Our nation’s capital is a city of transience. Politicians come and go with the turning of the electoral tides, while many other professionals call the capital home for just one chapter of their careers. The same can be said of the dining scene. To survive in the District for more than 10 years is a notable achievement, but to make it for two decades or longer is exceedingly rare. Nonetheless, these stalwarts continue to thrive. Here are 7 classic Washington D.C. restaurants that remain not-to-be-missed dining destinations.
Just a hop over the fence (and a takedown from Secret Service!) away from the White House, this venerable institution has been serving notable diners since 1906. Martin Luther King Jr., Buzz Aldrin, General Douglas Macarthur, and Theodore Roosevelt have all enjoyed a meal here. A key scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier was even filmed on the premises. The continental minded menu features jumbo lump crab cakes, Amish chicken three ways, and a 16-ounce ribeye steak, all gussied up with seasonally appropriate components. They stick to the classics for dessert: flourless chocolate cake, crème brûlée, and panna cotta. But you don’t come here for a taste of the new; you come to enjoy a little history. Make a reservation at the Occidental.
Housed in an antique-packed Federal period house tucked away in Georgetown, close to the college that bears the neighborhood’s name, this august restaurant always been a bastion of fine dining since its debut over five decades ago. Just this past fall, executive chef Samuel Kim reimagined dinner service as a tasting menu experience showcasing your choice of four to six courses (you can still order a la carte). The luxurious choices range from foie gras torchon and lobster topped uni to duck two ways and truffled gnocchi. In an effort to stop the casualization of fine dining, the restaurant still suggests gentlemen don jackets. Make a reservation at 1789.
Mrs. K’s Toll House
Blanche and Harvey Kreuzburg opened what was originally called Mrs. K’s Toll House Tavern in 1930. To this day, the Silver Spring, Maryland favorite is decorated with dozens of the namesake’s original antiques: Lutz glass, Old Blue Staffordshire plates, copper cookware, and plates bearing maxims from Benjamin Franklin. The gardens surrounding are equally eye-catching – especially in the spring when the tulips are in bloom and in the late when the fuchsias come out – and there’s a small pond. The charming settings make the restaurant a perennial favorite for weddings and holiday parties. Surf and turf classics rule the menu – from crab cakes to ahi tuna tacos to filet mignon and a rightfully renowned burger. Make a reservation at Mrs. K’s Toll House.
Clyde’s of Georgetown
Remember Anchorman’s Ron Burgundy’s infatuation with the song “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band? Surprisingly, a roll in the hay did not inspire the titillating tune. Actually, the name was borrowed from a onetime happy hour menu at this Georgetown redoubt. Since 1963, the restaurant has been serving up a satisfying menu of continental classics to inspire diners to make their “O” faces. The Tommy Melt is a perfect example, featuring an egg topped bacon cheeseburger sandwiched by the two halves of an English muffin. For a twist on tradition, get the chicken salad club sandwich. And don’t miss the perennial favorite that is the crab and artichoke dip. Make a reservation at Clyde’s of Georgetown.
L’Auberge Chez Francois
Located 45 minutes outside the city in the bucolic hamlet of Great Falls, Virginia this incarnation of the ever-popular Alsatian accented fine dining destination has been thriving since 1975 (the original location of the restaurant, close to the White House in downtown D.C., had been a standard bearer for French cuisine during the prior two decades). Long-loved favorites include Châteaubriand steak, sautéed Dover sole with lobster, Provence style scallops, and an Alsatian feast featuring sauerkraut, sausages, pork, duck confit, and foie gras. The kitchen is helmed by second-generation chef Jacques Haeringer who carries on the traditions his father started, while adding his own innovations, including the massive onsite garden and the more casual Jacques’ Brasserie, located on the restaurant’s lower level. Make a reservation at L’Auberge Chez Francois.
First opened in 1931, the A-frame-turned-restaurant in Potomac, Maryland has undergone several changes of ownership and chefs. Throughout all the transitions, the menu has remained focused on French favorites. Diners can still enjoy the classics: stuffed snails, mussels marinière, veal francaise, bouillabaisse a la Marseillaise, brie almandine, and kidneys Dijonnaise. White tablecloths and hospitable wait staff add to the feeling you’re dining in another era. Sumptuous Sunday brunches are a favorite with diners of all ages. The buffet brims with options, including oysters, eggs Benedict, and meat carving stations. Make a reservation at Normandie Farm.
Old Ebbitt Grill
The list of guests at D.C.’s oldest saloon is beyond impressive. Presidents, politicians of note, and celebrities galore been coming since it first opened in 1856 in its original location somewhere on the edge of what is now Chinatown. Dining can feel like a history lesson since the space is packed with antiques and Americana artworks. Seafood stars here. Start with selections from the raw bar, such as oysters on the half shell, Jonah crab claws, lobster, and more – or hot items, like clams casino or oysters Rockefeller. Executive chef Salvatore Ferro lets his Sicilian roots shine through with offerings like spicy sausage garganelli, mussels fra diavolo, and cannelloni stuffed with ricotta, spinach, and mortadella. Make a reservation at Old Ebbitt Grill.
What are your favorite classic Washington D.C. Restaurants? Let us know here or over on Facebook, G+, 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 credit: Rey Lopez (Occidental).