DC Empanadas, Rappahannock Oyster Co., Uzu, and tons of other small vendors you can peruse before or after your food. Or if you find yourself too stuffed to move, feel free to sit still and take in a movie at the Angelika Pop Up movie theater.
So, the next time you find yourself in our nation’s capital, whether it’s your first time or you are a regular, there are some seriously great options for getting a delicious meal, interesting cocktails, tasty treats, and more.