UPDATE June 14, 2020: As you can read below, this site was started to help diners navigate the overwhelming choices that we had in D.C. before the public health crisis hit. In light of the world changing, we made some changes too. We still are rooting for restaurants. We still want to help diners find good places to eat. To match the times, we have eliminated the category of “Rating” to sort restaurants. They are inappropriate given the times and any prior rating is now outdated. In its place we have provided information on the current “Status” of the restaurant – are they doing dine-in? take-out and/or delivery? Have they added some market features like pantry items, bulk food, and other items to what they are selling. Old reviews remain along with those ratings for reference, but we no longer will sort and list by rating. Finally, we are broadening the meaning of “recommended.” This site focused on only listing places we felt comfortable recommending and didn’t feel the need to list places only to tear them down. We also made it a requirement that each restaurant listed was visited at least once before we added it. Going forward, we will be adding places that may not have met the previous standard, but are good enough to not steer people away from. We will also be adding places based on reputation, even if we have not had the chance to visit. We will do what we can to help the most places we can – maybe even steakhouses – get to the other side.
You can read the old “About” language below. Be safe, eat well, be kind, and tip big.
This guide is meant to orient you through the rich terrain we D.C. diners now face. Washington, D.C. is going through a renaissance of dining. It has been decades since so many talented chefs and dedicated restaurateurs have been willing to take a chance on this city. The result is an explosion of new and interesting places to eat. Too many for most to keep track of.
The site focuses on recommended restaurants only. It started as a personal recommendation list for friends looking for suggestions. It carries forward that idea. While reviews may include critiques when appropriate, there will be no vicious take downs. A restaurant just will not be listed if it can’t be recommended. There are more than a few duds in D.C., but no need to dump on them more.
The site is designed to help make a decision with sorting by place, cuisine and rating. All restaurants are listed in both sortable LIST format and in MAP form. The REVIEWS are written short and to the point (more are coming).
This guide is personal in perspective. Every restaurant listed has been tried at least once and every review is based on two or more visits. Hopefully, it aligns to objective standards so that the recommendations do not lead people astray. Nonetheless, these are one person’s opinions. There are some clear biases. Here are some so you can adjust accordingly.
• With a few exceptions, it is confined to the city boundaries;
• It leans toward fine dining, though fast-casual places are being added to the list;
• Steakhouses are largely overlooked because they have been a scourge for too long;
• Also, as the name implies, wine lists are more scrutinized than cocktail programs.
• It largely ignores brunch, and that will not be rectified. But others do!
In an attempt to make other perspectives available, links to other sites and critics are included on the REVIEW pages when available, especially these:
Washington Post: The Post has two primary restaurant critics. Arguably the dean of D.C. restaurant critics Tom Sietsema is the industrious and dedicated chief critic at the Washington Post. He has earned a position of respect over a long tenure. That said, one motivating factor for launching this site was a frustration that he missed the boat on the District’s gastronomic renaissance (though he appears to be making amends). The result was undercutting some of the emerging talent with faint praise. Sietsema has a tendency to rate at two and half stars on his four-point scale, muddling distinctions and frequently making his ratings frustrating for those looking for guidance. Tim Carman focuses on more casual spots, often family-owned. They now both do dining guides. One day they will figure out they need to be combined into a single searchable resource. Until then, this site has an opening.
Washingtonian: For years, the staff at Washingtonian magazine have produced the annual 100 Best Restaurants in Washington issue. It is the reference point and conversation starter on the topic. It is not without controversy. Like the U.S. News college rankings, it seems to re-order annually to create a buzz. The critics under the masthead are very good and smart, and should be read by all.
DonRockwell.com: Don Rockwell started a message board a few years back that is THE repository of crowd-sourced, informed commentary on D.C. dining. Rockwell and another prominent local voice, Tyler Cowen, both created individual listings of D.C. restaurants that provided the model for this list.
Lori: Lori Gardner has been blogging about her dining experiences in the DMV (District, Maryland, Virginia) for years at “Been There Eaten That.” She has extensive write-ups and photos of her meals. She brings the perspective of a fan. If you are on the fence about whether to try someplace, she might push you over the top.
Rick: Is Rick Chessen is another great local blogger. He does spring and fall lists of his favorite places.
The rating system is a variation of the Michelin guide standard (Very Good in its category; Excellent: worth a detour; Exceptional: worth a special journey), scaled to the city. It is also an attempt to be direct in the nature of the recommendation. As a tool to help navigate the dining landscape, the ratings are an attempt to provide practical reference points. Here are the categories:
Splurge Worthy: An exceptional and probably very expensive experience that is worth the splurge.
Worth Paying for Cab: An excellent restaurant doing well across the board. Someplace so good I would pay money to get there.
Worth Taking a Walk: A very good restaurant worth time and effort to walk a few blocks out of the way to get there. When you are trapped between the McDonald’s and Legal Sea Foods in Chinatown, take a breath and realize that walking a few minutes more will reward the effort.
Worth Trying Out: A noteworthy restaurant. Someplace that you should consider trying, even if the recommendation comes with caveats.
THANKS FOR VISITING!
Regardless of whether you are a visitor from out of town, a couple who managed to line up a babysitter, or a local gourmand exploring these places, we hope you find this site useful. Feedback is welcome, even if we are not able to respond to it all.
Finally, thank you to those who helped along the way: the numerous friends and family that helped cross so many places off the list – especially the Supper Club crew that shared many a meal and lots of thoughts, and Paul Siracusa who built the site and overcame all kinds of crazy requests along the way.