Best places to eat in washington dc

Capital meals in and around the Capitol.

[Updated October 2022.] These days, Washington, DC’s best restaurants count as some of the country’s best. Here are the top 2022 Washington, D.C. dining spots, from artisan bakeries to blowout feasts and everything in between.

Best places to eat in washington dc

Photo courtesy Fiola Mare / Official Facebook

Washington, D.C. Best Restaurants 2022

The Washington, D.C. dining scene has gone from “not” to “hot” in the past several years, with more outstanding restaurants emerging every week.

Once considered a dining backwater populated by stuffy power restaurants and big-box chains, Washington, D.C. is now home to award-winning restaurants and an incredible diversity of dining options, for any occasion or international cuisine.

As a food writer, chef, long-time District resident — and someone who thinks about food during most of my waking life — I am often asked to recommend places to eat. (Plus, I take eating on vacation seriously. Meals are usually the first thing I plan before a trip.)

This Best Food in D.C. list is neither exclusive nor comprehensive. Instead, the focus is on restaurants and other food establishments that, as a food pro, I personally know, love, and recommend to friends and family.

Best places to eat in washington dc

Photo by Yeon Choi for Unsplash.

Additional Washington, D.C. Food Guides for Dining and Where to Eat in D.C.

If you’d like to go down the “best food in D.C.” rabbit hole (who wouldn’t?), and compare others’ suggestions of where to eat in Washington, D.C. I suggest also taking a look at the following resources:

  • Eater DC’s list of the 38 Essential Restaurants
  • Washingtonian Magazine’s Best Restaurants in Washington, D.C. guide
  • Feed the Malik’s Guide to Black-Owned Restaurants in the D.M.V.
  • Here’s a list of the Washington, D.C. area’s Michelin-Starred Restaurants 
  • Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema’s latest dining guide

With that, here are my personal dining picks for Washington, D.C.’s best restaurants, bakeries, snack shops, and dining experiences.

Best places to eat in washington dc

Photo by Jacob Creswick for Unsplash

Where to Eat in DC Near the Smithsonian Museums and National Mall

For tourists and locals alike, the National Mall and its monuments, memorials, and museums make a breathtaking D.C. experience. But seeing the sights also works up an appetite.

The area immediately surrounding the National Mall is sadly too short on restaurants. Luckily, the National Museum of African American History and Culture boasts one of the top museum cafés around. The Sweet Home Café features historic recipes of the African diaspora, all the way up to modern day food. There’s also a great cookbook. (Check the website for current hours due to Covid restrictions.)

Best places to eat in washington dc

One longstanding tradition within walking distance of the museums? Afternoon tea at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel. I tend to think the experience is a little touristy and overpriced, but the grand dame hotel still draws a great following for its selection of scones, pastries, and savory bites in the ornate mirror- and red carpet-lined “Peacock Alley” area.

Central by Michel Richard makes for a lovely meal after a long day of pavement pounding. The restaurant features “American food with a French accent.” Get the gougères.

Best places to eat in washington dc

Photo Courtesy Central Michel Richard

Top D.C. chef Enrique Limardo heads up Immigrant Food, a casual restaurant with food that celebrates immigrant cultures and cuisines through fresh fusion food. There are three locations to choose from, all downtown.

Family-friendly Jaleo from José Andres serves up a large menu of tapas, and remains open from 11 a.m. until late every day.

Teaism is a D.C. institution. Favored by the downtown lunch crowd for nourishing, Asian-influenced fare (and a huge selection of tea), Teasim offers a feeling of Zen amid the hustle and bustle.

Everyone likes a good, steamy bowl of ramen, right? Those on the National Gallery, Archives, and Capitol Building end of the Mall can enjoy some of D.C.’s best ramen at Daikaya. (There’s also an upstairs izakaya that takes reservations, and serves a larger menu.)

Upscale-casual Greek Mediterranean restaurant Zaytinya from chef José Andres sits downtown, but within walking distance of the museums. Guests can take advantage of the bright, airy space and great lunch, mezze happy hour, and dinner menus. There’s also weekend brunch. Rasika is a mainstay among tourists and locals alike for upscale Indian food.

If you’re seeking an all-day meal, solid breakfast or brunch, or a sleek cocktail, Café Riggs at the chic Riggs Hotel makes a trendy stop. The breakfast menu straddles everything from health-conscious vegetable juices and deluxe avocado toast to buttermilk pancakes and egg sandwiches. There’s also a Silver Lyan, the subterranean cocktail lounge, and a happy hour from 4-6 p.m. to decompress from a day of walking the nearby Smithsonian Portrait Gallery, Archives, and National Building Museum.

Best places to eat in washington dc

Photo courtesy Chez Billy Sud / official facebook

Georgetown’s Best Restaurants and Where to Eat in Georgetown

Georgetown is one of Washington, D.C.s most popular and well-trafficked neighborhoods. Though the Georgetown food scene is not on the cutting edge of hipness (you’d want to head to neighborhoods like Shaw and Park View for that, to name a couple), enough solid options exist in Georgetown to satisfy a good appetite.

On the upscale end of the Georgetown dining guide, I suggest elegant waterfront Italian restaurant Fiola Mare. Come for the food, stay for the people watching. The Bidens have had dinner there, and you’ll often spot D.C. movers, shakers, and other sundry society folk. The $45 lunch prix fixe is a great deal.

Up the street, lovely French bistro Chez Billy Sud serves perfect steak frites, mussels, and other classic French bistro fare in a jewel box setting. The next-door wine bar has a wood-burning fireplace. Get there early to snag seats. Reservations strongly recommended for dinner.

Café Milano is a perennially scene-y watering hole for lobbyists, power brokers, society folk, and politicians. The food, while priced for expense accounts, isn’t bad.

Somewhat formal and longstanding favorite 1789 Restaurant is serving up particularly good, high-end American food these days under the leadership of chef Adam Howard. The historic Federal townhouse makes for a special setting, while attached sister spots Fitzgerald’s and The Tombs are solid options for drinks and more casual, but still elevated, fare.

If you need a casual spot, Il Canale serves up excellent Neapolitan pizza, and also has a full menu of homey Italian pastas, soups, salad, and parmigianas.

Best places to eat in washington dc

Photo courtesy Il Canale restaurant.

For quick daytime bites in Georgetown, I love the seasonal, vegetarian, nutrition-dense tacos and enchiladas at Chaia. Chaia sits on semi-hidden Grace Street — also home to the must-visit Green Almond Pantry. This little gam serves some of the best focaccia in D.C., though everything is seasonal, fresh, and homemade.

Easy-to-miss Chinese teahouse Ching Ching Cha sells a large selection of loose and brewed tea and accoutrements in the retail section, with a cozy restaurant area in back with a full “tea menu” and additional small bites.

Up Wisconsin Avenue, Lutèce serves casual French seasonal fare in a lovely little setting, and has garnered recent notice from the New York Times. Nearby Boulangerie Christophe is the place to go for authentic French pastries, sandwiches, soups, quiche, and good bread.

You can also satisfy your Georgetown sweet tooth at Paris-based Ladurée (les macarons!) or at upscale chocolateries L.A. Burdick and relative newcomer Petite Soeur.

Located on a quiet neighborhood corner near Georgetown University, Call Your Mother boasts the District’s top bagel and schmear game, plus bagel sandwiches, latkes, and the occasional donut.

Best places to eat in washington dc

Photo courtesy Call Your Mother

The Best Nice-Casual and Date Night Restaurants in D.C.

The short answer to where to find a great dinner in the District? Lots of places. Washington, D.C. has some excellent restaurants, from hole-in-the-wall taco spots to blowout prix fixe dinners. Luckily, D.C. date night restaurants abound.

My favorite restaurants in the nice-casual range (as in, nice jeans and collared shirts and up; definitely not sweats and tees) include Chez Billy Sud, above, as well as — in no particular order:

  • The Dabney: upscale, seasonal, local fare and prix fixe except at the bar. Recently renovated. Reserve well in advance. (Neighborhood: Shaw/Mt. Vernon)
  • Daru: Plan ahead well in advance to score a reservation at one of DC’s most talked-about restaurants. This restaurant cooks some of the best Indian food in the country, with numerous seasonal and sophisticated interpretations. (Neighborhood: H Street Corridor)
  • Le Diplomate: D.C’s perennially-popular answer to a Paris bistro. All-around great brunch, dinner, bread basket, and food. Reserve in advance. (Neighborhood: 14th Street/Logan Circle)
  • Reveler’s Hour is making some of the most delicious, interesting seasonal Italian food in D.C. right now, served in a convivial, chic atmosphere. (Neighborhood: Adams-Morgan)
  • Annabelle: Elegant jewel box Annabelle is helmed by former White House chef Frank Ruta, where he offers an elegant, select menu of seasonal fare — including his famous roast chicken. (Neighborhood: Dupont Circle)
  • Centrolina: Chef Amy Brandwein’s upscale Italian restaurant Centrolina is one of the best in D.C. Brandwein is the real deal. Centrolina is also open for lunch, and casual offshoot Piccolina makes an excellent option for a quick bite or takeaway. (Neighborhood: Downtown)
  • Rooster & Owl: A talented husband and wife team serve a “worth it” $85 prix fixe meal of Southern- and Asian-accented seasonal food. I’ve never had a bad meal here.
  • Red Hen: Amazing pasta. Full stop. Get the rigatoni with fennel sausage ragù like everyone else. It’s a tough reservation, but walk-in tables are available. (Neighborhood: Bloomingdale)
  • Gravitas: Waaaay out in post-industrial Ivy City sits this gem of a restaurant, turning out some of the loveliest food in D.C. Their rooftop conservatory bar is one of my favorite spots in the whole city. Prix fixe.
  • Sushi Taro: Don’t let the quasi-hidden entrance above a CVS pharmacy fool you. This Michelin-starred restaurant is my favorite sushi spot in Washington, D.C. Favored by many Japanese ex-pats. (Neighborhood: Dupont Circle)
  • Nobu: The West End mostly calls to mind mid-rise medical office buildings and a relative no man’s land between Dupont and Georgetown. But Nobu’s sleek interior and updated takes on classic sushi, sashimi, and other Japanese cuisine makes it a worthy destination. They also recently started Sunday brunch.
  • Maydan: A feast of Middle Eastern-influenced food cooked over an open flame. Cool setting, too. (Neighborhood: Columbia Heights/U Street)
  • Anju: The District’s best Korean food, in a charming location at the base of Adams-Morgan, near Dupont Circle (Neighborhood: Adams-Morgan)
  • Estadio: Best tapas in D.C. Estadio serves a very good brunch, too. (Neighborhood: 14th Street/Logan Circle)

Best places to eat in washington dc

Photo courtesy Sushi Taro

Best Casual Dining in Washington, D.C.

Whether you need a quick midday pick-me-up or a full dinner, for excellent food in a casual setting in the Washington, D.C. area, I love:

  • Sura: Dupont Circle area is not, shall we say, on the cutting edge of D.C.’s dining scene. But Sura makes the case for changing that. The sketchy-looking exterior and dark, subterranean dining room belies the creative, bright Thai food happening inside. Sura is buzzy for a reason. (Neighborhood: Dupont Circle)
  • All-day eatery Unconventional Diner serves creative dishes that taste fresh, inspiring, and seasonal, but are somehow all grounded in comfort. This is a very popular brunch spot. (Neighborhood: Shaw)
  • Thip Kao: Laotian food at its finest. I love this place. Not for the spice intolerant. (Neighborhood: U Street)
  • Tatte: This fast-expanding Boston chain of French bistro-aesthetic bakeries serve very decent sandwiches, pastries, tea, and coffee. Tatte has fast become a go-to meetup spot for the D.C. crowd, and has multiple locations.
  • Cane: This restaurant featuring the food of Trinidad and Tobago is getting lots of attention for all the right reasons. (Neighborhood: H Street Corridor)
  • All the great Ethiopian fare: D.C. is known for its outstanding Ethiopian fare. Top restaurants include Zenebech, Tsehay, and Chercher.
  • All-Purpose: “Jersey-style” pizza is the raison d’être for this establishment from the owners for Red Hen, but the All-Purpose folks also serve up excellent snacks and antipasti. (Neighborhood: Shaw)
  • Stachowski’s: A tucked-away butcher and market on a residential Georgetown street serving up some of the meatiest, tastiest Pastrami and French Dip sandwiches in the area. Bring your appetite. (Neighborhood: Georgetown)
  • Ben’s Chili Bowl is an institution. Get a bowl of chili (of course) and a half smoke. (Neighborhood: Various; the original is on U Street NW)
  • Lapis is the lovely Afghan restaurant with the ambience to match. It’s open all day, plus weekend brunch. The food is consistently good, and the hospitality warm and gracious. Vegetarians will be particularly happy about the extensive selection of dishes, ranging from stews and grains to dumpling platters. Get a flatbread, too. (Neighborhood: Adams-Morgan)

Best places to eat in washington dc

Photo by Jay Wennington/ via Unsplash

Washington, D.C.’s Michelin-Starred Restaurants

Several years ago, the Michelin Guidebegan including Washington, D.C. in its annual dining guide.

With three Michelin-stars, the Inn at Little Washington is outside the city, but worth the trip for a sumptuous, classic experience. Dinner doesn’t come cheap, though. As of this writing, a meal cost $328 per person before wine.

D.C. has three two-starred restaurants: Jônt, Pineapple + Pearls (a favorite of mine), and Minibar by José Andres.

Washington, D.C. has 20 one-Michelin-starred restaurant. The complete list is right here, but my stand-out picks include The Dabney, Rose’s Luxury, Little Pearl, Gravitas, Rooster & Owl, Maydan, and Bresca.

Other Places to Eat in the D.C.: Best Markets, Bake Shops + More

The Sunday farmers market at Dupont Circle is huge, wonderful, and open year round. Pro tip: Get there early if you don’t want to wait in a long line for Call Your Mother’s bagels and schmear.

Make sure to check out Union Market for some of D.C.’s best food stalls — it is a great experience. Across the street or so, be sure to also enjoy sister food hall La Cosecha, featuring excellent Latin American fare. Nearby Stellina Pizza (Neapolitan pizza, pasta, and antipasti) and St. Anselm (gastropub; great brunch, too) are also favorites.

The best places in D.C. for bread and croissants are Bread Furst, Boulangerie Christophe, Bread Alley, and hyper-local artisan bakery Seylou. Seylou even mills its own flour, and I really can’t speak highly enough about the quality of its offerings.

Don’t see anything that sounds exactly like what you’re looking for? Contact Unpeeled and I’ll be happy to offer additional suggestions!

What food is Washington DC famous for?

Destination DC, the District's official tourism site, claims half-smokes are Washington's “signature dish.” Popular among residents as well as tourists, half-smokes combine ground pork, beef and spices in a natural casing.

Is Washington DC a good food city?

If you want dinner at a Michelin-related restaurant, or need that one special ingredient that only few specialty grocery stores have, D.C. isn't a bad place to live. While it's not No. 1, D.C. ranks in the top 15 for WalletHub's list of the Best Foodie Cities. The nation's capital comes in at No.

Does Washington DC have a good food scene?

Outsiders may think of D.C. as a city of stodgy politicos, but its food scene boasts a hotbed of creativity for the people who work, live, and travel here to enjoy.

What is the official food of Washington DC?

DC Has No Official Food—and That's a Good Thing.