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The 38 Essential Washington Restaurants, January 2015

Where to eat: choices for just about every neighborhood and every cuisine.

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It's time to update the Eater 38, your answer and ours to any question that begins, "Can you recommend a restaurant?" This highly elite group covers the entire city and surrounding areas, spans myriad cuisines and budgets, and collectively satisfies all of your restaurant needs, except for those occasions when you absolutely must spend half a paycheck. Every couple of months, we'll be adding pertinent restaurants that were omitted, have newly become eligible (restaurants must be open at least six months), or have stepped up their game.

This time around, additions include a revitalized Sushiko (D.C.'s oldest sushi restaurant), barbecue standout DCity Smokehouse and festive newcomer Tico. Hank's on the Hill also replaces the original Hank's Oyster Bar due to its vibe and cocktail offerings. To make room, it's time to say goodbye (at least for now) to Central, Ethiopic and Pizzeria Orso (which is undergoing chef changes).

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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 DC, 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.


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

Toki Underground

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Sure, it's not easy to score a seat at Erik Bruner-Yang's tiny ramen shop on H Street, but grabbing drinks downstairs first makes for a totally reasonable wait. And it's worth the wait for a bowl of the Taiwanese-style ramen that includes varieties like curry chicken and kimchi. Dumplings here are also worth a try.

Hill Country Barbecue Market

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Hill Country is Texas barbecue by way of New York City, where you'll find the original restaurant. Try the moist brisket, the sausages imported from Kreuz Market or any variety of sides from this cafeteria-style restaurant and settle into the dining room or the even noisier basement Boot Bar. Most nights of the week bring live music and cheap pitchers of Shiner.

Ben's Chili Bowl

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Ben's Chili Bowl is one of those rare Washington establishments that manages to be both a tourist trap and a local favorite. Lines can wrap around the corner during peak tourist scenes, but also late-night when locals stop in for the eatery's signature half-smokes. Bill Cosby and President Barack Obama eat for free here.

Room 11

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This Columbia Heights wine bar remains as iconic to the neighborhood as ever. The menu features a small selection of plates meant to be shared — rock shrimp risotto, slow-roasted pork belly and more — but Room 11 really shines in its wine list and mixology program. The restaurant had a recent hit with its Taco Choco dessert.


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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 brussels sprouts, flatbread and octopus small plates, and a number of fun festivals throughout the year.

The Source by Wolfgang Puck

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This Wolfgang Puck restaurant is on the pricier edge of the spectrum, but between executive chef Scott Drewno's talents and the approachable brunch and lounge menus, the Source is a keeper. Sit downstairs in the sleek bar and lounge and order off a menu that includes sushi, dumplings, pork belly buns, sake and craft beer.


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This Palisades restaurant is perhaps the most beloved in Jeff and Barbara Black's expansive empire. And like the others, it is a monument to seafood — and with its own fish market to boot. Oysters, blue shell mussels, fried Ipswich clams and more join entrees like bouillabaisse, skate wing and smoked toro dashi to pretty much cover the gamut of seafood.

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 $45 per person for a multi-course, ever-changing menu, Little Serow provides a more affordable alternative to the chef's neighboring destination restaurant, Komi.

Pho 75

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Rosslyn's Pho 75 is one of the region's Vietnamese restaurants where you're most likely to find expats supping on the the classic beef noodle soup. The cash-only cafeteria-style restaurant has other regional branches, but the Arlington location has been a local favorite for decades.

The neighborhood wine bar from Diane Gross and Khalid Pitts has taken a more seasonal approach to its well-edited menu of small plates in recent months. But familiar favorites, such as the avocado bruschetta and crispy lemon and black pepper-dusted calamari and rock shrimp, remain. The restaurant is known for its wine list, and the rotating, curated flights are a good opportunity to sample some of the more usual selections from it.

Bombay Club

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Ashok Bajaj's Bombay Club is one of those classic, 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.

A fixture of the DC culinary scene for about 20 years, Jaleo underwent a flashy renovation filled with foosball tables and private nooks. But the classic tapas fare is as iconic as ever. Complement a glass of sangria with Ibérico ham, patatas bravas, croquetas served in a shoe and, of course, a variety of paellas served in pans that feed six people or more.

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.

Mintwood Place

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Mintwood Place has established itself both as a neighborhood favorite and a larger draw for Cedric Maupillier's French-inspired cooking. Escargot hush puppies are a no brainer, and the brunch menu has some hits such as the "hangover special", where a hamburger, several cheeses, hot peppers, bacon, and a fried egg all come together in harmony.

2941 Restaurant

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It's been more than a year since the former destination restaurant retooled its concept, and 2941 has finally struck the right balance between formal and casual, and between straightforward and elaborate cooking. The picturesque setting remains, and chef Bertrand Chemel's skills are evident in such dishes as a paella soup, or broccoli raviolini with smoked pioppini mushroom. Diners can also choose from a range of price points, whether it be a snack at the bar or a full tasting menu.

Pupatella Neapolitan Pizza

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Pupatella sets the standard for Neapolitan pies in the D.C. area. What started as a humble food cart has become one of D.C.'s most reliable sources for good pizza.


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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 alumnus Katusya Fukushima creates dishes like grilled avocado and okonomiyaki-style brussels sprouts with pork.

This Cleveland Park restaurant is known for its impressive wine list, thoughtful cocktails and small but impressive menu. Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley has continued the restaurant's focus on local ingredients, and takes care to make sure the food complements the beverage program.

Le Diplomate

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Le Diplomate asserted itself as an instant classic when it opened in Logan Circle in 2013. 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 France-inspired decor is transporting.

The Red Hen

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Eater's 2013 Restaurant of the Year is the whole package. Bloomingdale residents and destination diners turn to the Red Hen for offal, homemade pastas, and a carefully-curated wine list (ask co-owner Sebastian Zutant about orange wine). The restaurant also boasts a stunning design from Edit Lab at Streetsense.

Ruan Thai

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Some of the area's boldest Thai flavors can be found in this tiny strip mall in Wheaton. Explore dishes like the crispy watercress salad. Even traditional Thai items, like pad see ew and tom yum, taste like something new at Ruan Thai.

Rose's Luxury

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2013's breakout restaurant represents the whole package: service, ambiance and cuisine. Aaron Silverman's experimental restaurant plays with dishes like a pork lychee salad, Vietnamese pate and bigger, family-style plates like schnitzel or brisket. The menu changes frequently, and specials are worth seeking out, from uni scrambled eggs to a buttery Carolina rice. Vegetarians eat well here, too.

Mike Isabella's Mediterranean restaurant, new in 2013, is already successful enough to be opening a second location in Arlington (a third will arrive in Bethesda). The restaurant has a fine selection of spreads, but the stars here are the roasted meats on a spit.

DGS Delicatessen

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This refined deli and restaurant puts out standard-bearer versions of Reuben and pastrami sandwiches, and also manages to elevate such dishes as chopped liver. DGS has a solid happy hour, a destination brunch and a quirky cocktail menu to match.

Iron Gate

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One of the most romantic restaurants in the city, Neighborhood Restaurant Group's Italian and Greek restaurant features cooking from Vermilion veteran Anthony Chittum. There is both a tasting menu and an a la carte option at the restaurant. Both are complemented by interesting cocktails from Jeff Faile (including the yogurt-based Nicolaki cocktail) and a Greek and Italian wine list from Brent Kroll.


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Mike Isabella's first venture on his own has several iconic dishes, including corn agnolotti (now being spiked with corn stock for more flavor) and pepperoni sauce. The restaurant features small plates, pizzas and Prosecco on tap. It's all now being overseen by chef de cuisine Jose Adorno.

Proof is best known for its stellar wine program, but that's not the only reason it has become a neighborhood staple. The cheese and charcuterie selections are outstanding, as is the modern American menu from chef Haidar Karoum. The restaurant also has a hard-to-beat lunch deal in the bar that includes a glass of wine.

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. An early standout dish is the Khachapuri, an addictive bread and cheese, pizza-like concoction. A thoughtful wine list and gorgeous design also elevate the experience.

Osteria Morini

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Michael White made his mark on D.C. with this location of his Italian restaurant. Delicate pastas, a waterfront view and a strong bread and pastry program all make this Navy Yard restaurant a destination.

Water & Wall

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Tim Ma's second restaurant offers the chef more seats and a bigger kitchen than his original restaurant at Maple Ave. The Asian-influenced neighborhood restaurant has a menu that offers items ranging from addictive chicken wings and Burmese chicken salad. They're also experimenting with pop-ups, including a well-received Chinese menu during lunch hours during the summer.

The Partisan

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Neighborhood Restaurant Group has a winner with this meat-centric restaurant, which gives the company the chance to show off its butchery program. The wide-ranging wine list (with plenty of sherry and Lambrusco) helps balance the meaty fare.

Jack Rose Dining Saloon

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Jack Rose was already the city's (maybe even the country's) top whiskey bar. Now, there's solid Southern food there to match, courtesy of new chef Russell Jones. The bar has been serving tiki on the roof, and serves as a speakeasy of sorts called Dram & Grain in the basement - find most of the whiskey on the main level.