Over the past decade, Washington, D.C. has grown from a nothing-to-write-home-about steakhouse-centric city to one of the most vibrant dining scenes in the country. In the last year alone, an intensely international range of restaurants opened in the nation’s capital, including those highlighting the culinary traditions of Mexico, India, and Trinidad – plus a few spots focusing on homegrown flavors from across the States. No matter what strikes your fancy, here are 10 new D.C. restaurants where you should be eating right now. And if you can’t get to them soon, check out the more than 50,000 restaurants on OpenTable.com for the right restaurant for any occasion.
Stephen Starr, the man with the golden touch, teamed up with restaurateur Joe Carroll to bring D.C. a location of the latter’s highly successful Brooklyn steakhouse. The boisterous, Americana-decorated outpost by Union Market is helmed by Marjorie Meek-Bradley, a powerhouse in her own right – Top Chef alum, former executive chef at the now-shuttered Ripple, and founder of Smoked & Stacked. She puts out pleasing plates that run the gamut: stellar steaks, fluffy biscuits with pimento cheese, grilled oysters lavished with herb butter, and a showstopping whole fried chicken that arrives with the head on.
Must-order dish: The lemon pepped, butter-drenched salmon collar.
Make a reservation at St. Anselm.
Executive chef Victor Albisu melds traditional techniques and flavors with more forward-thinking presentations and unexpected ingredients at his modernist Mexican restaurant in Penn Quarter. Ceviche style snapper aguachile is a riot of flavors and colors, featuring serrano peppers, grapefruit, avocado, yuzu, basil, and trout roe. “Huitsquites” is a high-minded play on esquites (grilled corn salad) made with corn risotto, shaved truffles, and huitlacoche (corn fungus). It’s easy to pair your meal. Service director Michael Iglesias oversees a robust mezcal menu showcasing more than 70 bottles, including rarities he hand-imported from Mexico.
Must-order dish: Al pastor-style duck with scratch-made masa tortillas and sweet pineapple sauce.
Make a reservation at Poca Madre.
Chef Tim Ma earned a reputation for pushing boundaries with unique flavor combinations and intensely creative dishes at Kyirisan and Maple Ave. His newest venture inside the progressive Eaton Workshop hotel carries that arc forward even farther. An open-faced sandwich features ribbons of pastrami-cured smoked salmon and carrot kimchi. Roasted baby eggplants accented with everything bagel spices arrive in a yellow Romesco sauce. And a snowdrift of housemade ricotta is accompanied by lavender honey. Yes, his sources for inspiration are wide-ranging, but Ma’s clever cooking showcases the power of diversity.
Must-order dish: Tofu gnocchi with truffled white miso glaze topped by shaved black truffles.
Make a reservation at American Son.
America Eats Tavern
The second iteration of José André’s homage to America’s culinary roots takes over a longstanding barbecue restaurant in the middle of Georgetown. So it’s only natural smoked meats are highlighted, including tender racks of ribs, pulled pork, and half an Amish chicken shellacked with winsome barbeque sauce. Other standouts include skillet cornbread with smoked butter, vermicelli mac ‘n’ cheese emboldened with chunks of Maryland crab, and a silo style lemon meringue pie featuring frozen lemon cream on a shortbread cookie. By the time you leave, you’ll be humming “God Bless America.”
Must-order dish: Hush puppies topped with trout roe and accompanied by honeyed butter.
Make a reservation at America Eats Tavern.
The Smith – U Street
Comfort is the name of the game at the latest outpost of the New York City-based boutique chainlet. Think freshly fried potato chips with blue cheese fondue, oh-so-gooey mac ‘n’ cheese, crab-packed tots, a fried catfish sandwich crosshatched with bacon strips, and grandma style chicken pot pie. The buzzy, brassy brasserie opens out onto the hustle of U Street, each side of the equation helping energize the other, so no matter how many notches you have to loosen your belt, you still feel upbeat.
Must-order dish: Skillet baked sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream.
Make a reservation at the Smith – U Street.
The team behind the mid-Atlantic minded District Kitchen in Woodley Park turns their talents to Mexican cuisine at this new eatery just around the corner. Punctuated with plenty of blue flourishes, the vibrant space is well matched by equally bold flavors. Beef tongue tacos are perked up with habanero-mango salsa, three-cheese queso hides chorizo chunks, braised lamb graces a mountain of nachos, and the Mexi-Burguesa is topped with queso, salsa macha, piquillo peppers, and chipotle aioli. Wash it all down with a mango-tamarind margarita, peachy paloma, or one of the Mexican beers on draft.
Must-order dish: Aguachile ceviche with shrimp, bay scallops, lime juice, cilantro, serrano chile.
Make a reservation at Mayahuel.
Trinidad-born executive chef Peter Prime lets his heritage shine through at this Bloomingdale restaurant inside a repurposed firehouse. There’s guava rum-marinated oxtail that gets kissed by the grill, crispy geera pork rich with cumin, callaloo soup, coconut-braised collard greens, and a stunning whole snapper. Fry bread with curried garbanzo bean dip is a play on the island sandwich known as doubles, a pair of baras (fried flatbreads) packed with curried chickpeas. Sorbet push pops are a gentle comedown at the end; the smoked coconut is a particularly memorable finale.
Must-order dish: Jerk wings with mango mustard.
Make a reservation at Spark.
Guapo’s of Georgetown
The sprawling, super sleek Tex Mex eatery on the waterfront has magnifico views of the Potomac from its 40-seat patio. There are another 100 seats inside, plus a bar where 16 more guests can belly up. Co-executive chefs Nathan Breedlove and Sergio Galindo helm the kitchen, while pastry chef Elissa Reyna is in charge of the sweets. The menu features many of the classic dishes that made the area mini-chain famous, as well as newer items, including ceviches, torta sandwiches, and tacos cradled in corn tortillas.
Must-order dish: Tacos de conchita with sour orange braised pork.
Make a reservation at Guapo’s of Georgetown.
Pisco y Nazca
The recent Miami import showcases high-end Peruvian fare in its glitzy Dupont Circle digs in the RL Hotel. The seafood-driven menu is packed with 10 ceviches, small plates, and large plates, and complemented by – you guessed it – lots and lots of piscos. With 100 seats, including a large centerpiece bar, it boasts a buzzy boîte-like atmosphere. Save room for dessert. The suspiro with dulce de leche custard, meringue peaks, and a passion fruit glaze is especially worth the stomach space.
Must-order dish: Tostones topped with pulled pork, avocado, onions, and aji amarillo mojo.
Make a reservation at Pisco y Nazca.
Executive chef Ajay Kumar takes a modern-minded approach to traditional Indian dishes at this Penn Quarter eatery. For example, Nihari-style lamb shank, which is popular in the Northwest frontier of India is often served as a hearty breakfast. Here it’s transformed it into a large-format entrée. The bone-in cut is cooked over an open flame and then rubbed with a mixture of turmeric and Kashmiri chili. It arrives with slightly spicy nihari sauce, naan bread, and roasted eggplant. Don’t worry; if you just want chicken tikka, dal makhani, or vegetable korma, they’re all on hand.
Must-order dish: Goan halibut with coconut milk and tamarind.
Make a reservation at Karma.
Have you been to any of these new D.C. restaurants ? Let us know in the comments or over on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter. And, remember to snap + share your #dishpics with us on Instagram for a chance to win in our weekly giveaway.
Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell and Instagram @nevinmartell.
Photo credits: Rey Lopez (America Eats Tavern); Jen Chase (St. Anselm); Greg Powers (Poca Madre).