Where to Dine Like a Local Around Washington D.C.

Credit: Letena

Despite the continued challenges facing the food industry, restaurants around Washington, D.C. have shown incredible resiliency. Navigating changing restrictions and safety protocols, D.C.’s local favorites continued to provide top-notch experiences, allowing the pandemic-weary locals a much-needed balm in the form of familiar, delicious food from long-held go-tos.

Every neighborhood in the District has one spot (or 30) that has provided comfort and a place to celebrate when it was needed most. Here’s a list of the metro region’s best neighborhood restaurants that locals turn to time and again, featuring an array of cuisines and price points typical of the area’s incredibly broad selection, in both the city and some of its suburbs.

Belga Café (Eastern Market) 

The brainchild of award-winning Belgian chef Bart Vandaele, Belga serves some of the District’s best steak along with other fine fare from Western Europe like croquettes, stews, and various roasts. The staff are knowledgeable, friendly, and from time to time liable to ask a patron for their drink preferences and then mix something up that isn’t even on the menu. A trip to Belga also means a trip to one of the city’s most pleasant neighborhoods — especially on weekends, when an outdoor market takes up several blocks just down the street from the restaurant. An added bonus: Belga partners with its upstairs neighbor, Betsy, a gin bar with a delightful rooftop. 

Dining at the restaurant: Belga offers indoor dining and outdoor seating on the rooftop patio. 

Takeout: Belga’s takeout options include curbside pickup.

Tico DC & Nama 14 Sushi + Ramen (14th Street) 

Imagine if a well-regarded Peruvian restaurant opened up a secret kitchen in the back of the store and started selling widely beloved sushi. Now you understand the Tico + Nama joint venture, the result of a partnership between Tico and the famed K Street sushi spot. This is where you can find flavorful South American and Asian fare under the same roof on a particularly bustling stretch of one of the city’s busiest streets. 

Dining at the restaurant: Tico & Nama have dine-in service consistent with the D.C. government’s capacity limits. Don’t skip weekend brunch with unlimited food for $29 and drinks for $16, along with a $6 drink upgrade option.

Takeout: Tico & Nama are both open for takeout, steps from the intersection of 14th and U Streets Northwest.

Letena (Columbia Heights)

Credit: Letena

Letena makes some of the finest Ethiopian food in a city with a lot of it. A farm-to-table, family-owned business that opened in 2016, this spot nestled in the heart of Columbia Heights has a selection to please any palate. The lentil samosas are a crucial opener, and the vegetable samplers are flavorful and filling for any group. In addition to an authentic menu full of dishes perfect for family-style or solo dining — all accompanied by sour Ethiopian flatbread injera, of course — the drink menu has a wide spectrum of Ethiopian lagers.

Dining at the restaurant: Dine-in is currently closed at Letena.

Takeout: Letena offers pickup and delivery service during the pandemic, including curbside pickup, as part of a safety push that also includes significant precautions for staff members.

Farmers Fishers Bakers (Waterfront) 

Part of the Founding Farmers restaurants (all owned by American family farmers), Farmers Fishers Bakers sits in an ideal location on the banks of the Potomac River, around the corner from the Kennedy Center. This restaurant proves quality does not always have to come at the expense of quantity: The menu is loaded with different cuisines, ranging from sushi and local fish catches to jambalaya, steak, and fried chicken. All are well-executed by a friendly staff.

Dining at the restaurant: In addition to the dining room, outside patio seating with umbrellas is available.

Takeout: Curbside pickup and standard takeout are readily available.

The Pig (Logan Circle) 

The Pig’s dimly lit dining room makes it one of the city’s best restaurants for a low-key but classy dinner out, or to celebrate a special occasion. On holidays, the restaurant tends to put on special menus, heavy on pork dishes and creative gin and whiskey cocktails. The kitchen and bar staff are experts on all of the above, as they hone each year-round. If you’re a big barbecue fan, there are few better places in the city. Try the smoked brisket platter if you prefer beef, or lean into the smoked baby back ribs if you’re a pork person. But any meat-lover will adore The Pig, which gets bonus points for its local vegetables from a farm in La Plata, Maryland.

Dining at the restaurant: The Pig offers dine-in in its spacious dining room, consistent with city regulations. 

Takeout: The Pig is open for takeout, steps from the intersection of 14th Street and Rhode Island Avenue at the heart of Logan Circle.

Meze Restaurant (Adams Morgan) 

A mainstay in the heart of AdMo since it opened in 2001, Meze’s Mediterranean and Turkish cuisine make it a standout on a competitive stretch of 18th Street. Meze presents a mix of delicious tapas and halal plates — the baba ganoush and chicken skewers are standouts – and Turkish red wines, which are also available to go.

Dining at the restaurant: Meze offers indoor dining consistent with D.C. regulations. It also has outdoor seating extending past the sidewalk and onto a blocked-off section of 18th Street, which makes for one of the most pleasant outdoor setups in the city. A robust brunch menu is available on weekends. 

Takeout: Meze is open for takeout.

Ruthie’s All-Day (Arlington)

Ruthie's All Day

Credit: Ruthie’s All Day

A new addition to Northern Virginia’s food scene, Ruthie’s draws rave reviews for its food, service, ambience, and flexibility. RAD, as it’s known to people in the know, serves different menus depending on the time of day, pivoting seamlessly between coffee and barbecue and leaving people happy no matter which they get. A rotation of local beers is on tap. Co-owner and chef Matt Hill graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park and worked in several well-regarded kitchens before opening RAD in 2020. 

Dining at the restaurant: Ruthie’s has a 55-seat outdoor patio with space heaters for diners who prefer to eat outdoors, in addition to its charming white and green dining room.

Takeout: Ruthie’s offers takeout and curbside pickup.

The Arsenal at Bluejacket (Navy Yard) 

Beloved by both residents of Navy Yard and baseball fans from all over who stop in for a drink before a Nationals game, Bluejacket is known for a relaxed but festive atmosphere and the beer it brews on the side. In addition to ballpark favorites like the jumbo pretzel and an all-beef hot dog, you’ll find plenty of filling options that require a plate, such as butter chicken, pan-seared salmon, or a hearty cheeseburger. Pair with a brew or a cocktail and soon you’ll feel like you’re at a sporting event even if venturing to the stadium isn’t part of your plans. 

Dining at the restaurant: The Bluejacket experience includes a large outdoor patio in addition to indoor dining and bar seating

Takeout: In addition to the patio, it’s easy to carry out.

Mala Tang (Arlington) 

Mala Tang’s menu is based on the street food one could find in Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan province. That means hot pots on portable burners loaded with broth, in which a diner can cook their own meat, prepared with care by Mala Tang’s kitchen staff. Hot pots can be individualized with a nearly endless selection of meats, seafoods, and vegetables to suit diners’ flavor profiles and preferences.

Dining at the restaurant: Indoor dining is open, along with outdoor patio seating.

Takeout: Takeout is available.

Bistro Aracosia (Palisades Northwest) 

Bistro Aracosia

Credit: Bistro Aracosia

This family-owned Afghan restaurant has two locations in the area. Bistro Aracosia gets high marks for a wide array of menu items — including leek and scallion dumplings, kebabs, lamb chops, and spicy dumplings served with squash and eggplant. It is among the city’s most critically acclaimed restaurants, earning repeated plaudits for its friendliness to vegetarians and its ability to find the right dish no matter your diet. The menu pairs well with a wide drink selection (to go!) — ranging from sangrias and blood orange margaritas to pomegranate cosmos — and both the prices and service are uniformly praised by customers.

Dining at the restaurant: Indoor dining is available, and Bistro Aracosia has set up covered outdoor dining with heaters. 

Takeout: Bistro Aracosia is open for takeout.

Medium Rare (Cleveland Park, Bethesda, Arlington

Sometimes, you just want a really good steak and really good fries. If that’s what you seek, there is no better place to find it than Medium Rare, a local operation with locations in D.C. proper, Maryland, and Virginia. Medium Rare prepares a tender and flavorful cut of meat no matter how you like it, with plenty of desserts, beers, wines, and cocktails to go with your ideal steak dinner.

Dining at the restaurant: Medium Rare is open for dine-in and serves a brunch menu on weekends, with bottomless drinks and a hearty, protein-filled meal for just $27.99. Each location has outdoor dining options.

Takeout: Takeout is available at all three locations.

Arlington:

Bethesda:

Cleveland Park:

La Casita Pupuseria & Cocina C.A. (Gaithersburg)

Pupusas

Pupusas | Credit: La Casita

The greater Washington area is fortunate to have some wonderful places to eat pupusas, the Central American flatbread that can come loaded with various cheeses, meats, and seafoods. Easily accessible via any of the District’s Maryland suburbs and a fun part of a day trip from the city or Northern Virginia, La Casita specializes in this savory treat — fillings include cheese, beans, beef, and avocado — which came to the D.C. area in droves via the city’s Honduran and Salvadoran communities. The restaurant was founded in Gaithersburg in 2002 and now has locations in Silver Spring and Germantown, too, as well as a presence at Nationals Park and Union Market.

Dining at the restaurant: Indoor dining is available, as well as outdoor seating on the patio. 

Takeout: Takeout is available.

Casa Oaxaca (Bethesda) 

This family-owned tequila and mezcal bar opened in 2019 and serves several crowd pleasers for every part of a meal, including excellent ceviche, tacos, fajitas, and more. The drink menu features more than a half-dozen varieties of tasty margaritas, plus cocktails and beer. And the location is ideal, smack in the middle of Bethesda’s business district and a short walk from the Bethesda Metro station. The environment is among the best things about Casa Oaxaca, evoking the feeling of an outdoor cafeteria where a community comes together. 

Dining at the restaurant: Casa Oaxaca offers outdoor seating in a wide-open patio area with an open view out to the street, as well as indoor dining. 

Takeout: Takeout is available.

Dolan Uyghur (Cleveland Park) 

Dolan Uyghur

Credit: Dolan Uyghur

Dolan Uyghur opened in 2016, with a goal to give D.C. a “taste of Uyghur culture.” The restaurant boasts a wide selection of Uyghur cuisine, with enough appetizers that picking even three or four becomes a challenge. Some entrees are served in flavorful soup bases, and others stand alone with vibrant sauces and seasonings, so diners can choose their own paths. The restaurant is known for its hot chicken stew, various lagman dishes, and nan kordak — naan topped with lamb that’s braised with onions, carrots, and potatoes.

Dining at the restaurant: Dolan Uyghur can seat five or six diners outside at a time and offers indoor dining upstairs and downstairs.

Takeout: Takeout is available, including curbside pickup.

Filomena (Georgetown)

Welcome to one of the District’s best-known and most-loved Italian hubs. Since opening in 1983, Filomena has established itself as a Georgetown institution and been profiled by Forbes, the Travel Channel, and the Food Network, as well as raved about by people from all over the D.C. metro area who have stopped in over the years. The chicken parmesan is a particular standout, as are the varied bolognese and lasagna options (gnocchi, fettuccine, and eggplant). Filomena speaks for itself. There isn’t anything on the menu that isn’t great.

Dining at the restaurant: Filomena offers dine-in service. 

Takeout: Filomena also offers takeout.

Alex Kirshner is a writer and editor based in Washington, D.C.

Lauren McDowell contributed reporting to this guide.

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