D.C.’s a Dish: Savoring and Saving in the Capital City

2445.jpgVisiting dignitaries may find dining in Washington D.C. to be a staid and stiff affair, but the Beltway’s best restaurants come in all sizes, styles, and budgets. From the Hill to Chinatown, here are a few of our favorite eats in the capital city.

Tasty Tasting Menus

Plate after plate of haute cuisine might seem excessive, but if you’re out to impress or celebrate, you can’t go wrong with a reservation at a top restaurant’s private chef’s tables. The service and selections are exclusive; sitting close to (or even in!) the kitchen is a high honor at several high-end dining rooms around town. Foodies with a sense of humor should snag a stool at Café Atlántico’s second-floor hideaway, Minibar. The private six-seat counter scores points for its roster of edible fantasies. The 30-course menu ($85) is prepared barside and sometimes includes such curiosities as cotton candy foie gras (photo, top) and a deconstructed glass of white wine. Minibar fills its reservation book quickly; Café Atlantico’s deluxe tasting menu spotlighting its Nuevo Latino specialties ($35) is a well-priced backup.

Other options for exciting multi-course experiences:
Laboratorio del Galileo, 12 courses, $110-125, Downtown
Citronelle, $85-150, Georgetown
2941, Falls Church, $75-110

Local Favorites for the Family

A day of culture-hopping in museums is bound to take a toll on your family’s energy level. Fast-food joints can provide a quick fix for low blood sugar, but if you’re looking for something more uniquely D.C., pop into one of the city’s many bustling casual cafés and diners. Jimmy T’s, a Washington institution a few blocks from the Capitol, serves breakfast all day along with greasy spoon fare like burgers and milkshakes.
Other hits with little eaters:
Pizzeria Paradiso, Georgetown
Ben’s Chili Bowl, U Street

Fine Dining on a Balanced Budget

Few U.S. destinations offer better value for travelers than D.C. Sure, hotels are pricey, but free admission to world-class museums and an efficient Metro system (no need for a rental car here) make the city surprisingly affordable. D.C. also has great dining bargains. We’re partial to the well-priced bar menu at Palena, the four-star Cleveland Park baby of Chef Frank Ruta and Pastry Chef Ann Americk, two former White House kitchen staffers. Fried lemon wedges, pàté, and a truffle-adorned cheeseburger are just a few delicacies on offer — all $15 and below. Portions are small-ish, but savoring flavors this big at this price feels like a steal.

Other wallet-loving eateries:
Osteria Galileo, Italian, Downtown
Teaism, Asian, Downtown and Dupont Circle
Bistro du Coin, French, Dupont Circle

I Spy a Senator

Just as some visitors to Los Angeles or New York pine for a glimpse of Hollywood royalty, some D.C. tourists live for the day when then can “bump” into famous political pundits. “Let’s do lunch” means something in D.C.; mid-day is your best chance to see members of the city’s political machine rubbing elbows. Unassuming Monocle is a magnet for members of Congress who head to the unassuming Capitol Hill eatery for Chesapeake crab-cake platters.

Other dining rooms frequented by the Who’s Who of Washington:
TenPenh, Downtown
Montmarte, Capitol Hill
Capital Grille, Capitol Hill

United Nations

Chinatown may be D.C.’s only official ethnic neighborhood, but chances are the international cuisine you’re craving is dutifully represented somewhere in the city. Zaytinya’s medley of Turkish, Greek, and Lebanese offerings, small mezze plates, make it an ideal destination for groups keen to share the wealth.

For the best in globetrotting menus also try:
Full Kee, Chinese, Chinatown
Jaleo, Spanish, Downtown
Sushi-Ko, Japanese, Georgetown

Sweetly Southern

Cherry blossom trees bursting with pinkish hues aren’t the only sign you’re heading south — all those restaurants serving up Southern comfort cuisine are another tell-tale sign that you’re leaving the Beltway. The specialties at Vidalia aren’t squarely centered on the restaurant’s namesake. Elegant seasonal dishes, like rabbit loin wrapped with applewood bacon, round out a menu laced with quiet Old South influences. Don’t forget to toast the day’s discoveries with fresh mint juleps.

Other spots with sensibilities from the Low Country to Cajun Country:
B. Smith’s, Capitol Hill
Horace & Dickie’s, Capitol Hill
Bardia’s New Orleans Café, Adams-Morgan

—Katie Hamlin

Photo credit: Cotton Candy Foie Gras, courtesy Café Atlántico.

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