When it’s your job to write about food, everyone always wants a restaurant recommendation. There are the usual questions like “Where should I take my parents to dinner?” or “Where should I go on a first date?” And then there are the impossibly specific requests: “Where can I get a last-minute reservation on a Saturday night for 10 people when one is gluten-free, another is vegan, and a third doesn’t drink? Oh, and no small plates, spicy food, or loud music.”
For this year’s Food Issue, we set out to answer those questions and everything in between. (Except that last one. That group should probably just stay in.) We asked readers for situations or occasions for which they need suggestions on where to go, and we were flooded with inquiries like “What’s the best place for a double date with a couple you hate?” and “Where do I take my smug New York friends out to dinner when they actually decide to come down to D.C. for a weekend?”
We also came up with a few common scenarios of our own. So whether you’re celebrating an anniversary, meeting colleagues, breaking up with someone, or trying to have a decent meal with three kids without hipster judgement, we have a restaurant or bar here for everyone and everything. —Jessica Sidman
Just because your friend distrusts hollandaise sauce and subscribes to the philosophy that “brunch is for jerks” doesn’t mean you can’t nurse your hangovers together on a Saturday morning. Yes, brunch can be boring with its endless variations of eggs benedict and pancakes. And watching rowdy 23-year-olds chug back bottomless mimosas can be as headache-inducing as drinking them yourself. But you need not even use the b-word at Doi Moi. The Southeast Asian restaurant on 14th Street NW recently introduced a brunch menu that has has plenty of overlap with the dinner menu. Egg-haters will find refuge in fried pork dumplings, spicy green papaya salad, and lemongrass beef and vermicelli noodles. Even the brunchier dishes are far from cliché, including an excellent banh mi with scrambled eggs and Vietnamese sesame seed beignets with a pandan pastry cream for dipping. Mimosas also get a major upgrade with carrot and ginger. Maybe brunch isn’t so bad after all? —Jessica Sidman
Sorry Aunt Lilly Pulitzer, we don’t have any Michelin-starred restaurants in these parts. But if we did, you’d probably find one or two stars at Komi. The Dupont Circle mainstay from chef Johnny Monis should meet her expectations in terms of food, wine, and service. Though the fine dining haven isn’t the newest in town, the restaurant isn’t resting on its laurels. Small bites fly out of the kitchen and into the hands of expert servers who glissade like ballerinas around the dining room. On a recent visit, highlights from the ever-changing tasting menu included a duck rillette boosted by half-smoke spice and warm dates stuffed with mascarpone. The meal crescendos with a family-style entrée, the most craveable of which is a Greek-style goat leg served with sauces, pickles, and pita. Someone warn auntie that just because she’s throwing down $135 for dinner doesn’t mean she won’t be asked to eat with her hands. To secure a table, your best bet is to call one month in advance of the date you’d like to dine. —Laura Hayes
Skip the Capitol building and head up North Capitol Street to DCity Smokehouse. The barbecue joint isn’t near museums or hotels, so it’s not the type of place tourists would usually wander. The location will give them just a peek at a slightly grittier D.C. without the manicured flower beds and neoclassical architecture. Inside the cramped quarters, they’ll find a haven of meat that’s so much better than downtown’s steakhouses. D.C. isn’t exactly known for barbecue, but pitmaster Robert Sonderman might be able to convince these outsiders otherwise with his delightfully fatty brisket and smoked ribs. Don’t pass up the Meaty Palmer, either. This epic Texas toast sandwich is stuffed with smoked turkey, pork belly, smashed avocado, tomatoes, chipotle aioli, and cilantro ranch. If the tourists try to make any comparisons to fictional Freddy’s BBQ Joint in House of Cards, just shake your head and sigh. —Jessica Sidman
Your too-hip friends have arrived from Brooklyn bragging about how they shared an Uber because Bolt Bus is passé. Now it’s up to you to show them that D.C. knows how to let its hair down. Instruct the visiting gaggle to check their Apple watches and get in line at Dupont’s Little Serow around 4:30 p.m. for a meal that’s quirky, flavorful, and memorable enough to change their perspective on the District. They’ll fall in “like” immediately with the spicy, funky northern Thai food, servers in flowery Little House on the Prairie-like dresses average Janes can only hope to look good in, and twangy music. Then the tasting menu of seven family-style dishes begins, each escalating in heat that will have them reaching for an off-dry Riesling or some Chang beer. They’ll be shocked to find out the tasting menu from acclaimed chef Johnny Monis is only $45. Good luck getting a value like that in New York. —Laura Hayes
No matter when you dine at Stephen Starr’s brassy brasserie, it feels like there’s a party going on. The crowd is boisterous; the sound of conversation, clinking glasses, and clattering cutlery bounce through the Frenchified corner dining room. Servers weave between the tables with a speedy determination carrying magnificent towers of shellfish, wooden platters of super rich foie gras parfait, and epic cheese boards. If you want to live large and spend money, Le Diplomate is more than happy to help. So when you do sit down for a celebratory meal, let yourself indulge in the extravagance of the meal. Yes, we will have another bottle of wine. More foie as well, please! You deserve it. —Nevin Martell
If you’re meeting up with someone you connected with by swiping right, you probably don’t know their drink preferences or interests. You’ll need to find a place that’s not fussy and has a selection of drinks for every taste. Enter A&D, the cozy but slightly anonymous Shaw spot perfect for hanging out with someone you’ve never met before. In addition to its quirky cocktail menu, which offers twists on classics like martinis and old fashioneds, the bar also serves several varieties of bro beers (Yuengling, Narragansett) for less adventurous drinkers. Should you find yourself hungry, pick out a few nostalgic snacks like Goldfish, chili mac, and French bread pizza, and get those awkward childhood stories out of the way. A late-night game of foosball at the table in the back helps you fill awkward silences or determine how competitive your potential mate might be. —Caroline Jones
There are a half-dozen guys parked at the bar, well-dressed and waiting. One by one, their dates arrive. Maybe it’s the California-esque coolness of the H Street NE space or ready-to-share platters of Cambodian-Taiwanese food, but one thing’s for sure, this bar and restaurant is the place to flirt and potentially hook up. “We’ve got your whole Tinder date covered here,” says Mike Galyen, whose company Guerilla Vending built a custom vending machine for Maketto that’s got everything you’ll need for a night out. The machine, located on Maketto’s second floor balcony, stocks all kinds of phone chargers, “so you can sit at the bar and swipe right to your heart’s content,” Galyen says. There are also breath mints, and for when things heat up, condoms. So far, the Magnums far outsell the regular-sized condoms. “Maybe they’re buying the Magnums as a joke, or maybe they’re trying to impress their date,” Galyen says. “Whatever it is, we keep restocking.” —Tim Ebner
The stakes here are obviously higher than they’d be with a stranger you met on OkCupid. To exit the friend zone, head to 2 Birds 1 Stone. Your best bet for a take-it-to-the-next-level evening is to secure one of the private nooks where you can sit side-by-side. Since your friend is gorgeous, you’ll be thankful that the dim lighting makes you look equally—er, almost—as good. Liquid courage is beautifully crafted no matter which cocktail you order. If you like piña coladas (and, you know, getting caught in the rain), 2 Birds makes a fresh version of the tropical drink that even the most sophisticated drinkers will appreciate. If all else fails, maybe the restrooms with their softcore porn wallpaper will get your friend in the mood for something more? —Jessica Sidman
These days, it seems like drinking and dating are inextricably linked. But it doesn’t have to be that way. At the Dolcezza Factory, prospective romantic partners can bond over freshly churned gelato instead of booze. Each weekend, Dolcezza’s staffers throw open their walk-in freezers and invite patrons to peek inside during free tours. After a 10-minute twirl around the operation, attendees receive spoon-sized samples of the factory’s most recently made batch. Dolcezza co-owner Robb Duncan says the tours are perfect for kindling fiery romances—and whatever may come next. “We’ve definitely had first dates,” Duncan says. “We’ve also had people tell us they conceived a baby because of our dark chocolate gelato.” But no pressure: Dolcezza Factory’s close proximity to Union Market and the Angelika Pop-Up means a first date could just as easily move to dinner and a movie. —Tim Regan
The third date can make or break your budding relationship, so it’s time to graduate from drinks to dinner. Go the Chipotle-casual route, and your date might think you’re cheap and not serious. Choose fine dining, and the formalness might stifle your conversation. Etto’s light-filled dining room is a solid Goldilocks-type choice (except the food is much better than porridge). You can’t go wrong starting with any of the “on the board” antipasti—romanesco cauliflower, artichoke hearts, porcini mushroom salad—displayed on the counter. Then, share your hopes, dreams, and pizza. While you probably want to avoid anchovies on a first date, embrace them on your third date pie. If your companion doesn’t mind kissing you with fish breath, he or she is probably a keeper. —Jessica Sidman
We live in more “poly” times, but dating two women at once in a single restaurant still isn’t a good idea. If you must, though, the obvious choice is Matchbox’s Chinatown location. This place has more chambers than a cow’s belly. Stash Date 1 on the secluded second floor with some sliders, then hustle downstairs to meet Date 2 on the patio. The labyrinthine layout will make your trips to the “bathroom” less suspicious. Even better, the reasonably priced pizza will keep down the eventual bill from two simultaneous dates. The downside here is that your dates will be too full for any after-dinner activities, but you probably don’t deserve that. Give yourself a pat on the back anyway—somehow, Dr. Crane, you pulled this one off. —Will Sommer
Ramen is not a meal meant for lingering. You’re supposed to eat it quickly, before the noodles get soggy, which means you can count on Daikaya’s ramen shop to get you in and out in less than 30 minutes. The quick escape is key when your significant other has wrangled you into double date with a couple you can’t stand. Plus, the menu is limited—ramen and dumplings—so you won’t waste a lot of time deciding what to order or negotiating “share plates.” (If you don’t like the company, you definitely won’t want to share.) In fact, you can practically avoid talking altogether when there’s so much slurping to do. Should the conversation turn to what color they’re painting the living room, the rhythmic wok-action in Daikaya’s open kitchen provides some distraction. And if your “friends” want to continue to hang out, you can easily suggest a movie across the street at Gallery Place. There’s no talking involved there. —Jessica Sidman
Helmed by co-chefs Ed Witt and Nate Anda, this dark-toned, low-lit Penn Quarter eatery is a no-cuts-barred meatropolis. The duo conjures up creative ways to use pigs, cows, and fowl from the tip to the tail and all points in between. Start with a selection of charcuterie, thoughtfully categorized by flavor profile—spicy hot, bright, smoky—making sure to order the pickled half-smoke, Negroni-inspired salami, and bacon liverwurst. There’s no hogging plates here—plan on eating family-style. The slow-cooked pork shoulder, with its epic spread of Napa cabbage cups, sauces, and pickled components, is great for groups, so you can build your own wraps. Bolder diners can opt for the roasted pig’s head, which wouldn’t look out of place in a Game of Thrones feast scene. But don’t worry: Meals at the Partisan don’t end like the Red Wedding. You will walk out alive, even if you do have a glorious case of the meat sweats. —Nevin Martell
Why stop at vegetarian when Equinox will do you one better? The downtown staple that helped grandfather the seasonal menu movement in D.C. offers a $65 five-course vegan tasting menu that will make you completely forget that time you tried vegan “cheese.” Dishes, which change regularly, might include barbecue oyster mushrooms “on the half shell,” an asparagus terrine, or a barley and mushroom “risotto.” Even the “butter” served with the bread basket is made with olive oil. The great thing is that the kitchen really has fun with it, and you never get the feeling that they’re pandering. Indeed, chef and owner Todd Gray’s inspiration was his wife’s vegan dabblings, so his efforts to please non-meat eaters is a very personal one. For those who really must have dairy, a cheese plate from the regular menu can be ordered as a meal-ender. And if you manage to seal the deal with your date, come back for the vegan brunch buffet on Sundays. —Rina Rapuano
Ugh: You just can’t drag yourself to an elliptical machine, and you’re feeling kind of guilty about it. Double ugh: the thought of another salad. Thankfully, José Andrés has taken his “vegetables are sexy” motto to a whole new level with his new fast-casual eatery Beefsteak (named after the tomato). Here, meat is the backup dancer and vegetables are Beyoncé. Make your own bowl with a garden’s worth of ingredients blanched then served with a choice of grains (quinoa, bulgur), sauces (garlic yogurt, spicy tomato), and toppings (pumpkin seeds, toasted seaweed). If the many combinations are too daunting, opt for one of four signature bowls like the Eden or Kimchi-Wa with optional add ons like a poached egg or salt-cured salmon. It’s so filling and flavorful, you might just forget that you’re eating healthy—or that your Fitbit hates you. —Jessica Sidman
When your parents come to town, it’s always a good idea to assure them you are a fully functional adult. Georgetown’s Chez Billy Sud is the kind of classy place that says, “I have my life together, mom and dad. I order pâté.”
Sure, Le Diplomate gets all the attention when it comes to French restaurants in D.C. But Chez Billy Sud is every bit as satisfying and charming without feeling like you’re storming the Bastille to get a table. The pale seafoam green-walled dining room populated with white-clothed tables has an elegant air without feeling too stuffy. For something a tad more casual, the outdoor patio—just beyond the din of M Street NW—is most likely to transport you to an alleyway in Provence with its canary walls, ocean blue window shutters, potted flowers, and bright yellow umbrellas.
The spin-off of Petworth’s Chez Billy hones in on southern France not just in feel but cuisine, as well. And the menu works whether your parents are gourmands or not. Were you raised by steak and potato types? Chez Billy Sud’s steak frites is a solid bet. Foodie folks? They’ll appreciate how chef Brendan L’Etoile makes even the most classic dishes feel fresh. A vichyssoise tastes as sophisticated as its name sounds when the clean, smooth potato soup is dressed up with a hint of lemon, a dollop of crème fraîche, some greens, and pops of yellow and purple nasturtium petals. A more decadent way to start the meal is with the oeuf en meurette, a red wine-poached duck egg on garlicky toast in a nest of chanterelles.
Before you break the news about your new boyfriend/girlfriend, make sure your parents order the duck à l’orange. The tender breast meat and crispy skin is served atop a bright sweet potato puree and sweet bitter orange sauce with farro and swiss chard. After a couple bites, mom and dad will hardly protest when you tell them about the 15-year age gap between you and your new love interest. On second thought, you should probably order a bottle of wine, too. —Jessica Sidman
A potentially awkward introduction requires an ice-breaker, and China Chilcano in Penn Quarter is chock full of them. First off, you can unite the parents by ensuring they are equally baffled by the cuisine. “Is it Peruvian, Chinese, or Japanese?” they will ask. “Yes!” you will say triumphantly as they all look at each other shaking their heads in wonder. Reserve a lazy-susan table (because it’s interactive retro fun), then order a parade of sharable dishes they’ve never heard of and watch them bond over actually loving it. We recommend the California “causagiri” (a fusion of a Peruvian potato dish called causa and Japanese nigiri sushi); the scallop siu mai; and the tam tam noodles, a delicious riff on Chinese dan dan noodles. Ply them with pisco sours, and your parents are primed and ready for your announcement that you’ve actually been living together for the past four months with no plans of getting married or delivering grandchildren. —Rina Rapuano
Sure, you could be that couple who gets engaged in the middle of a restaurant. But this ain’t the movies, and you can do better than that. Instead, we suggest you book a table at Fiola Mare, one of the prettiest dining rooms in town, and take her (or him) for a walk along the Georgetown waterfront before dinner. Proposing at sunset is a classic move for a reason, and the view of Roosevelt Island, the Potomac River, and the Kennedy Center is a more than memorable backdrop. Once your beloved says “yes” and all the tears have been dabbed, head inside for the royal treatment, which might include Champagne and roses if you call ahead. —Rina Rapuano
If you’re looking for something that shouts Really Big Deal, this Robert Wiedmaier spot in Foggy Bottom has just the right ratio of gravitas to celebratory vibe. For one thing, it has an outstanding Champagne program, and a big anniversary deserves some bubbly. Plus, all that wine will help make the formal dining room feel a bit less stuffy. You’ll both feel pampered by the luxe service, and you’ll bond over the parade of truly outstanding dishes coming your way. If you call ahead, they’ll likely trot out a few personal touches like a special menu printed with a congratulatory message and a gussied-up dessert plate. Sure, it’s pricey—tasting menus range from $90 to $150 per person—but maybe the 10th anniversary is all about reminding her that she’s worth it. —Rina Rapuano
There comes a time when “I have to stay home and water my plants” won’t fly as an excuse anymore. Whether it’s a persistent acquaintance or a pity date, sometimes you just need to suck it up and agree to meet for a meal. So it might as well be a great meal that’s cheap and quick. Donburi in Adams Morgan doesn’t have to eat up more than 30 minutes from your day or $10 from your wallet (although the barbecued eel rice bowl is worth a splurge for nearly $18). Even if your company is meh, panko-crusted fried chicken or salmon sashimi atop perfect beads of white rice won’t be. The sweet and savory donburi sauce with mirin, soy sauce, and dashi that accompanies most bowls is a magical gravy. And because the counter seating faces the open kitchen, you don’t have to spend too much time actually looking at the other person. Cold hearted? Hey, you introduced them to Donburi, didn’t you? You’re a saint. —Jessica Sidman
Considering you’ve likely been dealing with some heavy stuff lately, here’s a whole girls’ night itinerary that’s sure to help you shake off that bastard. (You did say “celebrate.”) Start at Mockingbird Hill in Shaw, a dignified, grown-up place where the cocktails taste great and you can let your friends know how you’re doing. After all, if there’s drinking involved, it’s good to get all that emotional stuff out of the way before you’re too far gone.
While you’re there, order a few snacks to give your stomach a fighting chance to handle what you’re about to throw at it. Try the toasted bread with boquerones, a plate of Manchego with cocoa-covered corn nuts, and an order of pickled garlic—a little insurance policy against ditching your friends later for some random hookup.
Following a couple rounds here, head over to nearby All Souls Bar (725 T St. NW), where the cocktails pack a wallop, you can amuse yourself with the jukebox, and the whole place feels a bit more like a party. Order a drink with bourbon or rye and feel yourself starting to let loose.
Your next mission is to hop in a cab and head over to Showtime Lounge (113 Rhode Island Ave. NW), a subterranean cash-only bar in Bloomingdale that seems like the kind of place destined to be filled to the brim with smug hipsters but is delightfully diverse. At this point in the evening, you should be decidedly less particular about what you’re drinking, and the fanciest thing you can risk here is a gin and tonic. Better yet, order a whiskey shot and a Natty Boh for $5 and hit the tiny, makeshift dance floor. You might find a band or a DJ, depending on the night, but the music will always be awesome.
If it’s not too late, and you’re hungry again, cross the street to El Camino (108 Rhode Island Ave. NW), where you’ll find late-night tacos and, of course, a girl’s best friend: a well-made margarita. —Rina Rapuano
There’s something poetic about closing the last chapter of your relationship at a place called Afterwords. But the Dupont bar and cafe, attached to Kramerbooks, also has some practical perks as a break-up spot. Whether the heartbreaker or the heartbroken, someone is going to want a quick exit by the end. Afterwords Cafe provides several escape routes (three, to be exact), so you don’t have to awkwardly walk out together. But before anyone flees the scene with runny mascara, there should probably be alcohol—or at least a huge slice of Death by Chocolate cake—to soften the blow. Afterwords’ bar is a low-stakes place for a beer or glass of wine with the added benefit of an extensive selection of cakes and pies so you can eat your feelings. Not to mention, you don’t even have to leave the building for emotional support. Self-help books are just a few steps away. —Jessica Sidman
Don’t even bother trying to make a reservation at the Red Hen. Aside from the fact that tables book up well in advance, the best seats are actually for walk-ins at the bar. In fact, the 18-seat, U-shaped bar is the focal point of the dining room, not a counter shoved to the side. The tall chairs provide the perfect perch for checking out the wood-fired grills that add smoke and flames to dishes like grilled octopus and and a spicy, lemony chicken “fra diavolo.” There’s no special bar snacks menu here. Rather, dig into a full dinner, and don’t skip the homemade pastas, especially the rigatoni with fennel sausage ragu. A bar seat also provides some quality time with your bartender, which you’ll want given the Red Hen’s unique but concise drink menu with orange wine, funky cider, and bitter cocktails. If you did put your name down for a table, by the time it’s ready, you won’t want it anyway. —Jessica Sidman
If the nine-step wikiHow article “How to Eat Alone” is to be believed, dining solo is a complicated and nerve-wracking experience that requires preparation and fortitude of spirit. “Just say ‘table for one please’ or ‘it’s just me this evening.’ Smile,” it advises. “It’s OK, they want to serve you and are happy you came.”
With all due respect to wikiHow, that’s bullshit. Not only is eating alone relaxing, but it does not require apologetic politeness, especially at a place like Granville Moore’s. Located in an unassuming rowhouse on H Street NE, Granville Moore’s can offer you three things: spectacular Belgian food, low-key staff, and the feeling of privacy in a public place. The interior is dark—dim lighting, limited natural light, rich brown wood—so if you do feel some (unnecessary) anxiety about being alone, you at least won’t feel exposed. With bars on the first and second floors, there are plenty of stools to occupy, and the bartenders are always friendly and unobtrusive. Talking is an option but doesn’t feel like a requirement. Most importantly, the mussels and frites are the best in the city. The lack of a dining partner will be forgotten as you pry open perfectly cooked bivalves swimming in a blue cheese, pork belly, and white wine base. —Sarah Anne Hughes
Right Proper’s back bar is a perfect perch from which beer lovers can admire the Shaw brewpub’s shiny tanks and rows of stacked barrels while tasting housemade beers. But when dining with friends less into brews, try the front restaurant, where it’s less obvious this place is all about beer. They’ll likely be distracted by the modern rustic aesthetic or well-stocked cheese case. If not, focus them on chef Sarah Biglan’s comforting pub food menu, full of dishes accented with Southern or international flair like the pork rind nachos, chilled lo mein salad, or eight-hour lamb French dip. Then slip them the list of daily specials, which has featured delights ranging from menudo and beef cheek chimichangas to fried catfish bites and wings done a dozen ways. Your friends will be none the wiser as you point them toward the selection of cider, wine (on tap and in bottles), and spirits, while you order from head brewer Nathan Zeender’s always impressive drafts. And for more adventurous companions willing to try some “fancy” beer, Zeender is known for flavorful, well-balanced brews—many of them low in alcohol—that are just good drinks and thus a perfect entry point for the uninitiated. After a few trips, these beer-weary friends just may start dragging you to breweries. —Tammy Tuck
It can be hard to impress a person who owns more amaros than video games and finds nothing eye-roll-worthy about a hand-carved cube of artisanal ice. Barmini, the cocktail “laboratory” from José Andrés, not only has fancy schmancy ice, but a slew of techniques and ingredients that you won’t find elsewhere. The Highlander, a somewhat savory concoction of Scotch, mezcal, and rosemary, comes with a crème de cacao “cloud” whose smoke-like vapors add chocolatey notes as they spill out of the wine glass that holds this head-turning drink. The cotton candy old fashioned, another Barmini staple, is topped with a fluff of Angostura bitters-flavored cotton candy, which dissolves as the whiskey drink is poured into the glass. If your companion prefers classics to gimmicks, Barmini has those, too. After all, the cocktail menu brags more than 100 offerings, organized by spirit, and bartenders are always happy to make you something based on your preferences. It’s not the cheapest spot for a tipple—most beverages are in the $14 to $16 range—but such is the price for one of the most unique cocktail bars in the city, if not the country. Not only will the snob in your life be pleased, you may even stop rolling your eyes at those crystal clear cubes of ice. —Jessica Sidman
I can barely write this over the din of reader outrage. “Does BTS even count as a drinking spot?!” go the complaints. “Who wants to drink alone at a burger joint?!” shrill the people. Before you reach for your torches and pitchforks, hear me out: If you’re in the mood to live-tweet inane or mystifying conversations around you, there’s really no better place to go than the fast food joint where George Washington University students converge alongside hospital visitors. “They don’t know if he’s going to make it,” I once heard there. Meanwhile, the students will offer you the kind of first-world-problems sound bytes that make for Twitter gold. “My mom would never let me get a second hole pierced in my ears,” griped one college-aged woman at BTS one time. Yeah, I tweeted it. Or how about “I only date blue-eyed men”? Also tweeted. If you can handle the vocal fry, you’ll have plenty of material for your followers. —Emily Q. Hazzard
There are few places in D.C. where you can drink while being entertained on the cheap. The District has its fair share of sports bars, but they require a baseline tolerance for sports. Establishments like Penn Social and Rocket Bar have pool tables and bar games, but the clientele, especially when drunk, can be hard to tolerate. That’s why I’m forever grateful for Atlas Arcade, the H Street NE dive bar plus old-school arcade. It houses quarter-operated games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons, Big Buck Hunter, and Revolution X, a rail shooter game that features the band Aerosmith. A dollar plunked down at the four-seat bar buys you an hour of Sega or Nintendo 64 time, with several games to choose from, including Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario Bros. Cans of beer start at $3.50, and snacks like Pop-Tarts are available for a couple of bucks. A few beers combined with a competitive nature usually results in someone screaming about Sonic’s inability to just GO FASTER AND GET SOME RINGS ALREADY. This behavior, while embarrassing the next day, is mercifully tolerated and even encouraged by other patrons who just want to see you get past level one.
—Sarah Anne Hughes
You’re short on cash, flush with time, and in need of some kind of serendipity. There’s really only one place to go: Red Derby. Bohs and Strohs are $1 before 8 p.m. every day, and you have no good reason not to start drinking early. The waitstaff is the coolest around, and the patrons tend to be an extroverted bunch. As the beers fly, so will the conversation and probably the Cards Against Humanity decks. Roll with it. Get inspired. Your career revelations might not seem quite so revelatory when you awake from your nine-hour power nap at 5 a.m., but you’ll be relieved when you check your wallet and find that you somehow dropped just 10 bucks in a full afternoon of drinking. (Keep in mind the bar is cash only.) If you go back again the next day, surely better ideas will come to you. Or hey, maybe the Derby’s hiring? —Aaron Wiener
Three things matter at a business lunch: Can I afford it? Will it be quick? And can I bring an undetectable buzz back to the office? The Oval Room hits all the marks with its $20 business lunch at the bar, which includes one entrée, one dessert, and one drink (wine or a soft drink). The Oval Room is particularly worthy of a woo-me lunch because of its recent acquisition of executive chef John Melfi. He opened Fiola Mare under chef Fabio Trabocchi, but that’s not to say the food is always fussy. Try Melfi’s pork belly Cuban sandwich or corned duck breast Reuben. Desserts are light—think seasonal sorbet or devil’s food cake—with the exception of the cookie plate you can opt to bring back to the office. —Laura Hayes
The Venetian Room is as quiet and muffled as crypt, and it’s decorated in the neo-traditional “no one ever seems to come here, why bother updating the decor?” style that is something of a signature for hotel bars. You and your secret source can have a totally private conversation at one of the small booths or tables, because the furnishings (everything is velvet and cushiony, down to the walls and drapes) absorb all the sound. It’s rare that there are more than a few occupied tables at any given time, so you can both find seats and be pretty sure no one is going to walk in on you. The likeliest scenario, no matter the hour, is that you’re the only ones there. The drinks epitomize no-nonsense—don’t expect a cocktail menu with local herb infusions or housemade bitters. The Manhattans are perfectly serviceable. At the very least, it’s a nicer place to meet your source than a Rosslyn parking garage. —Emily Q. Hazzard
Work dinners usually involve boring, chain-like restaurants chosen to appeal to the lowest common denominator of tastes. But what if you could find a reasonably priced, centrally located spot with beautifully executed food that will actually please everyone? Central, founded by award-winning chef Michel Richard, is exactly that place. It’ll make the office planners happy because of its flexibility; you can book a private room that seats up to 16 or a semi-private table that accommodates up to 25 (both with views of the kitchen). Perhaps best of all, though, is that you won’t have to listen to that guy from Gaithersburg who won’t eat anything more daring than a ham sandwich complain about the food. There’s fried chicken on the menu, for Pete’s sake. And it’ll be the best damn fried chicken he’s ever had. —Rina Rapuano
Ah, yes: The we’re-on-a-break-but-maybe-I-still-love-you-but-probably-I’m-just-lonely anniversary dinner. Who hasn’t been there?
First, you don’t take her to dinner; you go to breakfast. Why? Because after the inevitable weeping and uncomfortable conversations about why your relationship just isn’t going to work out, you have the whole day in front of you to spend on activities that aren’t miserable. It also subtracts alcohol from the situation, which may seem like a negative, but in retrospect you’ll be glad you didn’t make any booze-fueled mistakes.
Instead of going to a fancy brunch restaurant, take her to Jimmy T’s Place, a greasy spoon in a quiet section of Capitol Hill. It’s a tiny spot with a no-nonsense staff, so you’ll be forced to behave in a quiet and decent manner. It also serves excellent breakfast food (basics like eggs, fried potatoes, and scrapple made behind the counter) and classic diner coffee (hot, brown) in eclectic mugs. If this is your final meal with your former flame, Jimmy T’s will lend a certain cinematic charm to the memory with its tin ceilings, don’t-give-a-damn decor, and mismatched cutlery and dinnerware. (“As she sipped coffee from a Garfield mug…” your anonymous essay for Thought Catalog will begin.) If you’re seated near the bay window and the conversation starts to become a bummer, you can gaze out onto tree-lined East Capitol Street and people-watch.
Now let’s say your relationship is less-than-egalitarian, and you’re expected to pick up the bill. At Jimmy T’s, a cash-only establishment, the check is almost guaranteed to be less than $20. A pancake, two strips of bacon, and eggs will run you a whopping $4; the most expensive dish on the menu is still less than $8. So while you may walk away with a proverbial hole in your heart, you won’t walk away with one in your pocket. —Sarah Anne Hughes
The Pug billed Wednesday, May 13 as the “home team showcase.” The Capitals were at Madison Square Garden facing off against the New York Rangers in game seven. The Wizards were down in Atlanta, tied 2-2 with the Hawks. Meanwhile, the Nationals had just beaten the Arizona Diamondbacks with a 9th inning grand slam. And over at RFK Stadium, D.C. United had just scored its second, and game-winning, goal against Orlando. Wednesday night was on-track to become a perfect, four-team win situation.
There are seven televisions inside the Pug, all of them are tuned to D.C. sports, and that night, the crowd was standing room only. “This fills my heart with joy to hear people cheering and chanting,” said owner Tony Tomelden, a life-long, diehard D.C. sports fan. “Seeing all these red shirts, it’s really exciting. But I’m also extremely terrified. I’m terrified of the Caps and the Wizards losing, of course!”
In this cramped H Street NE bar, we were all Tomelden. We sat and watched feeling terrified. We had come to expect the worst. You see, this championship-starved city really only has one coping mechanism when it comes to professional sports: booze.
Fortunately, the Pug understands this ailment and pairs D.C. sports with beer accordingly. For the home team showcase, there were $5 draft specials on all D.C. beers: Hellbender’s IPA, DC Brau’s El Hefe Speaks!, and Atlas Brew Works’ District Commons. The bar also pays its respects to Baltimore with beers from the Brewer’s Art and Union Brewing. The beer specials are a welcome distraction from the drama playing out across the screens.
Just like any tormented sports fan, the Pug has a variety of superstitions. “Local sports first and foremost must be turned on, and we don’t turn up the volume for any of the games,” Tomelden says. “Bad things happen when the sound is on. I’ve seen spoiled no-hitters and game-losing errors.” Instead, the Pug plays music to fit the hometown vibe from bands like Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers.
Later that night, inevitably, the Capitals lost to the Rangers in overtime. The Wizards fell short to Atlanta, 81-82. From across the bar, Tomelden’s face said it all: despair. But hey, at least the D.C. beer doesn’t suck. — Tim Ebner
Please, just say “no” to a steakhouse. It’s predictable and cliché, and does red meat really seal the deal like it used to? Instead, throw down the company’s AmEx for one of the most unique Japanese restaurants in the city. Sushi Taro is as serious about its super fresh fish as you are about your business. For those really, really important clients, nothing says “what recession?” like a reservation at the omakase counter in the restaurant’s private back room, where you and your guests will be treated to a progression of delicacies which aren’t always on the regular menu. The tasting, which you should plan to reserve up to a month in advance, starts at $140, but can go higher. If your company doesn’t have that kind of cash to throw around, opt for a lunch meeting instead. A bento box with a choice of sushi, fried chicken, or grilled salmon comes with tempura, sashimi, pickles, miso soup, and rice for an accounting department-friendly $13. —Jessica Sidman
I was born in Manhattan and raised in the Empire State, so I have always had an innate affinity for a New York-style pizza. I love the simplicity of it: crust, sauce, cheese. Sure, you can get fancy with the toppings or perk things up with few shakes of red pepper flakes, but those are purely optional. When I moved to the District eight years ago, I searched in vain for a Gotham-inspired pizzeria to satiate my need for a taste of home. None of them stacked up (though the absence of New York-style slices did help me fall deeply in love with the traditions of Neapolitan pizzaiolos). But then Wiseguy NY Pizza arrived in Mount Vernon Triangle in late 2012. Initially, I was suspicious, but a single visit was enough to convince me they’re the real deal. Sold by the slice or as full pies, these pizzas embody NYC’s traditions: foldable crust that can still bear the weight of the toppings, savory tomato sauce with a hint of sweetness, and a grease-rich layer of gooey mozz. If you want to go beyond the basics, the spicy Brooklyn Bridge with sausage, extra cheese, and onions should not be missed. Close your eyes and you just might think you’re up in one of the five boroughs. —Nevin Martell
I’m hot, pregnant, and always thirsty. Sadly, my requests for non-alcoholic drinks are usually met with a run-down of (gun) sodas and (carton) juices. But at Trummer’s on Main, co-owner and mixologist Stefan Trummer always features two mocktails on his drinks list and is happy to work with guests to develop custom virgin beverages featuring seasonal produce like watermelon and rhubarb plus fresh herbs like sage, rosemary, and mint. One favorite off-the-menu puckerer combines Granny Smith apple purée, sweet lime juice, apple juice, and dill. Trummer, who has a four-year-old and an 11-month-old with his co-owner wife Victoria, says mocktails are also popular with kids. The restaurant’s new “Petit Gourmand Menu” is tailored to a younger set and features dishes like horseradish crusted salmon and fried arancini. Just ask what the 10-year-old next to you is drinking. —Jessica Strelitz
Many babies sleep well in a room filled with the ambient noise of chattering voices and clinking glasses and silverware, especially when snuggled up in a car carrier or stroller. If you’re lucky, you should be able make it through a few courses without interruption. But if your small person is alert, mobile, and craving solid foods, it can be tougher to find a kid-friendly restaurant that isn’t going to expect you to eat fried chicken fingers too. Firefly, a hotel restaurant that doesn’t feel like one, has catered to tiny diners for years—from the oversized cookie that children can decorate while they wait for their meal and eat as a personalized dessert to several kids’ menus, including one tailored to the under-five set that features grilled chicken bites and baby shrimp. Request a table near the front windows, which provides both the distraction of bustling Dupont and a closed-in patio for wanderers, or in the back dining area if you prefer a quieter spot for a light sleeper or a sound cushion for a loud toddler. There is a changing station in one of the unisex bathrooms (a rarity in higher-end D.C. dining establishments) and plenty of boosters and high chairs to go around. Sunday nights attract the most family diners, so book in advance or take this as a warning. —Jessica Strelitz
While the downstairs bar and lounge area can be a raucous singles-sphere, if you head up the winding staircase, you’ll be rewarded with a spacious, relaxed dining area at this Mexican hotspot in Clarendon.
The most popular time for families to dine is brunch or early dinner hours. They gravitate toward the upstairs area’s oversized booths and perimeter tables that offer plenty of space for strollers, kids’ chairs, diaper bags, and everything you need to bring to ensure a pleasant dining experience for all. The second floor also features colorful lighting and large, unisex bathrooms with changing stations.
Smaller diners are offered interactive menus with games and Spanish lessons, as well as crayons and Wikki Stix for tabletop arts-and-crafts. “Our mentality is the happier the kids, the happier the parents,” says general manager Alan Grublauskas.
The regular menu offers plenty that kids will want to eat off your plate—from creamy queso fundido to crispy sopes with pork and black beans. Meanwhile, the kids’ menu is appetizing enough that the sharing can go both ways. Offerings include smaller sizes of tempura-battered or grilled fish, thinly pounded chicken Milanesa, and shrimp tacos with sides like sweet plantains, Mexican rice, or crispy fried yucca.
Fuego’s deep margarita list also yields treats for the non-drinking set. The hibiscus, pineapple, guava, and lime drinks that are often blended with tequila and triple sec can also be made into alcohol-free agua frescas. Freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juices often make it into sippy cups. But every twentysomething in the room will be eyeing your kid’s float made with Mexican Coke or root beer (made for Passion Food Hospitality sister restaurant Burger Tap & Shake in Foggy Bottom) topped with vanilla ice cream.
That’s not the only sweet thing that you’ll want to enjoy with your tots. Warm churros, dusted with cinnamon and brown sugar, come with a caramel dipping sauce. It’s a sticky, messy ending, but hey, you don’t have to clean it up. Which reminds me: If you bring in your brood, tip well. —Jessica Strelitz
Ripple general manager Danny Fisher has a fear that predates his five years overseeing the popular Cleveland Park dining room. He remembers a wine trip in Oregon that ended with an emergency visit to the hospital after someone with a severe nut allergy accidentally ate a dish with almonds. “We’re pretty intense about it,” he says of the Ripple staff. “It’s kind of drilled into our servers that we don’t need anyone having to go to the hospital or using an EpiPen.” For that reason, he recommends diners with allergies contact the restaurant the day they plan to come in, and the kitchen will do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of that customer. The kitchen will sanitize all stations, change out the boiling water, and basically take all precautionary measures possible. “Unless it’s a laundry list of issues, our staff is prepared,” says Fisher. “It’s just something that we take very seriously.” —Rina Rapuano
Osteria Morini is already on track to sell 45,000 bowls of pasta in 2015, according to chef Matt Adler. That’s one bowl for every fan attending a sold-out Nationals game down the street, with 3,000 ticket-holders going back for seconds. The pasta section of the Navy Yard restaurant’s menu is 10 lines deep, making it the perfect pick for runners looking to carbo-load before a big race. No judgment on whether it’s a marathon or the end of your couch-to-5K program. The Romagna-inspired bowls range from seasonal offerings to signature dishes such as bucatini with crab, sea urchin, basil, and Calabrian chili. Adler reaches deep into his Rolodex of pasta shapes, pulling out unfamiliar squiggles, coils, and pockets like casarecce, pansotti, and gramigna, to name a few. Finish with pastry chef Alex Levin’s peanut butter and chocolate budino. The Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup on steroids will get you through that last mile. —Laura Hayes
Gluten-free pizza shouldn’t taste as dried out as the Nilla wafers you used to dunk in milk for an after-school snack. Nor should gluten-free noodles clump into gummy wads of substitute starch. That’s why Urbana Executive Chef Ethan McKee put a lot of elbow grease into coming up with the perfect formula for the gluten-free dough he uses for pasta (chickpea and fava bean flour) and pizza (rice and soy flour). His gluten-free gemelli noodles can be topped with any pasta sauce on the menu for $2 extra, and all four pizzas can be made gluten-free for the same up-charge. There’s even better news for pals weary of ordering the one protein and side that skirts gluten on a menu. McKee says 90 percent of Urbana’s Mediterranean-inspired dishes are fair game. —Laura Hayes
You’re off to a good start. If you skipped breakfast and pushed lunch to 2 or 3 p.m., even better. Bub and Pop’s is best visited when you’re not just starving but frazzled and feeling like you deserve a reward. You’ll want to be in the right state of mind to accept the optional fried egg on a beef brisket sandwich that’s already rich with Gouda, veal jus, and horseradish cream. The bolognese parmesan sandwich—loaded up with meatballs, pork belly, and brisket—might sound like a bit much, and that’s exactly the point. Fill up further with a side of homemade chips and creamy, salty French onion dip, or consider the soup of the day, where seasonal ingredients get put to their best use. And while you’re at it, you might as well go for some pickles, like the giardiniera or “bowl of fire” with a variety of extra hot peppers. Bub and Pop’s is always turning out quirky specials, so don’t pass up any extras that might be gone tomorrow. I might have missed one of my past favorites—a chilled pea soup with pickled watermelon, radish, dragon fruit, and jalapeño—if I’d eaten breakfast that day and was only looking for a ho-hum half-sandwich lunch. Chef Jonathan Taub comes up with unusual flavors and experiments much more than your average hoagie joint. If breakfast makes you less likely to try them, you’re better off without it. —Zach Rausnitz
A gaggle of vultures lurks at Tryst, waiting to snap up any seat that becomes available. Taking a load off at the newer coffee options throughout Northwest D.C. isn’t much easier. And when you finally do secure a seat, you feel guilty about hogging it if you post up for an hour or two with a book. But if you’re on Kennedy Street NW, there’s a spot where you’ll feel no such pressure. Culture Coffee is as laid-back as cafes get. The coffee, roasted by Alexandria’s M.E. Swing Company, is tasty and affordable, and if you prefer something caffeine-free, smoothies and milkshakes are available. People on the retail-starved street seem eternally grateful to have a comfy gathering spot. Best of all, you’ll never have to lurk for a seat. —Aaron Wiener
Some people like to make a whole day out of hiking, visiting museums, or shopping. Then there are those who believe the ultimate way to spend a Saturday is eating, eating, and eating. (And drinking.) Union Market provides enough variety that you can’t fully experience it unless you stay all day. Kick off your morning with a pour-over coffee from Peregrine—or a bloody mary from Buffalo & Bergen—then migrate to Neopol Savory Smokery for a New York-transporting everything bagel with cream cheese and lox. Digest over a film at the Angelika Pop-Up a block away then return to the food emporium at lunchtime for a porkstrami sandwich at Red Apron Butcher or fish and chips from District Fishwife.
Idle away the afternoon outdoors with ping pong and piña colada slushies from Suburbia, a refurbished 1960s Airstream trailer that serves frozen cocktails. Next, pick up some handmade noodles and kimchi at Honeycomb and browse through gold-plated cocktail shakers and hand-painted serving bowls at Salt & Sundry. Hungry again? Time for some Olde Salts oysters and a crab cake at Rappahannock Oyster Bar. Make it the best day ever by capping off your eating tour at Dolcezza’s nearby factory for a scoop of Valrhona chocolate amargo gelato. —Jessica Sidman
Get your phone’s camera ready before you even enter the green-trimmed door. A photo of the line down the block is the ultimate way to show off your foodie cred. (Pro-tip: focus on the people behind you, not ahead of you. The fact that you arrived 45 minutes before opening and you’re the 53rd person in line is just depressing.) Once inside, you’ll find an Instagrammer’s paradise of flowery, gold-patterned china and quirky art with T-shirt-ready slogans like “awesome” and “fuck perfect.” If you’re feeling fancy and self-indulgent, splurge on caviar service. Your choice of fish eggs arrive on a silver platter with mother of pearl spoons, potato chips, and crème fraîche. Snap. Fresh fettuccini with pea shoots, tarragon, and spring onions tastes and looks like pure spring with its verdant green sauce. Filter: Hudson. A family-style platter of extra crispy Korean-style fried catfish with rice, bean sprout salad, and cubes of pickled daikon wows with its generous portions. Share. End the meal with a dessert of English pea sponge cake, mint curd, buttermilk, candied pistachios, and pea shoots that looks like a miniature garden in a bowl. Then watch the “likes” add up. —Jessica Sidman
Since the city’s trendiest restaurants seem to feel that noise equals energy and excitement, go old school and hit this Georgetown mainstay instead. (Plus, the best time to dine at 1789 is when someone else is picking up the check.) 1789 is like a time machine set to land you smack dab in the hush-hush pomp of D.C.’s more formal dining days. White tablecloths, Limoges china, excellent service, and a historic dining room—as well as the ability to hear your table’s conversation—all signal that this is no rowdy college-student hangout. Call ahead and ask for a corner table or something in the ultra-quiet Manassas Room on the first floor. General manager Rich Kaufman says the restaurant has one repeat customer who needs a quiet spot for health reasons. “We always find a suitable, tucked-away table for their party,” he says. —Rina Rapuano
The sugary smell that regularly fills the 3300 block of 11th Street NW emanates from El Latino Bakery, but if you keep walking half a block south, you’ll find the real sweet spot at Room 11. Save your visit for later in the evening, when tables clear out. The dessert menu is always evolving and always delicious. Honey goat cheesecake (one recent iteration included lemon curd, another version used lavender shortbread cookies as its base) tastes lighter and more savory than traditional cheesecakes. Updates to old-school favorites like brownie sundaes and Choco Tacos, as well as the Samoa-inspired Drunken Girl Scout (a rum pound cake topped with chocolate, coconut, and caramel), are richer and more decadent than their inspirations. At the same time, the presentations remain simple; you won’t find artisanal gelatin cubes garnishing your plate, and that’s a good thing. With only four options available every night, it’s possible to sample the entire menu if you bring a few friends. —Caroline Jones
A bottle of Fiji water and a sirloin steak sounds like a meal fit for a Paleo dieter leaving a personal training session. As a matter of fact, it comes straight off Art and Soul’s “pooch patio menu,” which encourages diners to spoil their four-legged foodies. The menu is available on the front patio of the restaurant housed in the Liaison Capitol Hill hotel. So too are plush dog beds in case you didn’t BYOBed. In addition to the $10 steak dish dubbed “the hungry dawg,” pups can hop on the “gravy train” with housemade beef and rice in savory gravy, or beat the heat with peanut banana “pup-sicles” and frozen beef bones. Art and Soul is dog-forward thanks to chef Art Smith’s love of canines. He has three at home. “We all love food regardless of age or creature,” he says. “I love seeing four-legged diners chowing down on a sirloin and washing it down with Bowser Beer.” Don’t worry, PETA: Bowser Beer (meat broth with malt barley) is non-alcoholic. —Laura Hayes
The Diner general manager Ashanti Murrain isn’t bothered by a little glitter or some fuzzy leg warmers. “That would not even be the strangest thing to have happened here,” he says. Sure, you can’t show up naked, but some patrons have come close. “The girls are in their provocative club outfits. Some people come here from costume parties,” Murrain says. “There are some very extravagant dressers that come through here.” Though the Diner is fairly slow during the early hours after midnight, the Adams Morgan eatery really comes alive at 3 a.m. when the inebriated bar crowd stumbles into the street in search of greasy food and sloppy breakfasts. “As long as you’re sober enough to order pancakes, you’re welcome here,” Murrain says. —Tim Regan