D.C. Dining: More Than Senate Bean Soup

From Haute Cuisine to Good Grub, Washington Caters to a Bipartisan Palate

Posted November 13, 2008 at 11:09am

Dining in Washington, D.C., can be an absolute delight, so long as you know where to go. From top-notch restaurants that break the bank — and are worth it — to budget-friendly eateries with personality, this town has something for everyone. The hardest part may be making the pick. Here is a list of restaurants that range from special occasion places to those that are cheap but fun.

Big Night Out

The D.C. arrival of Alain Ducasse, the famed French chef, received much fanfare when Adour opened at the St. Regis Hotel in September. The sleek restaurant lives up to the hype by providing fun twists on comfort foods, an expansive wine list and a friendly, knowledgeable staff. With dishes like day-boat scallops in a cauliflower puree and Maine lobster served out of the shell, this French eatery offers delicious variations on old standards. In addition to comfort food, Adour offers tasty desserts.


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The hands-down best dish on the menu was the rhubarb and strawberry buttermilk panna cotta. Served in a tall martini glass, this dessert is bursting with flavor without being too sugary. The strawberries were ripe, and the panna cotta was creamy and smooth. The fruit was so plentiful that you could almost convince yourself that the treat is in fact good for you. (923 16th St. NW; 202-509-8000)

Blue Duck Tavern at the Park Hyatt Hotel in West End is perfect for anyone who has been swept up in the fresh and organic food movement. The restaurant lists the farm and state where all of its dishes come from. Half the fun of eating at Blue Duck is the open-air kitchen, which gives patrons the chance to watch the chef in action. Plates of scallops or braised beef rib are served a la carte with delicious sides such as mashed potatoes with soft garlic and chive. Be warned, though: Blue Duck is not an ideal spot for vegetarians. While the restaurant does offer a vegetable pot pie as well as a handful of salads, the menu is heavy on meat and seafood. (1201 24th St. NW; 202-419-6755)

Vidalia has been a jewel in the D.C. dining crown since it opened in 1993. Chef R.J. Cooper has received the coveted James Beard Award in 2007, naming him the best chef in the mid-Atlantic region. This Southern- cooking restaurant offers such unusual dishes as Southern-fried frog legs and a dish called a “what’s up doc?” (bacon wrapped rabbit loin, braised leg, fried shank and belly bacon with ginger-carrot purée, rye berries and a blenheim ginger ale reduction). If you’re in the mood to lay down some cash, opt for the five-course tasting menu and you will get to see Cooper’s talent truly shine. (1990 M St. NW; 202-659-1990)

Other great restaurants for a splurge include Citronelle (3000 M St. NW; 202-625-2150), Komi (1509 17th St. NW; 202-332-9200) and Cityzen (1330 Maryland Ave. SW; 202-787-6006).

On the Cheap

Vapiano describes itself as “urban upscale dining.” What they leave out in that description is the fact that the restaurant is reasonably inexpensive and delicious. With its first D.C. shop opened on M Street and a promised second restaurant in Chinatown, Vapiano provides Italian food in a comfortably hip environment. Not to mention that the restaurant is all about convenience. Customers are given a plastic card on entering that serves as their bill, taking the pain out of breaking up a check among friends. Pizza, pasta and salad can be ordered at a counter and taken to any of the communal tables or cushiony benches and chairs. The best part: No dish on the menu exceeds $11. Looking for an after-dinner drink? The bar features a fireplace and $5 glasses of wine, making the restaurant a cozy option on a winter evening. (1800 M St. NW; 202-640-1868)

When you walk into Meiwah, the Chinese restaurant that sits on the corner of New Hampshire Avenue and M Street, the first thing you notice are the dozens of photos of the owner smiling with every politician in town. There’s former President Bill Clinton, former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) and many other D.C. power players. They all come here for what is arguably the best Chinese food in town. From the bean curd and crushed garlic appetizer ($4.95) to a huge plate of chicken lo mein ($8.95), Meiwah will satisfy your craving at a low cost. In addition to budget-friendly food, the restaurant — which also has a location in Chevy Chase — offers cheap wine, beer and cocktails. These include such creative offerings as fishbowl-sized drinks served in a bowl that resembles a volcano. (1200 New Hampshire Ave. NW; 202-833-2888)

It’s virtually impossible to get a table at Matchbox without waiting outside for 20 minutes with a crowd of other hungry diners. In all honesty, while waiting for a table can be frustrating, at Matchbox it’s worth it. Known for top-notch sliders and pizza, this Chinatown restaurant is not to be missed. The menu offers 12 pizzas — ranging in price from $12 to $20 — in addition to a make-your-own option. One good choice is the sausage and onion pie, which the restaurant describes as “sweet Italian sausage, sweet onion, roasted red pepper, zesty tomato sauce and mozzarella.” The onion and sausage mix well together as the cheese melts onto your hands. For those who are not a fan of pizza, the restaurant also offers a variety of sandwiches and salads. A Barracks Row outpost of Matchbox is slated to open later this year. (713 H St. NW; 202-289-4441)

Other budget-friendly restaurants are Nando’s Peri Peri (819 Seventh St. NW; 202-898-1225), Cafe Bonaparte (1522 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-333-8830) and Comet Ping Pong (5037 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-364-0404).

Special Deals

Dino, while ordinarily a moderately priced Italian restaurant, has long been a friend to the budget-conscious. Decadent plates of pasta, such as fusilli con salsiccia casalingha e rapini — corkscrew pasta with house-made sausage, orange and yellow tomato sauce with rapini and greens — usually come in around $19, while meat entrees, like veal, venison and duck, hover around $24. But there are also special deals, such as Wine Wednesdays, when patrons can get three wines and a trio of antipasti for $25. The restaurant also offers free corkage on Tuesdays and Thursdays, saving patrons a bundle on booze. (3435 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-686-2966)

Located a few blocks from Metro Center, Chef Geoff’s Downtown is perfect for foodies who are meeting with friends who work in opposite corners of the city. The restaurant’s menu features entrees like beef tenderloin medallions with oyster mushroom demi costing in the range of $20 to $25. In addition, the frugal can indulge in burgers and personal pizzas starting at $10.95. The best deal at Chef Geoff’s occurs Monday nights when the entire wine list is half-priced. The list is extensive, featuring several zinfandels, sauvignon blancs, chardonnays and other varietals. The deal runs all night, so the only limit to which wine you choose or how many glasses you enjoy in a sitting is your own tolerance. (1301 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 202-464-4461)

Granville Moore’s over on H Street Northeast has been rising in popularity, thanks in part to a recent spot on the popular Food Network show “Throwdown with Bobby Flay.” This “gastropub with a healthy Belgian fetish” offers great happy-hour specials including half-priced wine with the purchase on an entree on Tuesdays. The highlight deal at Granville’s, however, occurs Monday nights when bowls of mussels cost a measly $10 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Even when they aren’t on special, the mussels are only $14 and come in six varieties, including the Moules Fromage Bleu that Chef Teddy Folkman prepared on “Throwdown.” (1238 H St. NE; 202-399-2546)

Other restaurants with excellent deals include Georgia Brown’s (950 15th St. NW; 202-393-4499), Circle Bistro (1 Washington Circle NW; 202-293-5390) and 1789 Restaurant (1226 36th St. NW; 202-965-1789).

Old Standards

Breakfast at Old Ebbitt Grill is often peppered with power brokers meeting with White House staff or lobbyists schmoozing over an omelet. Established in 1856, this D.C. staple brags that it was a favorite of Presidents Ulysses Grant, Grover Cleveland, Warren Harding and Theodore Roosevelt. These days it’s a great place to grab a meal with friends, especially those visiting from out of town. Brunch at Old Ebbitt is a special treat. Where else can you get ham and bacon stuffed French toast? This moderately priced restaurant also offers great fare at dinner, including mussels over linguini and the classic grilled New York strip steak. Not in the mood to eat? The restaurant’s several dark wood bars bedecked with animal heads are ideal for an after-work drink or a nightcap. (675 15th St. NW; 202-347-4800)

The Monocle on Capitol Hill has long been a place to get a great steak and rub elbows with Members and staffers. The restaurant first opened its doors in 1960 and today claims it was the Hill’s “first tablecloth restaurant.” Situated a few blocks from both Union Station and the Senate office buildings, The Monocle is a great lunch or dinner spot. Filet mignon, flatiron steak and New York sirloin are just a few of the beef options at this meat-eaters haven. The eatery also offers crab cakes, tuna and salmon, among other dishes. In addition, there is a three-course, small-plates, pre-fixed menu for $16.95 on Friday and Saturday evenings. (107 D St. NE; 202-546-4488)

Outposts of Clyde’s have been popping up all over the metropolitan area, but if you want to experience this classic the right way, visit the flagship shop on M Street in Georgetown. Opened in 1963, Clyde’s — the sister restaurant to Old Ebbitt — has been drawing crowds with its delicious comfort food, which includes everything from roasted pork loin to a banana split. The narrow bar is also perfect for grabbing a drink or a meal for one. Keep an eye out for the monthly special; in the past it has included filet mignon and lobster at bargain prices. Oh, and be sure to try the mashed potatoes — they’re the best in town. (3236 M St. NW; 202-333-9180)

Looking for a taste of old time D.C.? Also try the Oval Room (800 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-463-8700), Ben’s Chili Bowl (1213 U St. NW: 202-667-0909) and the Prime Rib (2020 K St. NW; 202-466-8811).