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The Best Restaurants in Washington DC: Food Guide

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Capital meals in and around the Capitol.

Does Washington, D.C. have good restaurants? Oh, yes. These days, the best restaurants in Washington, D.C. also count as some of the nation’s best. Buckle up but loosen your belt: Here is the best comprehensive food guide to the best places to eat in Washington, D.C., from artisan bakeries to date night dinner restaurants and everything in between. 

best restaurants in Washington DC 2023
Photo courtesy Fiola Mare / Official Facebook

The Best Restaurants in D.C.

The Washington, D.C. dining scene has gone from “not” to “hot” in the past years, with more outstanding restaurants emerging every week. Once considered a dining backwater populated by stuffy power restaurants and big-box chains, Washington, D.C. is now home to award-winning restaurants and an incredible diversity of dining options, for any occasion or international cuisine.

As a food writer, chef, long-time District resident — and someone who thinks about food during most of my waking life — I am often asked to recommend places to eat. (Plus, I take eating on vacation seriously. Meals are usually the first thing I plan before a trip.)

This Best Restaurants in Washington, D.C. list is neither exclusive nor comprehensive. Instead, the focus is on restaurants and other food establishments that, as a food pro, I personally know, love, and recommend to friends and family.

Read on for recommendations on:

  • Restaurants in the Smithsonian/Museum area
  • Georgetown’s best restaurants and dining options
  • Best restaurants in Washington, D.C. for date night, casual dinner, and dressy night out
  • And lots more (bakeries, food halls, and the like)

With that, here are my personal dining picks for Washington, D.C.’s best restaurants, bakeries, snack shops, and dining experiences.

Best DC restaurants dining guide
Photo by Yeon Choi for Unsplash.

Where to Eat in D.C. Near the Smithsonian Museums and National Mall

For tourists and locals alike, the National Mall and its monuments, memorials, and museums make a breathtaking D.C. experience. But seeing the sights also works up an appetite.

The area immediately surrounding the National Mall is sadly too short on restaurants. Luckily, the National Museum of African American History and Culture boasts one of the top museum cafés around. The Sweet Home Café features historic recipes of the African diaspora, all the way up to modern day food. There’s also a great cookbook. (Check the website for current hours due to Covid restrictions.)

Sweet Home Café cookbook cover Smithsonian National African-American History and Culture Museum cafe

One longstanding tradition within walking distance of the museums? Afternoon tea at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel. I tend to think the experience is a little touristy and overpriced, but the grand dame hotel still draws a great following for its selection of scones, pastries, and savory bites in the ornate mirror- and red carpet-lined “Peacock Alley” area.

Central by Michel Richard makes for a lovely meal after a long day of pavement pounding. The restaurant features “American food with a French accent.” Get the gougères.

Where to eat in Washington D.C. best restaurants
Photo Courtesy Central Michel Richard

Top D.C. chef Enrique Limardo heads up Immigrant Food, a casual restaurant with food that celebrates immigrant cultures and cuisines through fresh fusion food. There are three locations to choose from, all downtown.

Family-friendly Jaleo from José Andres serves up a large menu of tapas, and remains open from 11 a.m. until late every day.

Teaism is a D.C. institution. Favored by the downtown lunch crowd for nourishing, Asian-influenced fare (and a huge selection of tea), Teasim offers a feeling of Zen amid the hustle and bustle.

Everyone likes a good, steamy bowl of ramen, right? Those on the National Gallery, Archives, and Capitol Building end of the Mall can enjoy some of D.C.’s best ramen at Daikaya. (There’s also an upstairs izakaya that takes reservations, and serves a larger menu.)

Upscale-casual Greek Mediterranean restaurant Zaytinya from chef José Andres sits downtown, but within walking distance of the museums. Guests can take advantage of the bright, airy space and great lunch, mezze happy hour, and dinner menus. There’s also weekend brunch. Rasika is a mainstay among tourists and locals alike for upscale Indian food.

If you’re seeking an all-day meal, solid breakfast or brunch, or a sleek cocktail, Café Riggs at the chic Riggs Hotel makes a trendy stop. The breakfast menu straddles everything from health-conscious vegetable juices and deluxe avocado toast to buttermilk pancakes and egg sandwiches. There’s also a Silver Lyan, the subterranean cocktail lounge, and a happy hour from 4-6 p.m. to decompress from a day of walking the nearby Smithsonian Portrait Gallery, Archives, and National Building Museum.

Where to Eat in Georgetown Washington DC
Photo courtesy Chez Billy Sud / official facebook

Best Georgetown Restaurants and Where to Eat in Georgetown

Georgetown is one of Washington, D.C.’s most popular and well-trafficked neighborhoods. Though the Georgetown food scene is not on the cutting edge of hipness (you’d want to head to neighborhoods like Shaw and Park View for that, to name a couple), enough solid dining options exist in Georgetown to satisfy a good appetite.

On the upscale end of the Georgetown dining guide, I suggest elegant chef Fabio Trabocchi’s waterfront Italian restaurant Fiola Mare. Come for the food, stay for the people watching. The Bidens have eaten dinner at Fiola Mare, and you’ll often spot D.C. movers, shakers, and other sundry society folk. The $58 prix fixe lunch is the best bang for the buck.

Up the street, lovely French bistro Chez Billy Sud serves perfect steak frites, mussels, and other classic French bistro fare in a jewel box setting. The next-door Bar à Vin (wine bar) has a wood-burning fireplace. Get there early to snag the coziest seats. Reservations strongly recommended for dinner at Chez Billy.

Café Milano is a perennially scene-y watering hole for lobbyists, power brokers, society folk, and politicians. The food, while priced for expense accounts, isn’t bad.

Somewhat formal and longstanding favorite 1789 Restaurant is serving up particularly good, high-end American food these days under the leadership of chef Adam Howard. The historic Federal townhouse makes for a special setting, while attached sister spots Fitzgerald’s and The Tombs are solid options for drinks and more casual, but still elevated, fare.

If you need a casual spot, Il Canale serves up excellent Neapolitan pizza, and also has a full menu of homey Italian pastas, soups, salad, and parmigianas.

Washington D.C. dining guide to best Georgetown restaurants
Photo courtesy Il Canale restaurant.

For quick daytime bites in Georgetown, I love the seasonal, vegetarian, nutrition-dense tacos and enchiladas at Chaia. Chaia sits on semi-hidden Grace Street — also home to the must-visit Green Almond Pantry. This little gam serves some of the best focaccia in D.C., though everything is seasonal, fresh, and homemade.

Yellow became an instant favorite when it opened a second location in Georgetown. (The original is at Navy Yard, next door to Albi, its fantastic upscale sister restaurant.) The Levantine fare is consistently delicious, fresh, and satisfying. Yellow pro tip: Avoid the packed crowds by going during the work week or at off hours on weekends, and be sure not to miss their “not-pizza” service in the late afternoon and evening.

best casual restaurants in washington dc georgetown
Casual Levantine lunch offerings at Yellow. Photo courtesy Yellow/Albi

Easy-to-miss Chinese teahouse Ching Ching Cha sells a large selection of loose and brewed tea and accoutrements in the retail section, with a cozy restaurant area in back with a full “tea menu” and additional small bites.

Up Wisconsin Avenue, Lutèce serves casual French seasonal fare in a lovely little setting, and has garnered recent notice from the New York Times. Nearby Boulangerie Christophe is a place to go for authentic French pastries, sandwiches, soups, quiche, and good bread. Brace yourself; the line gets long on weekends.

You can also satisfy your Georgetown sweet tooth at Paris-based Ladurée (les macarons!) or at upscale chocolateries L.A. Burdick and relative newcomer Petite Soeur.

Located on a quiet neighborhood corner near Georgetown University, Call Your Mother boasts the District’s top bagel and schmear game, plus bagel sandwiches, latkes, and the occasional donut.

Best breakfasts Washington D.C. food guide
Photo courtesy Call Your Mother

The Best Restaurants in D.C.: Smart-Casual and Date Night

The short answer to where to find a great dinner in the District? Lots of places. Washington, D.C. has some excellent restaurants, from hole-in-the-wall taco spots to blowout prix fixe dinners. Luckily, D.C. date night restaurants abound. Let’s get into it.

Best Upscale and Fancy Date Night Restaurants in D.C.

My favorite D.C restaurants in the very nice to fancy range (as in, nice jeans and collared shirts and up; definitely not sweats, shorts, or tees) include Fiola Mare and Chez Billy Sud, above, as well as — in no particular order:

  • Pineapple and Pearls: This is by far the most expensive, formal restaurant on this list, weighing in at a whopping $335 per person for a total dining experience that the owners frame as a fancy nightly party. Diners encouraged to dress up. (Neighborhood: Capitol Hill)
  • Oyster Oyster: The James Beard Awards celebrated best chef winner Rob Rubba food goof reason. Chef Rubba crafts modern, impressive sustainable vegetarian fare in an elegant setting that never feels stuffy. Enjoy some of the most creative and tasty food happening in D.C. right now.
  • The Dabney: upscale, seasonal, local fare and pricey prix fixe in Shaw — it costs $195 for the prix fixe in the dining room. Recently renovated. Reserve well in advance. (Neighborhood: Shaw/Mt. Vernon)
  • Gravitas: Waaaay out in post-industrial Ivy City sits this gem of a restaurant, turning out some of the loveliest food in D.C. Their rooftop conservatory bar is one of my favorite spots in the whole city. Prix fixe.
  • Rooster & Owl: A talented husband and wife team serve a “worth it” $85 prix fixe meal of Southern- and Asian-accented seasonal food. I’ve never had a bad meal here.
  • Nobu: The West End mostly calls to mind mid-rise medical office buildings and a relative no man’s land between Dupont and Georgetown. But Nobu’s sleek, chic interior and updated takes on classic sushi, sashimi, and other Japanese cuisine makes it a worthy destination. The happy hour is solid. They also recently started Sunday brunch. (Neighborhood: West End)
  • Sushi Nakazawa: A quiet temple of sushi attached to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, this hushed sushi counter serves up some of the most incredible sushi you’ll have in D.C. — or anywhere, really. Be prepared to pay up. The omakase costs $180 at the counter, and $150 at the tables.
best sushi restaurant in DC Sushi Taro Michelin Star
Photo courtesy Sushi Taro

Best Washington, D.C. Restaurants: Nice-Casual and Date Night Restaurants

These top D.C. restaurants make some of the best food in D.C. in a setting that is both nice, but not formal. Consider these your favorite standby restaurants.

  • Albi: This Michelin-starred Levantine restaurant in the Navy Yard district is getting all the raves right now. Flavor, flavor, flavor with a warm, chic vibe. Vegetarian friendly as well.
  • Daru: This little neighborhood restaurant cooks some of the best Indian food around, with numerous seasonal and sophisticated interpretations. (Neighborhood: H Street Corridor)
  • Le Diplomate: D.C’s perennially-popular answer to a Paris bistro. All-around solid brunch, dinner, bread basket, and food, with the occasional celeb or politico sighting. (Neighborhood: 14th Street/Logan Circle)
  • Elle: Pronouced “ell-ee,” this Mount Pleasant charmer continues to impress at all times of day, from its breads and baked goods in the morning to approachable but elegant seasonal dinner fare including beef and seafood. The desserts are especially good.
  • Reveler’s Hour is making some of the most delicious, interesting seasonal Italian food in D.C. right now, served in a convivial, chic atmosphere. (Neighborhood: Adams-Morgan)
  • Red Hen: Amazing pasta. Full stop. Get the rigatoni with pork sausage ragù like everyone else. It’s a tough reservation, but walk-in tables are available. (Neighborhood: Bloomingdale)
  • Sushi Taro: Don’t let the quasi-hidden entrance above a CVS pharmacy fool you. This unassuming restaurant is my favorite sushi spot in Washington, D.C.  and is favored by many Japanese ex-pats. Their weekday happy hour with 25% off sushi is legendary. (Neighborhood: Dupont Circle)
  • Anju: The District’s best Korean food, in a charming location at the base of Adams-Morgan, near Dupont Circle (Neighborhood: Adams-Morgan)
  • Maydan: A feast of Middle Eastern-influenced food cooked over an open flame. Cool setting, too. (Neighborhood: Columbia Heights/U Street)
  • Lapis is the lovely Afghan restaurant with the ambience to match. It’s open all day, plus weekend brunch. The food is consistently good, and the hospitality warm and gracious. Vegetarians will be particularly happy about the extensive selection of dishes, ranging from stews and grains to dumpling platters. Get a flatbread, too. (Neighborhood: Adams-Morgan)
  • L’Ardente: I choose to look beyond the cringe “glam Italian restaurant” tagline because, well, 1) it kinda is a glam Italian restaurant; and 2) the food, drinks, and overall experience are top notch. Extensive pastas and pizzas. The lasagna is a must. (Neighborhood: Near Union Station)
  • Annabelle: Elegant jewel box Annabelle is helmed by former White House chef Frank Ruta, where he offers an elegant, select menu of seasonal fare — including his famous roast chicken. The wine list is one of the best best in D.C. (Neighborhood: Dupont Circle)
where to eat in d.c.
The dining room at L’Ardente. Get the lasagna. (Photo courtesy L’Ardente restaurant.)

Best Casual Dining in Washington, D.C.

Whether you need a quick midday pick-me-up or a full dinner, for excellent food in a casual setting in the Washington, D.C. area, I love:

  • Sura: Dupont Circle area is not, shall we say, on the cutting edge of D.C.’s dining scene. But Sura makes the case for changing that. The sketchy-looking exterior and dark, subterranean dining room belies the creative, bright Thai food happening inside. Sura is buzzy for a reason. (Neighborhood: Dupont Circle)
  • Astoria: Like spicy noodles? Reserve in advance and get thee to this tiny-but-mighty Sichuan restaurant with a sleek, New York-y interior. Get the dan dan noodles. Make it two.
  • All-day eatery Unconventional Diner serves creative dishes that taste fresh, inspiring, and seasonal, but are somehow all grounded in comfort. This is a very popular brunch spot. (Neighborhood: Shaw)
  • Thip Kao: Laotian food at its finest. I love this place. Not for the spice intolerant. (Neighborhood: U Street). Also check out their sister restaurant Hanumanh, which focuses on craft cocktails.
  • Tatte: This fast-expanding Boston chain of French bistro-aesthetic bakeries serve very decent sandwiches, pastries, tea, and coffee. Tatte has fast become a go-to meetup spot for the D.C. crowd, and has multiple locations.
  • Grazie Nonna: Serving lunch and dinner, this casual ode to Italian-American comfort food in downtown D.C. hits all the right spots, from pizzas to meatballs to hearty bowls of pasta.
  • Cane: This restaurant featuring the food of Trinidad and Tobago is getting lots of attention for all the right reasons. (Neighborhood: H Street Corridor)
  • All the great Ethiopian fare: D.C. is known for its outstanding Ethiopian fare. Top restaurants include Zenebech, Tsehay, and Chercher.
  • All-Purpose: “Jersey-style” pizza is the raison d’être for this establishment from the owners for Red Hen, but the All-Purpose folks also serve up excellent snacks and antipasti. (Neighborhood: Shaw)
  • Stachowski’s: A tucked-away butcher and market on a residential Georgetown street serving up some of the meatiest, tastiest Pastrami and French Dip sandwiches in the area. Bring your appetite. (Neighborhood: Georgetown)
  • Ben’s Chili Bowl is an institution. Get a bowl of chili (of course) and a half smoke. (Neighborhood: Various; the original is on U Street NW)
Best Restaurants in DC where to eat guide
Photo by Jay Wennington/ via Unsplash

Washington, D.C. Michelin-Starred Restaurants

Several years ago, the Michelin Guide began including Washington, D.C. in its annual dining guide.

With three Michelin-stars, the Inn at Little Washington is outside the city, but worth the trip for a sumptuous, classic experience. Dinner doesn’t come cheap, though. As of this writing, a tasting menu cost $348 per person before wine.

D.C. has three two-starred restaurants: Jônt, Pineapple + Pearls (a favorite of mine), and Minibar by chef José Andrés.

Washington, D.C. has 20 one-Michelin-starred restaurant. The complete list is right here, but my stand-out picks include The Dabney, Little Pearl, Gravitas, Rooster & Owl, Maydan, and Bresca.

D.C. Best Food: Union Market DC
Union Market has many of Washington, D.C.’s top dining options / Photo via Union Market District – Facebook

Other Places to Eat in the D.C.: Best Markets, Bake Shops + More

The Sunday farmers market at Dupont Circle is huge, wonderful, and open year round. Pro tip: Get there early if you don’t want to wait in a long line for Call Your Mother’s bagels and schmear.

Yellow in Navy Yard and Georgetown (Union Market location coming in 2024) is the bakery/casual-dining concept from the Albi team. Well worth the weekend waits.

Make sure to check out Union Market for some of D.C.’s best food stalls — it is a great experience. Across the street or so, be sure to also enjoy sister food hall La Cosecha, featuring excellent Latin American fare. Nearby Stellina Pizza (Neapolitan pizza, pasta, and antipasti) and St. Anselm (gastropub featuring beef and steaks; great brunch, too) are also favorites.

The best places in D.C. for bread and croissants are Bread Furst, Boulangerie Christophe, Bread Alley, and hyper-local artisan bakery Seylou. Seylou even mills its own flour, and I really can’t speak highly enough about the quality of its offerings.

Additional Washington, D.C. Food Guides for Dining + Where to Eat in D.C.

If you’d like to go down the “best restaurants in Washington, D.C.” rabbit hole (who wouldn’t?), and compare others’ suggestions of where to eat in Washington, D.C. I suggest also taking a look at the following resources:

Don’t see anything that sounds exactly like what you’re looking for? Contact Unpeeled and I’ll be happy to offer additional suggestions!

Check out more of Unpeeled Journal’s Dining Guides:

4 comments

  • Adrienne

    Hi There: I;ve recently moved to DC from NYC and am discovering some wonderful eats. So happy to have stumbled onto your site after tracking down the famous Frog Commissary carrot cake on here ! I just made it for my partner’s 65th birthday celebration. Fingers crossed!

    I wanted to mention an AMAZING Iranian restaurant, RUMI I ate at last weekend. It has WONDERFULLY authentic food with extremely fresh ingredients and traditional fare with a modern twist. The cocktails are unique, fresh, and served in beautiful glasses by excellent wait staff. It is a new ancient cuisine for me and it is really extraordinarily varied in its spices, herbs and cooking techniques.

    As for bread, I am always on the search for excellent bread and haven’t found my favorite yet. Bread Furst has been consistently disappointing with bread that tastes only of salt with a texture that is overly hard. My fave so far is Fresh Baguette. Their seedy bread is delicious as is the sourdough and the regular baguette. I look forward to trying the two you recommend besides Bread Furst! Thanks for your list of restaurants! It looks like a really interesting one! Can’t wait to try them one by one as we all get safer eating out! All the best, Adrienne

    • Unpeeled

      Hello! I am also a NYC > DC transplant! So good to connect with you. And thanks so much for the heads-up on the restaurant. I am definitely going to check this out. Hope you like Seylou. Their bread is legit, some of the best I’ve ever had (and I’m a bread snob.) Still looking for that elusive NY-quality bagel, though. Welcome to D.C. and all my very best.

  • What a timely story. Moving to DC. Can’t wait to try some of your recommendations..

    • Unpeeled

      That’s great! So happy to welcome you to the District soon, neighbor! Feel free to email me if you ever need more food/dining recommendations, and the surrounding suburbs have a lot of great places, too. I have lots that I didn’t include for space reasons 🙂

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