Food may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Washington, DC—the current news cycle being what it is, you’d be forgiven for forgetting the District is home to more than just lawmakers, political pundits, and lobbyists. But DC has a thriving culinary scene to rival that of any American city, one that has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 15 years.
Where the image of dining here may have once conjured primarily brass bars, dark booths, steak-and-martini dinners, and rubbing shoulders with political elite, for the past couple of decades the city has been pushing the boundaries of culinary creativity with restaurants like Minibar, José Andres’s 12-seat, fine dining restaurant; Vikram Sunderam’s modern Indian hotspot, Rasika; and Rose’s Luxury, the inventive New American small-plates joint that has daily lines down the block.
Of course, many of the classics are still around, too—Old Ebbitt grill is still a meeting spot for politicians, restaurant industry insiders, and locals craving happy hour oysters. And because DC is an international hub, it’s an excellent place to find top-notch restaurants specializing in cuisines from every inch of the globe, from Laotian and Spanish to Georgian and Ethiopian, with mashups of everything in between.
With 20 Michelin stars across 16 restaurants, multiple James Beard awards, and countless “Hot 100″ lists to its name, Washington, DC, is, more than ever, a destination dining city.
To guide us through the maze of options, we consulted some of the chefs and restaurateurs that have had a hand in building DC’s impressive dining culture. These include Pizzeria Paradiso’s chef-owner Ruth Gresser and beverage director Drew McCormick; Rubén Garcia, director of creativity at Minibar; chef Amy Brandwein of Centrolina; chef Opie Crooks of A Rake’s Progress; and James Simpson, beverage director of Espita Mezcaleria.
Here are some of their favorite spots for drinks, late-night eats, breakfast and brunch, special-occasion meals, and local classics that you absolutely can’t miss on a trip to the nation’s capital. You’ll see that some locations are technically in Maryland, but all restaurants are accessible via the DC metro.