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The 38 Essential Washington Restaurants, July 2014

Find a standout, but not-too-expensive restaurant choice across the city's many neighborhoods and cuisines.

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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.

After a major refresh last time around, this edition of the 38 has just two new restaurants: Graffiato, which is seeing new life thanks to the addition of chef de cuisine Jose Adorno, and the newly-eligible Iron Gate restaurant.

And rather than a stage-4 meltdown over our having excluded your favorite restaurant from the list, wouldn't it be more productive to just nominate it for inclusion? Share your choices in the comment, keeping in mind the list's parameters.

April 2013: Added Little Serow, Cork Wine Bar, 2941
July 2013: Added DGS Delicatessen, Cashion's Eat Place
October 2013: Added Daikaya, Izakaya Seki, Pupatella
January 2014: Added The Red Hen, Le Diplomate, Ripple
April 2014: Added Kapnos, DGS Delicatessen, Maple Ave., Pizzeria Orso, Ruan Thai, Rose's Luxury
July 2014: Added Graffiato, Iron Gate

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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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The wait for a table seems to have barely abated since Estadio opened under the direction of Proof executive chef Haidar Karoum. The contemporary Spanish 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.

Ray's The Steaks

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Michael Landrum may have become more of a household name with the uber-popular (and now shuttered) Ray's Hell Burger. But it all started with Ray's: The Steaks in Arlington, which offered high-quality beef in a no-frills environment and at an affordable price point — which set it apart from all the steakhouses that once characterized Washington's dining scene.

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 pairs an entree with a glass of wine for $14.

Pearl Dive Oyster Palace

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This project from restaurateur Jeff Black is a solid seafood restaurant and a destination for drinking as well. Grab a number and wait upstairs in the seafood restaurant's sister bar Black Jack, slurping oysters and sampling the cocktail list. When your number comes up, head back downstairs for gumbo, po'boys, fried chicken and more.

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 pitchers of Shiner are always $20.

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. It doesn't hurt that Bill Cosby and President Obama are both patrons.

Hank's Oyster Bar

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Jamie Leeds hit it big in Dupont Circle with the opening of Hank's Oyster Bar. The seafood restaurant offers New England-style classics like lobster rolls, po' boys, lobster bisque and oysters on the half shell from the ice bar. Hank's has since opened up locations in Alexandria and Capitol Hill, and has expanded its original Dupont location.

Room 11

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This Columbia Heights wine bar, which expanded into the space next door, 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.


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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.

Central Michel Richard

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It can be pricey, but Central is Michel Richard's version of accessible. The menu boasts two much-discussed dishes that are the French chef's spin on classic American comfort food: a lobster burger and a bucket of fried chicken (which is available to-go, by the way).

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 Moni'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.

Blue Duck Tavern

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Blue Duck Tavern has long been a favorite of the West End and by all accounts is better than ever under the watch of executive chef Sebastien Archambault. Stick with wine and charcuterie in the lounge or peer into the open kitchen from Blue Duck's dining room over a meal of fried sweetbreads, muscovy duck breast, 12-hour roasted suckling pig, plus a variety of seafood and vegetarian dishes. Don't forget an order of Blue Duck's signature hand cut fries.

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.

Cork Wine Bar

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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 recently 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.


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Though it's outside of DC's own "Little Ethiopia", Ethiopic has established itself as the place to go for traditional Ethiopian fare in a trendy and friendly atmosphere. The owners also operate Batter Bowl Bakery in the same neighborhood. The vegetarian platter is a standout.

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.

Cashion's Eat Place

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Cashion's has been an Adams Morgan mainstay for years, and chef John Manolatos' cooking is as good as it's ever been. Local and seasonal ingredients find their way into such dishes as Mediterranean spit-roasted goat with pita bread. Fish entrees are a highlight, and the restaurant has a well-curated wine list as well.

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.

Maple Ave Restaurant

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Rising star chef Tim Ma puts out big flavors in a tiny space in Vienna (similar dishes can also be found in his newer venture, Water & Wall). Many dishes have an Asian twist, but the restaurant can also put out an impressive brunch and killer wings.

Pizzeria Orso

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Chef Will Arley is one of the area's best pizza makers, but this Falls Church restaurant also has a way with Italian small plates and salads. The restaurant focuses on fine ingredients for its pizza toppings and also caters well to vegetarians and families.