Best Restaurants to Visit in Washington D.C.
So much food, so little time!
If you want to experience the best restaurants in Washington D.C., but don’t have a lot of time, we’ve got some strategies to make that happen. Read on, but be warned that we’re not showing you any pictures. If you want to see pictures of the food, then peruse our Instagram or visit the restaurant – save some magic for yourself since social media is destroying all of life’s mysteries. 🙂
We landed before noon on a Thursday (June 22 to be exact) and boarded a plane back out of town by Sunday afternoon (June 25). We managed to eat at 8, arguably 9 (ha!) of the best restaurants in D.C. in just under 3 days. We’ve laid out our itinerary and what not to miss at each establishment along with a little help managing the massive caloric intake over 72 hours! Below is the elevator pitch for why you can’t miss these places and how to fit them all in to your tight schedule.
Here we go!
Tapas Progressive Lunch Tour.
We’re José Andrés junkies and it’s impossible not to be since José introduced tapas into the US (circa 1992 ish) giving us all the distinct advantage of tasting Spain via small plates! His reach has broadened well beyond Spanish influence and now encompasses Greek, Lebanese, Mexicana and Chinese-Peruvian influences. Our obsession with José has expanded right along with his cuisine from Las Vegas (Jaleo, é, Bazaar Meats) to Miami (Bazaar) to Beverly Hills (Bazaar) to every conceivable José Andrés restaurant in D.C. (Zatinya, Oyamel, Jaleo, Minibar, Barmini, China Chilcano & a sneak peek at Beefsteak). Our good friend, Jhonatan Cano suggested and arranged a progressive lunch which we lovingly refer to as Tour de José (thanks for the naming scheme Kirsten).
Day 1 Stop 1: Zatinya Greek-Lebanese
This is the busiest of the 7 José restaurants in D.C. with a mad daily lunch rush and we understand why, it’s fabulous cuisine from the thick of Asia Minor (think Istanbul!) Make reservations on their website, Open Table or just walk in and see what’s available, but likely you’d be waiting without a reservation.
What to order: Octopus Santorini & Sea Scallops to name a few perfect dishes. Everything we ordered was entirely fresh & zesty with citrus & dill flavor profiles – very Mediterranean and oceanic. Excellent opening tapas to our progressive food tour.
Day 1 Stop 2: Jaleo Spanish Tapas! Make reservations on their website, Open Table or just walk in and see what’s available, but likely you’d be waiting without a reservation during lunch rush.
What to order: Jamon Iberico de bellota Fermin, the 48-month cured ham from acorn-fed, black-footed pigs of Spain – so tender, so buttery, so nutty you’ll make a scene right at the table. Manchego cheese! Erizos de mar con pipirrana, sea urchin with trout roe, wonderfully prepared, excellent flavor profile and texture. Aceitunas ‘Ferran Adria’ liquid olives – olive explosion just like at Tickets Barcelona only in D.C. and for a fraction of the price plus they’ve repurposed foosball tables in place of some dinner tables – how clever!
Day 1 Stop 3: Oyamel Mexicana! Make reservations on their website, Open Table or just walk in and see what’s available, but likely a wait without a reservation.
What to order: Approaching a full tank, we eeked out a few more must have dishes. Ceviche de Atun Pacifico – the best ceviche we’ve ever had even as compared to South America where the art of ceviche is mastered. The combination of the toasted pecans with tender ahi provoked the ‘eyes-roll-back’ effect. We recommend chasing the ceviche with a Salt Air Margarita – with salt that has been turned into sea foam and dolloped on top of the glass for added texture in lieu of a salted rim.
Day 1 Stop 4: Beefsteak Vegan, Gluten Free, Fast Food
What to order: We just peeked inside to see what the fuss was about. Because it was in beta, we didn’t get to order or try anything, but the concept is fast and convenient with plenty of gluten free, vegan vegetables and sandwiches to choose from. We assume it’s good since Think Food Group designed the concept, it’s got to be decent for fast food (reminds us of Frontera by Rick Bayless at Chicago O’hare – a quick, cheap fix of a Michelin Chef on the go!)
Day 1 Late Dinner
After a 5 hour progressive lunch.
Rose’s Luxury Chef José Andrés told us we couldn’t miss Chef Aaron Silverman and he was right. The good news is that this place is One Michelin Star ranked, the bad news is that they don’t take reservations. We gambled. There’s a lot we will do for food, but waiting in line is not one of those things. We hopped in an Uber around 9:00pm on a Thursday knowing that they closed at 10pm, walked in and headed straight upstairs for a drink not expecting at all to eat (and we were perfectly content with this). Maybe it was our nonchalant attitude or maybe our timing was impeccable, but the General Manager popped over and said a couple seats had opened up at the bar downstairs and we were seated for dinner in under 10 minutes. 10 minutes after that, we were customizing our own tasting menu and had one hell of a magical meal and perfect night!
What to order: Everything. No really, everything. Favorites on the menu included Pork Lychee and Rigatoni Alla Vodka along with a smattering of killer dishes that were prepared exclusively off menu! We’d tell you more, but we’d have to kill you. Just go and see for yourself, but aim for a weeknight and don’t wait in any g-d forsaken lines – your time is vastly more valuable and this place isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
P.S. the more we can discourage you from forming a line, the easier it will be for us to get seated quickly the next time. Evil and self serving? You betcha! If your no-reservation gamble pays off, it’s truly life changing food and every meal served equates to feeding one hungry child around the world via WFP-USA. So far they’ve served 131,974 meals and donated $33K -legit food & socially responsible!
Skip breakfast. Skip lunch. Burn calories. Make space.
Walk 12 miles to burn off Day 1 calories and run a Day 2 caloric-deficit for a big dinner. See every historic landmark, political site and museum in D.C. via a 6 hour non-stop, self-guided walking tour.
Day 2 Dinner: China Chilcano Chinese-Peruvian! Make a reservation on their website or via Open Table.
What to order: It would be easier to tell you what not to order because only one item comes to mind and it’s the California Roll and that’s only because we prefer rice texture over potato texture, but its pretty clever and good nonetheless. The Lamb Dumplings, Dim Sum and Amazonian Ceviche are extraordinary. As is the Caramel Dessert. We customized our own tasting leaving it entirely up to Chef deciding what he wanted to showcase off of his menu and I’m fairly certain we enjoyed 12+ dishes from the ambitious, young and amazing head chef, cutie-pie Carlos Delgado (B let’s me crush on all these chefs!)
Brunch – who doesn’t love to combine breakfast with lunch? Best meal of the day on a weekend.
DBGB Kitchen Daniel Boulud dining in NYC is as fine dining as it gets and this Michelin Starred chef thankfully offers a more casual eatery and event space here in D.C. – which we were dying to try and so pleased with the outcome. Good odds of just walking in and grabbing a seat, but reservations always encouraged.
What to order: If you want something light but satisfying, order the Yellowfin Tuna with white bean puree, tuna and fennel capers. If you want something hearty then go for the Croque Madame 17, a meaty, warm sandwich with ham and gruyere and a sunny side egg. (The closest thing we’ve savored to this delightful little sandwich is the Butcher Block sandwich served up at Butcher Town Grocer in Louisville, KY). As an aside: This little brunch kit called “Bruch So Hard” care of Geneva P provided a pants expander, a coin toss to aid in the decision between “sweet and savory,” some breath mints and a couple headache relievers – definitely came in handy at our brunch after all the margaritas we pounded the day before.
Day 3 Dinner
Minibar Two Michelin Star ranked restaurant in Washington D.C. and a highly sought after experience by food connoisseurs from around the world. The overall experience is a lot like being transported into a fairytale which starts with the way the foyer is arranged with a big, wonky clock and oversized arm chair. We instantly fell in love.
What to order: From Jose’s Private Table, The Tasting Menu click here for everything you need to know. This is a wakeful dream, magical journey through 30 courses over a 2-3 hour period. You’ll have to make reservations at least 30 days in advance here: Minibar Reservations.
Day 3 After Dinner Drinks & Snacks
Barmini It’s highly likely that you’ll finish up your last couple Minibar courses at Barmini, unless you prefer visiting the lab as an entirely separate occasion, which is also typical – either way you structure your trip to Barmini, it’s wickedly enchanting.
What to order: Let the Mixologist be your guide. This is a drink laboratory and the bartenders are good at reading each guest for a customized, in the moment, mesmerizing cocktail. Do note, you’ll want to make reservations 30 days in advance here: Barmini Reservations.
On the way out of town food. Grab and go!
What to order: Peanut butter shake & Shake Shack Double. Proceed to airplane and pass out.
And this folks, is how it’s done – 9 of the best restaurants in Washington D.C. (8 to be certain) in just under 72 hours.
Thanks for reading!
E & B Woodward
Tastemakers World’s 50 Best Restaurants
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