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An array of Peruvian-Japanese dishes at China Chilcano.
An array of Peruvian-Japanese dishes at China Chilcano.
China Chilcano

The 38 Essential Restaurants in D.C., Fall 2017

Where to find enticing spring rolls, crave-worthy fried chicken, and the dreamiest lobster French toast around

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An array of Peruvian-Japanese dishes at China Chilcano.
| China Chilcano

It's time to update the Eater 38, the answer to the age-old question about the best dining D.C. has to offer. This elite group covers the entire city and surrounding areas, spans myriad cuisines and budgets, and collectively satisfies nearly all restaurant needs — except for those occasions that typically mandate forking over half a paycheck. The list is fine-tuned every few months to accommodate outstanding newcomers (restaurants must be open at least six months to qualify) and/or returning favorites (which must have made major improvements).

This time around, additions include China Chilcano (for sharing the magic of chifa-style dining with the District), Proof (terrific wines, amazing food, and now brunch), and Range. To make room, it's time to say goodbye (for now) to Barrel + Crow, Jaleo, and The Partisan. The list has been arranged by neighborhood for easier mobile searching.

Eater has published an archive of previous, recent Eater 38 players here. Share any thoughts on the picks in the comments below or sound off via email (dc@eater.com).

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Republic

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This Takoma Park restaurant from chef Jeff Black and Danny Wells has lots of oysters, a strong brunch menu (especially the seafood offerings) and live music in the evenings. It's also a destination for creative vegetarian offerings.

Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

Timber Pizza Company

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This one-time food truck has flourished as a brick-and-mortar, putting its wood-burning oven to work spinning out not just beautifully scorched pies — herb-packed pesto, feta, and kale anchor the healthful-sounding Green Monster; honey, chorizo, and peppers fuel the crowd-pleasing Bentley — but now also brunch-friendly bagels, pastries, and biscuits. Add in a commitment to locally sourced ingredients, a surprisingly diverse canned drink selection (think: craft brews, imports, session beers, ciders, and mead), and the real community vibe it’s fostered in Petworth, and Timber seems unlikely to fall any time soon.

Timber Pizza Co DC oven Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

Top Chef alum and empire builder Bryan Voltaggio continues to expand his reach (steak house at MGM National Harbor; fish sandwich shop headed to California), but also still wows at the five-year-old restaurant which crowns the glitzy Chevy Chase Pavilion. His take on modern American cooking extends from the trendy (avocado breakfast sandwiches; tuna poke) to traditional favorites (brined fried chicken, shrimp and grits with ham sofrito).

Gourmet biscuits and gravy at Range. Photo: Range

Himitsu

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This adventurous spot in Petworth is a direct reflection of the passions shared by co-owners Kevin Tien and Carlie Steiner. From the carefully selected wines — sip everything from luscious rosés to wonderfully nutty sherries — to complex dishes that brilliantly bridge the gap between ingredients (think: raw tuna ignited by orange-chili oil), and sometimes entire cultures (Southern-style fried chicken is transported around the globe by fermented chili paste, sesame seeds, and creamy kewpie mayo), it's easy to grasp why this restaurant is packed nearly every night.

Photo: Himitsu

Thip Khao

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D.C.'s leading Lao restaurant has made a splash with its spicy and unusual fare (yes, ant eggs have appeared on the menu). Try the jungle menu for the most chile-powered fare the family-run restaurant has to offer. The family-style dining format — dishes are served as soon as they are ready rather than sequentially — can produce erratic pacing. But any timing issues are typically forgiven upon arrival of the expertly layered cuisine.

Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

Bad Saint

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Perhaps the most representative restaurant of the growing Filipino food trend in D.C. over the past couple of years, Bad Saint has been drawing lines down the street since opening in late 2015. It's a tiny restaurant, but an ambitious one. Expect even longer waits now that the place has been atop a few national "best of" lists.

Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

Lapis Afghan Bistro

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Here's somewhere to go for modern Afghan cooking, in an atmosphere that manages to be both classy and homey (with surprisingly affordable prices for the Adams Morgan neighborhood). Feast on Afghan dumplings, pumpkin preparations, baked eggplant, and standout kebobs in many varieties. A recent recipient of Michelin's Bib Gourmand designation, vegetarians eat well here.

Tail Up Goat

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This Adams Morgan restaurant from Jon Sybert, Jill Tyler, and Bill Jensen, brings the same hospitality the partners learned from time spent at Komi and Little Serow. Drawing influences from time spent on St. John, the restaurant has become known for its pastas, breads, wines, and attentive and easygoing service. Lamb ribs are a sure bet, but don't ignore rotating dishes highlighting seasonal ingredients.

Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

Izakaya Seki

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The underrated Izakaya Seki puts out some of the best raw fish in the area. Under the direction of chef and co-owner Hiroshi Seki, the restaurant features adventurous dishes like beef tongue, Japanese classics like kara-age and a number of accompaniments to its fine sake selection.

Mackerel at Izakaya Seki. Photo: Izakaya Seki

Compass Rose

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The sheer diversity of this neighborhood restaurant's small menu is impressive, and the kitchen manages to excel at a number of different cuisines, ranging from South American to Georgian. A signature dish is the Khachapuri, an addictive bread and cheese, pizza-like concoction. A thoughtful wine list and gorgeous design also elevate the experience. The restaurant recently added a new private dining option served underneath a Bedouin tent.

Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

Convivial

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Award-winning restaurateur Cedric Maupillier has created a welcoming neighborhood spot in Shaw with this lively cafe. Fans of the familiar can take comfort in culinary standards such as quiche Lorraine or seafood-packed bouillabaisse, while others may indulge in gourmet bacon cheeseburgers and fried chicken prepared in the style of coq au vin.

Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

All-Purpose Pizzeria

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Chef Mike Friedman’s self-styled pizza place is on everyone’s lips. Crowds continue to pour into the Shaw-based restaurant to indulge in artful appetizers, seasonally themed pies, and spirited beverages.

Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

The Dabney

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Chef Jeremiah Langhorne's Washington debut displays some of the most aggressive commitment to local sourcing and Mid-Atlantic cuisine in the region. As a result, the hearth-fired dishes — smaller plates range from $13 to $25, while family-style fish dishes and steak platters hover around $50 — rotate frequently. Its Michelin star awarded last fall solidified the cuisine as some of the best in the city.

Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

Kinship

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Though he’s long been a critical darling — Michelin-starred, even — Kinship chef and founder Eric Ziebold provides enough wiggle room at Kinship for everyday guests to make their own fun. Menu items are arranged by culinary themes (Craft; History; Ingredients: Indulgence), but share a few things in common: gorgeous presentations, and complementary flavors.

Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

Rob Rubba has rocketed to chef superstardom with this self-styled contribution to the Shaw neighborhood, from Neighborhood Restaurant Group. Here, he makes a name for himself with unique dishes with an Asian flair, and has a particular way with duck. Find a carefully-curated wine list and a festive dim sum brunch here, too.

Photo: Hazel

This versatile LeDroit Park restaurant has flourished as a neighborhood gathering place at all hours of the day, from breakfast to those between-lunch-and-dinner hours. The menu has a Latin American slant, with stellar arepas and interesting takes on everything from avocado to breakfast sandwiches. There's lots of vegetarian options, too.

Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

The Red Hen

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One of Eater's former Restaurant of the Year winners is the whole package: food, design, service. Bloomingdale residents and destination diners turn to the Red Hen for offal, homemade pastas, and a carefully curated wine list (orange wine, anyone?).

Photo: Red Hen

Le Diplomate

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Le Diplomate asserted itself as an instant classic when it opened in Logan Circle in 2013. Now James Beard Award-winning restaurateur Stephen Starr's first entry into the D.C. market excels at classic dishes like steak frites and skate, as well as some interesting twists like foie gras mousse. The atmosphere is loud and bustling, and the French-themed decor is transporting.

Photo by Missy Frederick / Eater DC

Estadio

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Estadio has been a major player in D.C.'s Spanish food scene since it opened. The contemporary small plates menu boasts a strong selection of cheese and charcuterie, as well as pintxos, bocadillos and classic tapas dishes.

Photo: Estadio

Little Serow

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Getting into Little Serow can be a challenge — lines for Johnny Monis's no-reservations restaurant tend to start forming before opening — but the payoff is worth the wait. The chef prepares fiery, authentic Thai cuisine in a spare and stylish setting. At $49 per person for a multi-course, ever-changing menu, Little Serow provides a more affordable alternative to the chef's fine-dining establishment, Komi.

Photo by Bill Addison / Eater

Iron Gate

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One of the most romantic restaurants in the city, Neighborhood Restaurant Group's Mediterranean-themed restaurant features cooking from Vermilion alum Anthony Chittum. There are tasting menus, family-style meals, and a la carte options at the restaurant. All are complemented by seasonally inspired cocktails, and abundant Greek and Italian wines.

Photo: Iron Gate

Bombay Club

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Ashok Bajaj's Bombay Club is one of those old school DC restaurants that has been a favorite among politicians for ages. But unlike some of the city's classic steakhouses, you won't find a dated menu or indifferent service at Bombay Club. The restaurant serves up a stellar brunch buffet, properly made Manhattans and traditional Indian fare such as lamb roganjosh. The thali platters are a good way to sample a variety of dishes. And there's even a piano player in the evening.

Photo: Bombay Club

Del Campo

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Victor Albisu's South American restaurant serves up a variety of grilled smoky meats, grilled arepas, and beefy brunch dishes. There's even a cocktail list with edible, meaty garnishes available in the lounge.

Photo: Del Campo

Centrolina

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With her all-in-one outpost in tony CityCenterDC, James Beard Foundation Award nominee Amy Brandwein has proven she’s a force to be reckoned with. The seasoned chef operates this gourmet market/fine-dining establishment with a team of talented women, all of whom contribute to a hospitality experience punctuated by enticing drinks, comforting meals, and artful desserts.

Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

Zaytinya

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This Jose Andres restaurant may be even more popular than his flagship Jaleo. It's hard to go wrong with the ever-changing menu of Mediterranean dishes. The buzzy restaurant has delicious vegetables, flatbreads and seafood dishes, and celebrates various festivals throughout the year, including Greek Easter.

Photo: Zaytinya

This Penn Quarter fixture is experiencing a renaissance as of late, introducing an intoxicating brunch (think: duck-filled waffles topped with foie gras butter; rum-fueled “shakes”), showcasing regional spoils via seasonally inspired tasting menus, and filling glasses with tasty beverages (sherry and gin cocktails are current favorites).

Potato gnocchi in basil pesto at Proof. Photo: Proof

Daikaya

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The stunningly-designed Daikaya is two restaurants in one. On the ground floor: Sapporo-style ramen in a bustling setting. Upstairs, an izakaya specializing in Japanese bar food, whiskeys, shochu, and Japanese beer. Minibar alum Katusya Fukushima creates dishes like grilled avocado and okonomiyaki-style Brussels sprouts with pork.

Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

China Chilcano

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The Peruvian-Japanese gem in tastemaker José Andrés’ collection of globe-spanning restaurants offers a window into the fusion cooking that’s driving so much of the culinary conversation in South America. Find citrus-splashed ceviches, meaty dumplings, elaborate stir-frys, and, of course, boozy pisco drinks.

Assorted dishes at China Chilcano. Photo: China Chilcano

Rasika is not just one of the most popular Indian restaurants in DC — it's also, quite plainly, one of the most popular restaurants in D.C., period. Chef Vikram Sunderam (formerly of London's Bombay Brasserie) mans the kitchen at the Penn Quarter restaurant, where he takes a modern look at traditional Indian fare with favorites like the crispy palak chaat, flavorful curries, and more.

Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

Masseria

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Though it's tough for a tasting menu-centric restaurant to make it on the Eater 38 due to pricing constraints, Masseria provides a variety of entry points with its range of guided dinners (four-, five-, and six-course meals are available). Diners can also go the bar snack route and still take in stylish environs featuring an open kitchen, chef's counter, airy main dining room, and spacious patio.

Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

The Tavern at Ivy City Smokehouse

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In addition to wooing patrons with its signature honey, hot-smoked salmon “candy,” this casual rooftop retreat also applies its smoke-em-if-you-got-em philosophy to chicken wings, ribs, tacos, and bagel platters. Rather chill? Raw bar selections and daily specials showcase the best the sea has to offer.

Photo by Ebony K. / Yelp

Maketto

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Erik Bruner-Yang's second restaurant was the opening of 2015. Its unique design, combining indoor/outdoor spaces and restaurant with retail, provides a home for an addictive dim sum brunch and beloved dishes like Taiwanese fried chicken.

Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

Hank's On The Hill

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All locations of Hank's Oyster Bar are terrific neighborhood hangouts, but Hank's on the Hill gets a nod this time around for its festive vibe and the ever-changing cocktails to be found at its Eddy Bar. Regardless of the location (there are also Hank's restaurants in Alexandria and Dupont Circle), find delicious fish and chips, lobster rolls, oysters, and more.