Image: Frank Sinatra in Lady in Cement (1968).
Last year we did an in-depth breakdown of the annual list of the Top 100 Very Best Restaurants done by Washingtonian magazine (See HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE). Now the 2020 version is out, and our research department has been working overtime to dissect it. We start with the places that all of us agree about. By “us” we mean the Washingtonian, The Washington Post, and this ambitious, but humble site 17Degreesdc.com. This year’s effort is helped by the fact Tom Sietsema did a massive list in his Fall 2019 Dining Guide. We also include, where applicable, Rick Chessen of Rick Eats DC, another local blogger who does a semi-regular Top 25. We do not include Michelin because it is unreliable for D.C. or Zagat’s because it is defunct for D.C. We do not include crowd-sourced sites like Yelp because they are unreliable and corrupt.
For the sake of comparison, Washingtonian listed 78 D.C. restaurants in its Top 100 (the others were outside District lines). Our site, 17Degreesdc.com, has 81 places that are ranked in the top two categories of Splurge Worthy (meaning, Extraordinary) or Worth Taking a Cab (meaning, Excellent) (Click here for our full LIST). Tom’s Fall Dining Guide has 34 places in D.C. listed with 3, 3.5, or 4 stars, and another 15 with 2.5 stars. There are more that he has rated highly, but were not included in the last dining guide. Where necessary we have dug up old reviews to find a rating.
One last explanation, by “agree” we mean not only do they like it, but agree about roughly how high to rank it. So, places at the bottom of the Washingtonian that Tom gave 2.5 to or we might say is Worth the Walk (Very Good), we may say everyone roughly agrees. While a top 10 spot for Washingtonian and a 2.5 from Tom or not in our top two categories would be a significant disparity. It is more eye-balling than caliper-grade measurements. Hence, Washingtonian’s #1 choice of Anju is liked by everyone – but Washingtonian is a significantly bigger fan. So, the first place we all agree on is Washingtonian’s #2 (and even there Washingtonian is a little higher).
With that said, here is the list of 38 places (one less than last year!) all the critics agree on:
(Listed in the Washingtonian Top 100 order)
The Dabney – Washingtonian #2; Tom: 3.0; 17Degrees: Worth Paying the Cab; Rick: #9
- Like with Anju, Washingtonian is arguably a full step above, but everyone seems to think it is a top 15-20 spot.
Sushi Nakazawa – Washingtonian #3; Tom: 3.0; 17Degrees: Untried
- The location in the former Ben Franklin Post Office building makes it controversial. The price point makes it inaccessible, but those who’ve tried have praised it. Note NYT just took it’s flagship down a notch.
Komi – Washingtonian: #4; Tom: 4.0; 17Degrees: Splurge Worthy
- There is no daylight here. Komi is a treasure.
Ellē – Washingtonian: #5; Tom: 3.0; 17Degrees: Worth Paying the Cab; Rick #8
- Washingtonian is a little higher, but all agree it stands tall with a long “E.”
Poca Madre – Washingtonian #6; Tom: 3.0; 17Degrees: Worth Paying the Cab; Rick #18
- It is great to see Chef Albisu getting the recognition he deserves.
Bad Saint – Washingtonian #8; Tom: 3.0; 17Degrees: Worth Paying the Cab; Rick: #6
- Nationally-known, jewelbox-of-a-spot now offers some reservation options.
Pineapple & Pearls – Washingtonian #9; Tom: 4.0; 17Degrees: Splurge Worthy
- Could easily be #1 in any given year. One of two Michelin 2 Star spots in D.C.
Inn at Little Washington – Washingtonian #11; Tom: 4.0; 17Degrees: Splurge Worthy
- The only spot outside the District listed, because we all make exceptions for the Inn. The only Michelin 3 Star in the D.C. region.
- These are to different restaurants and combining them doesn’t make sense. But we agree they are both extraordinary.
minibar – Washingtonian #16 (last year’s #1); Tom: 4.0; 17Degrees: Splurge Worthy
- We don’t understand the combined ranking with Cafe Atlantico…just kidding. José Andrés’ temple of modern cuisine is the other Michelin 2 Star in the District. Note it was last year’s #1.
- Chef Cagla Onal-Urel’s market stand is now a serene lunch counter and deserving of all the accolades it is receiving.
Rose’s Luxury – Washingtonian: #20; Tom: 3.0; 17Degrees: Worth Paying the Cab; Rick: Honorable Mention
- Rose’s remains a great spot. We all may be taking it for granted.
St. Anslem – Washingtonian: #24; Tom: 3.0; 17Degrees: Worth Paying the Cab; Rick: #1
- We know of no one who doesn’t like this place.
- A strong debut. Wouldn’t be surprised to see it in the top 20 next year.
Centrolina – Washingtonian #26; Tom: 3.0; 17Degrees: Worth Paying the Cab
- We are lucky Chef Brandwein planted roots in D.C., and it is good Tom finally pushed up his rating to where it needs to be.
Fancy Radish – Washingtonian #27; Tom: 3.0; 17Degrees: Worth Paying the Cab
- The plant-based phenom on H Street continues to rise.
Chloe – Washingtonian: #25; Tom: 3.0; 17Degrees: Worth Paying the Cab; Rick #14
- Another one that took some time for people to realize how good it is.
Sushi Taro – Washingtonian #33; Tom: 3.0; 17Degrees: Splurge Worthy
- Sustained excellence acknowledged.
Little Serow – Washington #34; Tom: 4.0; 17Degrees: Worth Paying the Cab
- Tom really loves this place, but all agree it is excellent – if insanely spicy.
- The setting is so beautiful that you might overlook how good the food is.
Tail Up Goat – Washingtonian #37; Tom: 3.0; 17Degrees: Worth Paying the Cab; Rick #3
- The dining renaissance in D.C. has given us many unique and special places. This is one of them.
- Yet another gem from the Rose’s team. No disputes here.
Stellina – Washingtonian #40; Tom: No review, Carman is a fan; 17Degrees: Untried
- We have not tried it yet, but almost all who have are impressed.
Maydan – Washingtonian #42; Tom: 3.0; 17Degrees: Worth Paying the Cab; Rick #10
- Open-flame cooking that makes everyone smile.
Fiola Mare – Washingtonian #43; Tom: 3.0; 17Degrees: Worth Paying the Cab
- Fabio’s waterside spot in Georgetown is decadent and opulent and expensive and excellent. A former #1 on the Washingtonian list.
- Glad to see this unassuming pizza spot get some love.
Red Hen – Washingtonian #49; Tom: 3; 17Degrees: Worth Paying the Cab; Rick: Honorable Mention
- Red Hen may have suffered as the team’s All Purpose project took off, but it remains one of our favorites.
Jaleo – Washingtonian #55; Tom: 3; 17Degrees: Worth Paying the Cab
- A well-oiled, reliable machine of tapas. No dispute here.
- We come in a little lower than the other two, but agree that it is off to a very good start.
- We are all roughly in the same spot, but it should be noted that while praise for Kaliwa is abundant, it is not universal.
- Part of a burgeoning Afghan scene.
- We are a little higher on this place than the others, but all agree it is flirting with excellence.
We have yet to visit the brick and mortar location, but we’ve had the bagels and they are good.We agree with everyone else.
Convivial – Washingtonian #85; Tom: 3; 17Degrees: Worth Paying the Cab; Rick #7
- There is some disparity here, but all agree it is in the near-excellent or excellent range.
- Turnover has not kept Mintwood from being a great neighborhood spot.
Maketto – Washingtonian #93; Tom: 2.5; 17Degrees: Worth Taking a Walk; Rick: Honorable Mention
- Critical acclaim lags behind popular opinion on this place, but all agree it is above-the-threshold.
Thamee – Washingtonian #98; Tom: #10 in Spring Dining Guide; 17Degrees: Worth Taking a Walk (write-up pending)
- A bright spot on H Street serving Burmese – good to see it get recognized.
- There are different vibes at the two locations, but we all agree it is worth a visit.
Other Places All Agree Are Very Good – Excellent (with some variations):
We also want to give credit to places that everyone agrees are at least very good, even if there is not consensus about how good. So, here are another 28 to keep in mind.
- Washingtonian fell hard. We really liked it.
- Tom lowballs this place. Michelin gave it a star. It may not be for everyone, but we are lucky to have it.
Cane – Washingtonian#10; Tom: 2.0; 17Degrees: Untried
- We have not yet tried it, but Chef Prime’s cooking at Spark was impressive and no doubt this place will please, so we are correcting Tom’s math on this one to pretend like it is 2.5.
Kith/Kin – Washingtonian #15; Tom: 2.5; 17Degrees: Worth Paying for Cab; Rick #20
- This place also made the Esquire list. No one in the dining world had a better year than Chef Kwame Onwuachi. Everyone’s rating keeps sneaking up to where we started. The Post hid Tom’s 1.5 review of 2018, and by the end of 2020 we would not be surprised to see it with 3.0.
- People were sleeping on Gravitas, including us. Now it is getting its due (and a Michelin star). Another one Tom may re-think after it has settled in.
All Purpose – Washingtonian #22; Tom: 2.5; 17Degrees: Worth Paying for Cab
- Washingtonian ranks this place really high, but all agree it very good or better.
- Estadio carries some of the old Proof magic forward, and Washingtonian remains under its spell.
- Tom really needs to update this rating. If Etto is 3.0, then 2 Amy’s is at least 2.5.
Le Diplomate – Washingtonian #29; Tom: 3.0; 17Degrees: Worth Taking a Walk; Rick #16
- We are lower than others on Le Diplomate, but cannot dispute its appeal.
Del Mar – Washingtonian #30; Tom: 3.0; 17Degrees: Worth Taking a Walk
- Another of Fabio’s grand waterside spots. We ding it for cost, but like Fiola Mare it does deliver.
Queen’s English – Washingtonian #31; Tom: 2.5; 17Degrees: Worth Paying for Cab
- One of two independent spots opened by couples that opened without much fanfare and then got everyone’s attention darn quick. (See also Rooster & Owl below).
- Washingtonian is higher on this place than the rest of us, but it is good to see that space finally click.
- Fiola will get a makeover this year. It could be the finest restaurant in D.C. after that, but even now it is underrated by Washingtonian and Tom.
Marcel’s – Washingtonian #41; Tom: 3.0; 17Degrees: Splurge Worthy
- Marcel’s is taken for granted by many, but not us. Perhaps the best overall dining experience in all the city.
- It does burgers well. Not the best overall dining experience, but it doesn’t try to be, and it works.
Unconventional Diner – Washingtonian #47; Tom: 2.5; 17Degrees: Worth Paying for Cab; Rick #11
- Tom is a little lower than others, but we are all above the line on this spot.
Chiko – Washingtonian #50; Tom: 2.5; 17Degrees: Worth Paying for Cab; Rick #13
- Do not let the fast casual model fool you. This is some serious food.
- We actually prefer the West End version. Tom has been a fan for years and his crush does not fade. The rest of us are a notch down in appreciation.
- Sadly, like many places this year Morini had to bounce back from a fire. It recovered well.
- It is unfair to group these places, but if it means they all get on the list then we don’t dissent strongly.
- We worried the strong drink game would mean they mail in the food side of the equation. They didn’t, and everyone seems to be impressed.
- Stand up to dine in, but somehow it works. Last year it was #12, this time we are in line.
- We did not manage to go this past year, but still think it should be rated higher.
Seven Reasons – Washingtonian #87; Tom: 3.0; 17Degrees: Worth Paying for Cab ; Rick #2
- We are all fans. But it should be noted that not all are, and Washingtonian seems to be low-balling.
- Many are fans of the place since the menu reboot. We were partial to the original version.
Johnny’s Half Shell – Washingtonian #91; Tom: 3.0; 17Degrees: Worth Taking a Walk
- The high ratings are probably for a combination of reliability, respect, and nostalgic affection for the throwback food and vibe. We come in a little lower but no less respectful.
Rooster & Owl – Washingtonian #95; Tom: 3.0; 17Degrees: Worth Paying for Cab
- This is the other new spot from a dynamic couple. Washingtonian seems a full step or two down, almost passive-aggressive in its ranking. We are forthright in our praise.
- A couple years ago Sfoglina dropped off the list. We are not sure why, but we assume that they still think it is pretty good. We recommend whatever location Chef Erin Clarke is working at the moment (She moved from Casa Luca, to Van Ness, and just opened the Rosslyn location).
In coming posts we will continue to break down the list, looking at those places where Washingtonian, Tom Sietsema, and our site are outliers from the other critics.
Finally, we do this deep dive as a quality control check on our ratings, but it is also an obvious attempt to get you to pay attention to our site. We continue to believe it is the 3rd Best Dining Guide for D.C. and getting better all the time. We have over 250 recommended restaurants. It is updated every week. You can sort by cuisine, neighborhood, and/or rating! In both MAP or LIST format.
And we make the pitch again to follow us on social media to get updates – there are three more parts of this series coming! We are on FB, Insta, and Twitter. Or click on the icons at the top or bottom of this page.