2011 restaurant guide

From celebrity chefs launching local outposts to impressive homegrown talent, the Washington, D.C., dining scene has come into its own and our nation’s capital has proven itself as a serious food town.

by Amanda McClements

Price ranges are based on main courses

$:        $10 and under
$$:      $11–$18 $$
$$$:    $19–$25 $$$
$$$$:  More than $25 $$$$

Restaurant Sections

Click on the links below to jump to a specific section or scroll down to see all of the restaurants featured in the June 2011 Specialty Food Magazine





Chef Nick Stefanelli’s expertly executed Italian menu features outstanding pastas, such as black spaghetti with Maryland lump crab, and thoughtful meat dishes like a local Virginia lamb with escarole and cicerchia beans. Peek in on the kitchen action from a seat at the bar, or admire the huge black-and-white photos of Italian scooters overhead. The sleek dining room is done up with dark wood, warm orange tones and sculptural silver pendant lights.

1100 New York Ave. NW
PHONE: 202.216.9550.

Birch and Barley

Inside this 14th Street beer-centric restaurant, Chef Kyle Bailey presents rustic yet elegant dishes like honey-glazed duck breast with wild rice and dates, and puffy flatbreads topped with figs and prosciutto. The centerpiece of the dining room is a massive copper beer “organ” funneling nearly 50 drafts from the 500-plus-label beer list. The dessert menu is a must-try here; you’ll find delicious reinventions of all-American sweets such as an updated Hostess cupcake. The upstairs bar, Churchkey, is a destination in its own right.

1337 14th St. NW
PHONE: 202.567.2576.

Bourbon Steak

A prime example of D.C.’s new generation of chic, modern steakhouses, Bourbon Steak, inside Georgetown’s Four Seasons, specializes in butter-poached beef as well as a power-player crowd. Celebrity chef Michael Mina and executive chef Adam Sobel have teamed up for a menu of steakhouse classics (think aged porterhouses, creamed spinach and shrimp cocktails), complemented by locally sourced fare such as Virginia striped bass and bison. The stylish bar draws VIP guests and pours a nice selection of rare bourbons and scotches.

2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, inside the Four Seasons
PHONE: 202.944.2026.


Celebrated chef Michel Richard’s boisterous brasserie, the younger sibling of his sophisticated Citronelle, draws crowds with its menu of American and French classics with whimsical touches. The chef’s crunchy fried chicken is a must, as is the towering lobster burger and massive banana split. The dining room’s blond woods and fabrics offset the architectural marble and glass and a bright open kitchen in the back.

1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
PHONE: 202.626.0015.


Wine aficionado Mark Kuller’s Penn Quarter hot spot boasts one of the city’s best wine programs, with 32 wines by the glass and a collection of California cult wines and Bordeaux labels. Chef Haidar Karoum is a master at letting the pristine ingredients he sources shine—whether an ahi tuna tartare with wasabi soy emulsion, tender veal sweetbreads or wild Alaskan sablefish. A late-night menu features
a Wagyu steak and cheese and foie gras scrambled eggs.

775 G St. NW
PHONE: 202.737.7663

The Source by Wolfgang Puck

One in a wave of celebrity-chef outposts in D.C., Wolfgang Puck’s downtown restaurant feels very much a part of the city thanks to Executive Chef Scott Drewno (a local celebrity chef on his own) and a vibrant crowd, which ranges from young urbanites to tourists to famous politicos. The minimalist upstairs dining room is where Drewno serves his fine dining take on modern Asian fare, from lacquered duck to whole wok fried sea bass to tandoori Arctic char. The casual downstairs bar and lounge turns out delicious dumplings, sushi and udon noodles.

575 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
PHONE: 202.637.6100.


Ba Bay

Vietnamese cooking has been a huge trend on the Washington, D.C., dining scene, and this hip newcomer offers a modern take on the country’s vibrant cuisine. On the menu of shareable plates are excellent chili chicken wings, banh mi, pho with Roseda Farm ribeye, and “shakey beef,” Chef Nick Sharpe’s spin on the traditional dish with chili-lime salt, onion slaw and watercress purée. Desserts like black sesame cake with coconut ice cream are worth saving room for.

633 Pennsylvania Ave. SE
PHONE: 202.547.1787


Just north of Penn Quarter on a newly revamped block, Kushi draws crowds with its Japanese Izakaya-style menu highlighting pristine sushi and excellent small plates. Grab a seat at the robata grill, where skewers loaded with pork belly, cubes of beef and whole fish cook over open flames. An omakase tasting menu is a great way to sample the best of the restaurant’s extensive selections.

465 K St. NW;
PHONE: 202.682.3123


14th and U Corridor

Cork Wine Bar

The husband-and-wife team of Khalid Pitts and Diane Gross run this convivial neighborhood wine bar, where dark wood floors, exposed brick walls and bare bulbs create a cool vibe. Cork offers about 160 wines by the bottle, 50 wines by the glass and thoughtful wine-tasting flights. Chef Ron Tanaka’s menu focuses on small plates, such as a pan-crisped brioche sandwich of prosciutto, fontina and a soft-cooked egg.

1720 14th St. NW;
PHONE: 202.265.2675.


The name of this hip hangout is a nod to Marvin Gaye, one of owner Eric Hilton’s musical role models. A bistro on the ground level serves an eclectic crowd a clever mix of Belgian dishes and soul food, like moules frites, shrimp and grits and fried chicken with waffles. A lounge with a regular lineup of talented DJs resides on the second floor. Also up top: a spacious outdoor deck complete with heaters for chilly nights.

2007 14th St. NW; 2
PHONE: 202.797.7171.

Capitol Hill

Good Stuff Eatery

Reality TV star chef Spike Mendelsohn’s laid-back burger joint on Capitol Hill turns out a great selection of sandwiches, shakes and handcut fries matched with flavored mayos and dipping sauces. Its proximity to the Capitol makes it a favorite of Hill staffers. Also a fan: First Lady Michelle Obama, who has a sandwich named after her. The Michelle Melt features a free-range turkey burger with Swiss cheese and a whole wheat bun.

303 Pennsylvania Ave. SE;
PHONE: 202.543.8222.

West End/Foggy Bottom


Chef Ris Lacoste’s comfortable West End restaurant consists of a bar, café, patio and segmented dining areas with plush banquettes. The chef’s homey daily specials are popular with devotees, from meatloaf on Mondays to spaghetti and meatballs on Wednesdays. Her American menu taps into international influences with dishes like monkfish osso bucco, braised lamb shank with chickpeas and yogurt, and sesame-crusted salmon with red curry broth.

2275 L St. NW; 2
PHONE: 202.730.2500


Bayou Bakery

Chef David Guas pays homage to his native New Orleans at this cheerful café in Arlington. The longtime pastry chef proves he knows sweets with fluffy beignets, pralines and heavenly hash studded with marshmallows and roasted pecans. But don’t overlook the savory stuff, from deviled eggs and grilled pimento cheese to Guas’ take on New Orleans’ famous muffaletta sandwich. Nightly specials include crawfish étoufée, red beans and rice, and shrimp creole.

1515 N. Courthouse Rd., Arlington, Va.
PHONE: 703.243.2310


This Capitol Hill hot-dog joint—named for the Douglas DC-3 airplane from the 1930s—dishes up a menu of regional dogs from around the U.S. You’ll find the famous D.C. half-smoke, the New Jersey bacon-wrapped ripper, the Chicago 7 with pickles and tomatoes and even a version of the standard New York dirty-water dog. Fried pickles, cotton candy and soft-serve ice cream round out the playful menu.

423 Eighth St. SE;
PHONE: 202.546.1935.


The menu at this 14th Street tapas place is packed with traditional Spanish snacks perfect for sharing: cheeses and meats, toothpicks stacked with anchovies, olives and chorizo called pintxos, and croquetas with mushroom or ham. Vintage World Cup soccer games play on TVs over the bar, where guests sip Spanish wine and slurp “slushitos,” boozy frozen slushies in seasonal flavors such as grapefruit chamomile with bourbon or cranberry anise with gin.

1520 14th St. NW;
PHONE: 202.319.1404.


Specializing in Korean fare like dolsot bibimbap served sizzling in hot stone bowls, this second location of Mandu is located in the City Vista building, a new dining destination just north of Penn Quarter. The attractive space features walls of wooden Korean memory boxes and long banquettes. Don’t miss the namesake
dish—mandu means dumplings—or the sojutinis in flavors like aloe.

453 K St. NW; 2
PHONE: 202.289.6899

We, the Pizza

Top Chef alum Spike Mendelsohn follows up his popular Good Stuff Eatery with the neighboring We, The Pizza on Capitol Hill. The casual spot serves New York–style pizza by the slice, as well as whole pies topped with pancetta, potato, wild mushrooms and more. Also on the menu: Italian subs, salads and gelato. Don’t miss the housemade sodas with quirky names like “I’ve Gotta Orange Crush on You,” “Good Morning Vietnam Coffee,” and “Don’t Forget Your Ginger Roots.”

305 Pennsylvania Ave. SE;
PHONE: 202.544.4008.


As in many cities around the U.S., the mobile street-food scene in D.C. is booming. Here are a few food trucks worth checking out:

CapMac DC

Former Bourbon Steak cook Brian Arnoff launched this gourmet pasta truck in the fall of 2010. Arnoff’s menu includes a daily soup such as slightly spiced tomato, cold salads and pastas. The signature CapMac’n cheese uses rich cheddar and pimento topped with crunchy Cheez-its. Also worth a taste are the chicken parm meatballs, beef Bolognese and, if you get there early enough, risotto rice pudding for dessert.

Twitter: @CapMacDC

Curbside Cupcake

Cupcake shops have popped up all over town, but this mobile bakery takes the sweets to the streets. A cupcake calendar dictates which flavors Pinky 1 and Pinky 2—as the trucks are named—will feature on any given day. Choices range from classics like red velvet, chocolate and vanilla to creative options like egg nog, pumpkin walnut and dulce de leche.

Twitter: @curbsidecupcake

Fojol Bros. of Merlindia

Among the first of D.C.’s new generation of food trucks, and certainly one of the most creative, Fojol Bros. take a novelty approach to the vaguely Indian cuisine served out of its colorful, carnival-like truck. Chicken curry, masala and lentils are spooned out by staff wearing fake mustaches and bright turbans, and who hail from the fictional land of Merlindia. A second truck, dubbed Benethiopia, features Ethiopian cooking such as beef berbere and split peas.

Twitter: @fojolbros

Red Hook Lobster Pound

This wildly popular food truck—a mobile outpost of Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Red Hook Lobster Pound—regularly draws long lines, and for good reason. People queue up for the excellent lobster rolls—warm buttery buns with chunks of cold lobster salad—as well as for shrimp rolls and chocolate whoopie pies. A Maine Root soda fountain attached to the truck’s facade allows diners to pour their own root beer and ginger brew.

Twitter: @LobsterTruckDC

Amanda McClements is the founder of Metrocurean.com
and is a D.C.-based freelance food writer.

This article was featured in the June 2011 issue of Specialty Food Magazine.
See other articles in this issue here:
June 2011 Specialty Food Magazine.