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Andrew Cebulka for Dabney Cellar

14 Hidden Gem Restaurants in D.C.

Some of D.C.’s finest food resides in alleys and basements

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Some of D.C.’s best-known restaurants are fairly hidden. The biggest signs of Little Serow (in a basement) and Michelin-starred Sushi Taro (above a CVS) are the lines that form around 5 p.m. every day on their block of 17th Street NW. Maydan sits in an industrial-looking alleyway that looks like that scene in The Sting where Loretta tries to shoot Robert Redford’s character.

Lines, awards, and press coverage are road maps to these restaurants. But D.C. is also home to many small — even secret — spots that serve up amazing food while flying far under the radar. Here are the spots worth seeking out.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
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Pitmasters Back Alley BBQ

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Located in residential Spring Valley near more visible (and more visibly attractive) neighbors like Millie’s and Pizzeria Paradiso, Pitmasters serves Carolina-style pulled pork, Austin-style brisket, and sides like mac and cheese, apple slaw, and cornbread.  

Pitmasters Back Alley BBQ [official}

Tacos El Chilango

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Izakaya Seki next-door is a popular draw, but people shouldn’t walk past this V Street taqueria that serves some of the best soft tacos in the city. Go for carne asada, beef tongue, or a griddled cheese and avocado taco, all topped with generous heaps of fresh onion and cilantro. 

Sushi Ogawa

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The closest thing Kalorama has to a dining scene is a fundraising cocktail party in someone’s mansion. And yet, Sushi Ogawa stands out as one of the city’s most elegant, and unassuming, destinations for traditional omkase and à la carte sushi. Chef Minoru Ogawa’s expertise — his father, a sushi master, trained him in Japan — are reflected in this high-end, edomae sushi experience. 

Sushi Ogawa [official]

Panda Gourmet

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Those in the know stop on traffic-snarled New York Avenue NE before reaching the Baltimore-Washington Parkway so they can duck into the back of Days Inn Gateway (yes, Days Inn) to find some of the District’s tastiest, if sometimes inconsistent, Sichuan cooking. 

Appioo African Bar & Grill

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Upscale retail is quickly reshaping Shaw’s image. But basement-level Appioo is a decidedly untrendy place that still deserves plenty of attention. The Ghanaian restaurant serves up flavorful West African favorites like ginger-marinated fish, egusi stew, jollof rice, and hot peanut soup — usually while a soccer match plays on the big screen.

Lisa K. Ruland/for Eater D.C.

Big Bear Cafe

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A canopy of leafy vines conceals this quiet, laid-back café that starts the day around 7 a.m. and stays open through dinner, serving fresh American fare like egg sandwiches, salads, and burgers to locals who linger in the quiet courtyard.

Big Bear Cafe [facebook]

Pluma by Bluebird Bakery

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In the rapidly changing Union Market district, semi-abandoned industrial lots and wholesalers mix in with chic new restaurants. Pluma by Bluebird, a pretty little café and bakery tucked on a side street, serves artisan bread, pizzas, sandwiches, coffee, pastries, and more. 

Lisa K. Ruland/for Eater D.C.

SUNdeVICH (Multiple locations)

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This small sandwich shop in an alley in Shaw makes creative International combinations on its baguettes all day long — or until the bread runs out. Customers can choose from almost two dozen sandwiches named after cities like the Rome, Istanbul, or Seoul. There’s a second location in Georgetown — also in an alley.  

SUNdeVITCH [facebook]

The Well Dressed Burrito

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Follow the steady stream of office workers down a dim, narrow alley and through a nondescript metal door for one of the District’s top burritos. Short on ambience and only open for lunch, Well Dressed Burrito does a ton of business anyway. People wait in long lines for favorites like soft tacos, chicken and cheese enchiladas, or generous burritos and burrito bowls.

Lisa K. Ruland/for Eater D.C.

The Dabney Cellar

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The Dabney Cellar is the purposefully-inconspicuous underground wine bar with serious culinary cred. An extension of chef Jeremiah Langhorne’s award-winning restaurant in Blagden Alley, the Dabney Cellar features oysters and charcuterie, plus a small, thoughtful menu of frequently-changing dishes like foie gras parfait and scallop crudo. 

Andrew Cebulka for Dabney Cellar

Blagden Alley is easy to find, but Calico stays fairly hidden despite busy neighbors like the Dabney and La Colombe. The exterior looks like an old garage, but past the tiny bar is a 3,000-square-foot outdoor space complete with a vintage greenhouse. Mac and cheese and tomato pie are favorites on a menu full of fancy bar food. 

Rey Lopez for Eater DC

Leopold's Kafe Restaurant

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Leopold is technically accessible from M Street, though people must pass through a dim archway and down a flight of stairs to reach it. This Cady’s Alley nook is popular for its extensive breakfast and brunch menu, plus an extensive pastry menu, coffee, and a full menu of European and traditional Austrian entrées. 

White chairs and orange tables inside the airy Kafe Leopold Leopold’s Kafe [official]

Reverie

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Mere steps from bustling Wisconsin Avenue and the Georgetown waterfront, Reverie still feels like it’s a million miles away. The softly lit, high-end restaurant is so hidden it requires a sign on the corner with an arrow pointing toward the door. Chef-owner Johnny Spero’s new American menu reflects his impressive resumé: He was executive sous chef at minibar, and staged at Mugaritz and Noma, among others. 

Lisa K. Ruland/for Eater D.C.

Harold Black

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Describing Harold Black a speakeasy, while true, undersells the food. The cocktail, beer, and wine list are always interesting, but it is also worth going up the unmarked stairs and through the sliding door for dishes like watercress salad, beef short ribs, and gianduja chocolate cake.

Pitmasters Back Alley BBQ

Pitmasters Back Alley BBQ [official}

Located in residential Spring Valley near more visible (and more visibly attractive) neighbors like Millie’s and Pizzeria Paradiso, Pitmasters serves Carolina-style pulled pork, Austin-style brisket, and sides like mac and cheese, apple slaw, and cornbread.  

Pitmasters Back Alley BBQ [official}

Tacos El Chilango

Izakaya Seki next-door is a popular draw, but people shouldn’t walk past this V Street taqueria that serves some of the best soft tacos in the city. Go for carne asada, beef tongue, or a griddled cheese and avocado taco, all topped with generous heaps of fresh onion and cilantro. 

Sushi Ogawa

Sushi Ogawa [official]

The closest thing Kalorama has to a dining scene is a fundraising cocktail party in someone’s mansion. And yet, Sushi Ogawa stands out as one of the city’s most elegant, and unassuming, destinations for traditional omkase and à la carte sushi. Chef Minoru Ogawa’s expertise — his father, a sushi master, trained him in Japan — are reflected in this high-end, edomae sushi experience. 

Sushi Ogawa [official]

Panda Gourmet

Those in the know stop on traffic-snarled New York Avenue NE before reaching the Baltimore-Washington Parkway so they can duck into the back of Days Inn Gateway (yes, Days Inn) to find some of the District’s tastiest, if sometimes inconsistent, Sichuan cooking. 

Appioo African Bar & Grill

Lisa K. Ruland/for Eater D.C.

Upscale retail is quickly reshaping Shaw’s image. But basement-level Appioo is a decidedly untrendy place that still deserves plenty of attention. The Ghanaian restaurant serves up flavorful West African favorites like ginger-marinated fish, egusi stew, jollof rice, and hot peanut soup — usually while a soccer match plays on the big screen.

Lisa K. Ruland/for Eater D.C.

Big Bear Cafe

Big Bear Cafe [facebook]

A canopy of leafy vines conceals this quiet, laid-back café that starts the day around 7 a.m. and stays open through dinner, serving fresh American fare like egg sandwiches, salads, and burgers to locals who linger in the quiet courtyard.

Big Bear Cafe [facebook]

Pluma by Bluebird Bakery

Lisa K. Ruland/for Eater D.C.

In the rapidly changing Union Market district, semi-abandoned industrial lots and wholesalers mix in with chic new restaurants. Pluma by Bluebird, a pretty little café and bakery tucked on a side street, serves artisan bread, pizzas, sandwiches, coffee, pastries, and more. 

Lisa K. Ruland/for Eater D.C.

SUNdeVICH (Multiple locations)

SUNdeVITCH [facebook]

This small sandwich shop in an alley in Shaw makes creative International combinations on its baguettes all day long — or until the bread runs out. Customers can choose from almost two dozen sandwiches named after cities like the Rome, Istanbul, or Seoul. There’s a second location in Georgetown — also in an alley.  

SUNdeVITCH [facebook]

The Well Dressed Burrito

Lisa K. Ruland/for Eater D.C.

Follow the steady stream of office workers down a dim, narrow alley and through a nondescript metal door for one of the District’s top burritos. Short on ambience and only open for lunch, Well Dressed Burrito does a ton of business anyway. People wait in long lines for favorites like soft tacos, chicken and cheese enchiladas, or generous burritos and burrito bowls.

Lisa K. Ruland/for Eater D.C.

The Dabney Cellar

Andrew Cebulka for Dabney Cellar

The Dabney Cellar is the purposefully-inconspicuous underground wine bar with serious culinary cred. An extension of chef Jeremiah Langhorne’s award-winning restaurant in Blagden Alley, the Dabney Cellar features oysters and charcuterie, plus a small, thoughtful menu of frequently-changing dishes like foie gras parfait and scallop crudo. 

Andrew Cebulka for Dabney Cellar

Calico

Rey Lopez for Eater DC

Blagden Alley is easy to find, but Calico stays fairly hidden despite busy neighbors like the Dabney and La Colombe. The exterior looks like an old garage, but past the tiny bar is a 3,000-square-foot outdoor space complete with a vintage greenhouse. Mac and cheese and tomato pie are favorites on a menu full of fancy bar food. 

Rey Lopez for Eater DC

Leopold's Kafe Restaurant

White chairs and orange tables inside the airy Kafe Leopold Leopold’s Kafe [official]

Leopold is technically accessible from M Street, though people must pass through a dim archway and down a flight of stairs to reach it. This Cady’s Alley nook is popular for its extensive breakfast and brunch menu, plus an extensive pastry menu, coffee, and a full menu of European and traditional Austrian entrées. 

White chairs and orange tables inside the airy Kafe Leopold Leopold’s Kafe [official]

Reverie

Lisa K. Ruland/for Eater D.C.

Mere steps from bustling Wisconsin Avenue and the Georgetown waterfront, Reverie still feels like it’s a million miles away. The softly lit, high-end restaurant is so hidden it requires a sign on the corner with an arrow pointing toward the door. Chef-owner Johnny Spero’s new American menu reflects his impressive resumé: He was executive sous chef at minibar, and staged at Mugaritz and Noma, among others. 

Lisa K. Ruland/for Eater D.C.

Harold Black

Describing Harold Black a speakeasy, while true, undersells the food. The cocktail, beer, and wine list are always interesting, but it is also worth going up the unmarked stairs and through the sliding door for dishes like watercress salad, beef short ribs, and gianduja chocolate cake.

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