Eat Your Way Around the Hill

Use This Guide to Find Food That Suits Your Mood

Posted April 26, 2004 at 11:29am

Whether you’re an intern or a Member, a Republican or Democrat, everyone’s got to eat. This special edition of the Hot Plate attempts to answer some common dining questions on Capitol Hill and guide you to some worthy destinations. This is by no means a “best of” list, but simply a list of suggestions for good eats on and around Capitol Hill. Enjoy, and eat well.

I’m new on Capitol Hill. Where should I go to feel like a local?

Market Lunch
(225 Seventh St. SE)

Pull up a stool at the long communal table in Eastern Market’s South Hall, dig in to a crab cake sandwich and take in the hustle and bustle that has kept Eastern Market a vital part of D.C. life for decades. From North Carolina barbecue to buckwheat blueberry pancakes, Market Lunch’s menu reads like an all-American food roster. The breakfast line on weekends is a testament to the counter’s popularity — people will wait as long as it takes to feast on plates of pancakes, eggs, grits and bacon. The Market Lunch draws a mixed crowd of locals, Hill staffers and the tourists who have read the guidebooks and taken the advice to not miss this Washington institution.

Jimmy T’s
(501 East Capitol St.)

If it weren’t for the top 40 music playing in the background, you might think you’d stepped back in time upon entering Jimmy T’s. A favorite hangout for locals, the restaurant has been around since 1969, and it looks like not much has changed. An ornate pressed-tin ceiling frames the small dining room where a few funky old booths line one wall. Old-fashioned cash registers stand at attention on the counter, where a neighborhood crowd pulls up stools to read the paper or exchange gossip with the friendly staff. The prices hark back to the past as well, with a cheeseburger setting you back only $2.95. Breakfast, which is served all day, won’t cost you much more — no combo tops $4. A greasy spoon of the best kind, Jimmy T’s is a must for newcomers looking for a neighborhood joint that really says Capitol Hill.

I’m an intern, I’m hungry and I have no money.

McCormick and Schmick’s
(901 F St. NW)

The new McCormick and Schmick’s in Penn Quarter is a great option for happy hour dwellers ready to leave the Capitol Hill scene behind. From 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., appetizers are priced at $1.95. Choose from steamed mussels, buffalo wings, two oyster shooters, beer-battered onion rings, a half-pound cheese burger or Cajun burger, cheese quesadillas and nachos. There’s a two-drink minimum (that shouldn’t be a problem during happy hour, right?), but nonalcoholic drinks do qualify.

Capitol Lounge
(231 Pennsylvania Ave. SE)

A favorite hangout for Hill staffers, the Capitol Lounge offers several deals throughout the week that are easy on the wallet. Mondays bring half-price pizza, Tuesdays 10 cent wings and Wednesdays 25 cent tacos. For a more substantial meal, hit the lounge on Fridays for an order of fish and chips and a pint of Capitol Amber for the easily digested price of $9.95.

Tortilla Coast
(400 First St. SE)

Positioning its cheap-eats nights opposite from the Capitol Lounge, Tortilla Coast draws crowds with Taco Tuesdays (50 cent beef tacos) and Wednesday Wings (25 cent wings). Specials are available from 5 p.m. until closing.

Money is no object.

Charlie Palmer Steak
(101 Constitution Ave. NW)

Live the good life at Charlie Palmer, where movers and shakers dine on prime cuts of beef and sip cocktails in a setting far more elegant than a typical steakhouse. Main courses include dry-aged ribeye, filet mignon, New York shell steak and a roasted porterhouse sized for two with cabernet jus and chanterelle mushrooms. And though the focus is steak, the menu offers plenty of other options if red meat doesn’t suit your fancy, including poached lobster, fish, roasted duck and chicken. The restaurant boasts an all-American wine list with choices from each state, all cataloged in a high-tech electronic winebook for your convenient perusal.

Le Paradou
(601 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, enter from Indiana Avenue)

Chef Yannick Cam has returned to the District, where he earned his fame at Le Pavillon in the ’80s, and his new restaurant appears ready to impress. Le Paradou, which opened earlier this month, offers fixed-price menus on which lobster, caviar, truffles and foie gras are prevalent ingredients. Splurge on the chef’s tasting menu with wine pairings for $150 per person. The menus will change often, but recent choices included roasted sea scallops with truffles, Parma ham and parsley sauce, roasted pigeon breast with seared duck foie gras and Mediterranean sea bass stuffed with shrimp mousse, scallops, vermouth sauce, saffron and rosemary.

I’m tired of the same old thing. I want to try something new.

The minibar at Café Atlantico
(405 Eighth St. NW)

When the minibar arrived on the scene in June 2003, foodies were abuzz with curiosity. José Andrés’ brainchild had been born, and everyone was excited to see what the creative chef had up his sleeve. Well, if it’s adventure you’re after, this is the place to be. Book a stool at the six-seat bar and prepare for an anything but normal dining experience. The restaurant within a restaurant offers a barrage of about 35 small plates that tease and surprise with their playful inventiveness. Why wrap foie gras in cotton candy? Why not? Jicama encases tuna and salmon in small rolls, clam chowder gets “deconstructed,” and Pop Rocks and Altoids find ways into the food in this spot where truly anything is possible. A trip to the minibar will set you back $65, excluding tax and gratuity. Reservations are a must.

Ceiba
(701 14th St. NW)

With menu items like feijoada, ceviche and caipirinha, you can bet this isn’t your typical meat-and-potatoes Washington establishment. The latest venture from the team that brought us DC Coast and TenPenh has quickly become one of Washington’s most tempting restaurants. The menu explores the flavors of Latin America, Brazil and the Caribbean. Start off with a mojito or caipirinha made with freshly pressed sugarcane juice. Light crab fritters and the ceviche sampler make excellent starters, and spicy Caribbean lobster and corn-crusted halibut shine on the entrée menu. But remember to save room for dessert, which Ceiba does exceptionally well. Sorbets are strikingly true to their descriptions, Cuban flan is accented with almond, and Mexican churros (long strips of fried dough) come with a mini cup of hot chocolate for dipping.

Meyhané
(633 Pennsylvania Ave. SE)

It’s not every night that you get to be entertained by a bellydancer during dinner. But at Meyhané, a bellydancer livens up meals on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The restaurant serves a variety of hot and cold tapas that reflect traditional Greek and Balkan cuisine, such as zucchini fritters, hummus, dolma and grilled kofte (Turkish meatballs). The belly dancing gets started around 7 p.m., but come a little earlier for half-priced bottles of wine starting at 5 p.m. on weekdays and noon on weekends.

It’s finally warm. I want to eat outside before the cicadas get here.

Zaytinya
(701 Ninth St. NW)

One of the hottest tables in town, Zaytinya has been drawing huge crowds since opening in 2002. And now that spring has arrived, the crowds spill out onto a patio, which is far enough away from the street that you won’t be breathing exhaust fumes through your meal. The intersection of Ninth and G streets is a far cry from the Greek isles, but sitting in the sun munching on olives, warm pita and hummus may help get your mind out of D.C. The only downside: Zaytinya doesn’t take reservations after 6:30 p.m., so your best bet is to come during the week or prepare to spend some quality time at the bar.

Montmartre
(327 Seventh St. SE)

The patio outside Montmartre fills up fast on weekends but provides prime people-watching space if you can snag a seat. The cheerful French restaurant serves simple country fare with city touches. Among the classics, there’s a homemade quiche, steamed mussels in white wine and Pastis broth, and hanger steak drizzled with shallot red wine sauce and served with fingerling potatoes.

Signatures
(801 Pennsylvania Ave. NW)

Signatures’ patio looks out over the Navy Memorial fountains and the National Archives, making it a picturesque setting for a meal. Signatures’ cuisine is eclectic and pulls from all over the globe, including chef Morou Outtara’s native Ivory Coast, for inspiration. New England clam chowder, sushi, duck confit, Ethiopian beef tartare and “grits and sausage” (actually a crisp grit cake with chorizo) all happily coexist on the menu. During lunch on the patio, wines are half-priced.

I’m in the mood for romance.

Le Paradou

One of the newest entrants to the downtown dining scene, Le Paradou is poised to win hearts and appetites with its decadent menu and romantic décor. Soft, flattering lighting and honey-colored wood envelop the three-part restaurant, and in the main dining room tiny specks of light twinkle overhead, creating the illusion of stars. The prix fixe menu costs around $68 for your choice of two first courses and a main course. For a slightly cheaper date, sit in the bar area and order a la carte.

Ceiba

Staring into your significant other’s eyes while sucking on the sugarcane stalk from your mojito over a platter of spicy ceviche … well, you get the picture. Sexy cocktails, spicy dishes and a lively atmosphere make Ceiba an excellent choice when romance is on the menu. Just eating as if you were miles away in the Caribbean can be enough to fan the flames of love.

Tosca
(1112 F St. NW)

Awash in soothing neutral colors, Tosca’s dining room hints at a sophisticated eatery in Milan. The thoughtful cooking of chef Cesare Lanfranconi echoes the cuisine of Northern Italy. Signature dishes include sautéed monkfish with prosciutto and sage, sweet pea ravioli with pecorino cheese, and roasted sea bass with sautéed spinach, pine nuts and raisins. Tosca’s proximity to the Warner, Shakespeare and Ford theaters makes it a romantic choice for dinner before a show. A pre-theater three-course menu is available for $32 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. daily.

I’m looking for a dining room with a view.

Cantina Marina
(600 Water St. SW)

With nice views of boats passing by on the Potomac, Cantina Marina on the Southwest waterfront is a great place to kick back and watch the sunset. Far from the buttoned-up halls of the Capitol, the restaurant exudes a laid-back vibe. Margaritas in plastic cups and canned beers make this an authentic marina experience. The unpretentious cuisine is accented with Gulf Coast and Louisiana flavors (think oyster po’ boys, gumbo and fried catfish). If you’re feeling classy, go for the “Bubba” salad — iceberg lettuce with cucumbers and tomatoes with Bubba dressing.

Capitol View Restaurant and Lounge
(400 New Jersey Ave. NW)

While the chocoholics bar might be reason enough to visit the Capital View Restaurant at the top of the Hyatt Regency, the view’s not too shabby either. Eleven stories up, the space boasts one of the best views of the Capitol. The restaurant is only open to the public for dinner and drinks in the evenings. The chocoholics bar, which features white chocolate raspberry cake, truffles, fondue and chocolate-dipped strawberries, among other delights, costs $15 alone or $13 with dinner. The view is free.

Hotel Washington
(515 15th St. NW)

A popular destination for impressing visitors, the Sky Terrace at the Hotel Washington, which opens for the season today, provides a bird’s eye view of the monuments and the White House roof where you can play spot the Secret Service agents. While probably a better bet for dessert or drinks, the Sky Terrace does have a menu of light fare, mainly salads and sandwiches.

Friends from New York City are visiting and I’m looking for a hip restaurant to impress them.

Bistro Bis
(15 E St. NW)

The San Francisco-based Kimpton Group introduced Washington to trendy and playful boutique hotels including the Hotel Monaco, Rouge, Helix and Topaz. The Hotel George is the most sophisticated of the bunch, and its restaurant, Bistro Bis, attracts a power crowd that includes Supreme Court justices, lawmakers and celebrities. A modern interpretation of a French brasserie, Bistro Bis is classy but never stuffy. Chef Jeffrey Buben, who also owns Vidalia downtown, turns out food that matches the design’s sophistication. For example, mussels Marseillaise are dressed up with tomato, saffron, garlic and fennel, and salmon is served with lentils, mushrooms, pancetta, asparagus and red wine veal jus.

Zaytinya

Beyond being one of the tastiest restaurants in D.C., Zaytinya is quite a looker. Designed by powerhouse design firm Adamstein and Demetriou, Zaytinya’s interior makes even hummus seem chic. The color palette channels the Greek isles and dramatic white stone walls dotted with candles soar toward the airy ceiling. Deep blues and purples accent the dining room, where a lengthy bar extends along the back wall. Sipping martinis at the lively bar, your friends might just think they never left Manhattan.

Zola
(800 F St. NW)

Going to a restaurant attached to the Spy Museum, you might expect a hokey, Disney-like interpretation of the espionage theme complete with magnifying glasses hanging on the wall. But Zola pleasantly impresses by incorporating the theme in subtle, sophisticated ways. The result is a handsome bar and modern dining rooms complete with hidden doorways and bathroom peep holes. For a private seat, ask for one of the high-backed red velvet booths with spy holes for peeking over at other parties.

I’m craving comfort food.

Pete’s Diner
(212 Second St. SE)

Dishing up sweet potato pancakes, sweet potato pie, grits, grilled cheese and half smokes, Pete’s Diner specializes in a variety of comfort food with a side of motherly love. What could be more consoling than a stack of chocolate chip pancakes to remind you that life doesn’t have to be so serious? And if the food doesn’t do the trick, the staff will make you feel cared for. On a recent trip, an older women at the register shot me a concerned glance as I prepared to leave with my purse unzipped. “It’s OK,” I told her, “I never zip it up.” She patted me on the back with a knowing look and told me to be careful, just like mom would’ve.

I want to watch the game, but I don’t want greasy sports bar food.

The Flying Scotsman
(233 Second St. NW)

This Scottish pub features an organic menu and, even better, seven televisions and a projector screen for broadcasting games. The staff is partial to Boston and Pittsburgh sports teams, and the management plans to show every Red Sox game this season. If you’re not into the Sox (don’t tell the bartender), they have a full Major League Baseball package, so they can show any game. As for the organic pub grub, the sandwich selection includes chicken salad on fresh baked bread, burgers and reubens. Entreés include fish and chips, lamb shank, hanger steak with shallots and Scottish chips, and chicken breast with spinach risotto.

Matchbox
(713 H St. NW)

If you can snag a seat in the narrow bar, Matchbox makes a tastier option for catching a game than the typical dingy sports bar. Matchbox specializes in brick-oven pizza with crisp crusts, but don’t miss the mini burgers. Order three, six or nine to share and the plate comes piled with ever-so-thinly sliced onion strings, lightly fried and dusted with parmesan and parsley. They’ll have you licking you fingers and asking for more. The restaurant offers a nice selection of draft beers to throw back during the game as well.