When I first moved to the Washington, DC area more than 15 years ago, the city was anything but a great culinary destination. Stuck in its old, stagnant ways, the most popular restaurants in town seemed to be either steak houses or places where the political set could enjoy their 3-martini lunches. Times have changed: thanks to a surge of young professionals calling the city center home as well as some exciting and innovative new chefs, I can happily (and proudly) say that Washington, DC is finally one of the great food centers of the U.S. To help you navigate your way through this bustling food scene, here are some of the most trendy restaurants in Washington DC.
Good Stuff Eatery
Good Stuff Eatery – Known best for his repeated performances on Top Chef, Chef Spike Mendelsohn is just one of several young and exciting chefs to hang his hat in Washington, DC. While he owns several restaurants, Good Stuff is my favorite Spike-restaurant. It’s a simple place best enjoyed at lunch, but although the menu is limited, it’s been perfected. Burgers and homemade fries are the name of the game here; they’re so good that President Obama counts as one of the restaurant’s many regulars. Add that to hand crafted sodas and milkshakes and this is a guilty pleasure that’s worth every calorie.
Ted’s Bulletin – If re-imagined comfort food is what you’re after, then this is the place for you. One of my favorite restaurants in town, Ted’s excels at sharing some classic meals we all know and love but with modern twists. Sit outside on their patio and people watch while enjoying their all-day breakfast, smoked Alabama chicken, a peanut butter and bacon burger and of course something from their bakery, like their homemade pop-tarts. Finish it all off with a boozy milkshake – their signature drink.
Rose’s Luxury – It’s no easy feat to get a seat at this routinely-named best eatery in the city, but there’s a good reason for that. Rose’s doesn’t take reservations, but during that long wait in line you can consider which one of the many delectable bites you’ll enjoy; from the English-pea cake with edible flowers to the beef-brisket or perhaps the pork and lychee salad. It’s hard to go wrong at Rose’s, which feels as warm and comfy as your grandmother’s house, but with the pedigree of a fine-dining establishment.
Filter – Maybe it’s because we’re a hard working city, but we enjoy many fantastic coffee shops around town, including this downtown favorite with several locations. No doubt inspired by local hipsters, there’s a clear anti-establishment vibe at Filter which is odd for the most establishment city in the country. But they do one thing well and that’s serve up great coffee and espresso drinks. Swing by for a quick cup of joe on the go, or hang out and relax for a while. This isn’t the place to get some work done though; Filter encourages an electronics-free environment – so strike up a conversation with that person sitting next to you!
Daikaya – Ramen – If you’ve ever been to Japan then you know that expertly crafted ramen isn’t just delicious, it’s also hard to find here in the U.S. Well, in DC’s Chinatown, you can get a taste of old Tokyo right in the nation’s capital. The traditional pork-laden version is a personal favorite, but my vegetarian friends also rave over the restaurant’s meat-free ramen that includes Brussels sprouts, mushrooms and more. In the evenings, the upstairs transforms into Izakaya, a modern take on traditional Japanese cuisine.
Minibar – When DC was still a food desert, there was one chef who saw promise in the city and for years has been serving up some of the best food in town. ElBulli disciple Chef José Andrés has had a lot of success in Washington, but his most innovative establishment continues to be the Minibar. With just 12 seats at a bar facing the kitchen, this is the best place to go in town if you love creative cuisine using some of the latest trends in molecular gastronomy. The 25 courses come at a premium – $250 per head – but the experience is well worth it. There’s no telling what you’ll enjoy when you finally do get to visit, but it’s guaranteed to be a meal you will never forget.
Central Michel Richard
Central Michel Richard – Maybe it’s because it’s the capital city, but Washington seems to excel at modern American cuisine, and this is one of the best in town. The dishes are tasty, executed with artful precision and all feature true innovation and creativity. There are a lot of dishes to love here, but be sure to try the grilled cheese with a 3-cheese béchamel for dipping, the fried chicken and absolutely everything on their dessert menu. Central Michel Richard is located in Penn Quarter, not far from the Metro Central and Federal Triangle metro stops.
Food trucks – Like almost every other American city it seems, Washington, DC also has a vibrant food truck community, although not with the variety you’ll find in New York or Portland. To find the best ones, be sure to download the Food Truck Fiesta app or visit their web site and keep up to date on all of the new locations the trucks are visiting. You can also just stop by McPherson Square, a downtown park that hosts dozens of trucks every day. Some of my favorite food trucks in the District include Arepa Zone, Capital Chicken & Waffles, Halal Grill, Peruvian Brothers and What The Pho.
No matter where you decide to eat in Washington, you’re almost always guaranteed not only a tasty food experience, but one that I think will surprise you.
Cover image courtesy of Jacob Creswick on Unsplash