From my nation's capital to yours...
My partner and I (both from Ottawa) are planning to spend 5 days in Washington soon. As I want to spoil him for his birthday, I need recs for casual lunches, fancy dinners and great pubs for pints. We are fairly adventurous eaters and don't mind laying down some cash, if it's worth it! Any ideas?
You will no doubt get many many postings in response to this.
I will start with a few suggestions for each of your meals.
For lunch do pizza at 2 Amys on Maccomb Street (good pizza great rapinin salad). Pizzeria Paradisio (in Georgetown) does a nice pie with great beers on tap.
Other lunch spots- Mandalay in Silver Spring (Burmese food)
Also in silver Spring- Max's a Jewish Kosher deli with great falafel
A fun bar place for lunch is Matchbox in Chinatown DC (everyone raves about their mini burgers)
For pints of beer, brickskellar (tons of bottles) or their sister restaurant- RFD- stay away from the food but they have great beers on tap. St. Ex has nice beers on tap BUT the weekend crowd is awful stick to a weekday and it is nice and chill.
Finally for dinner my reccomendations are Komi at 17th and P.
Nice place but not really really expensive.
Dinner also should be had at either Zaytania (middle eastern tapas) or Jaleo (Spanish tapas) both owned by the same person. Palena seems to top everyones list as does CityZen although I can't personally speak about those. You should defintiely check out Laboratorie de Galleleo. Our restaurant week is coming up next week so this means crowded restaurants and altered menus. Definitely call ahead
Here are my top choices:
Breadline (midweek only) Sandwich shop. Go for the Italian Sausage or the felafel or the egg salad. On Thursday the Cubano or on Friday the BBQ. Housemade flavored water to drink. Near the White House.
cf folks (midweek only) sit at the counter. Crabcakes or anything from the blackboard. Peach cobbler or rice pudding for dessert. 19th above M St, downtown.
2 Amys. Margherita pizza. polpete, suppli, rapini. Near the National Cathedral.
Jaleo: Spanish tapas. Patatas Bravas, spinach with raisins, tortilla espanol, grilled asparagus, trumpet mushrooms. Near the Museums.
Notti Bianche: Skip the salads, etc and go right for the pastas and meats which are divine. One of the best kitchens in DC right now. Near the Kennedy Center.
in the U St. area: within a few blocks are some of DC's best eats. Some are dives, to be sure, but these are worth the adventure:
Etete for Ethiopian on 9th St, NW. Fastening food platter (vegetarian) and the derek tibs.
Oohs and Aahs for soul food at U and 10th St, NW sit at one of the five stools. Lemon pepper wings, turkey chop, short ribs, shrimp.
Pyramid for Moroccan at 6th and Florida, NW. Lamb tagine, carrott salad, seafood b'stilla, eggplant, spinach, chicken couscous.
Thai X-ing: 515 Florida Ave, NW. Maybe the world's smallest restaurant, only one table. opens at 4pm. A half block from Pyramid, listed above, in case the place is 'full.' Salmon in red curry.
On the other end of the spectrum: Dinner at Citronelle. I've only eaten in the lounge, which is a la carte. Regular dining room is formal with reservations and a set menu. Georgetown.
Laboratorie de Galleleo is closed while the building is undergoing renovation.
I can't really recommend much for lunch since I seldom have enough time to go out for lunch while at work.
However, for dinner, remember that Washington is ethnic food central. You name it we got it. In addition, we have lots of great fancy restaurants too.
Palena is always good. The back room for a 3, 4, or 5 course meal in sedate atmosphere, but the best food in town, the front end for the Cafe for pub food.
Komi is very good, but a tough reservation to get. It is highly rated and very small.
Good Italian food and a fantastic (and wonderfully priced) wine list at Dino in the Cleveland Park area. (one block from the METRO stop)
For good Indian food, try Indique. Try the tandori dishes if that is to your taste, they do them well. Good cocktails too. Another very good Indian restaurant is Heritage India in the Glover Park area of town. Great currys and tandori.
The Mendocino Grille in Georgetown is good for Northern California-inspired food and has a wine bar.
For beer, Brickskeller, or it's sibling RFD serve lots of brews both on tap and bottled.
You should go for Ethiopian food while you are here. There are lots of choices, Etete (really Etrian) is considered one of the best, but if you want to spend some time in the funky Adams-Morgan section of town Meskeerm is pretty good. Dukem is also considered one of the most authentic. But there are lots of Ethiopian restaurants in DC, especially in the U Street area.
For tapas/small plates, Zyatinya or Jaleo are the best. Both are near the Gallery Place METRO stop.
Cafe Atlantico is fun. Kinda nuevo latin, great brunch. If you can get a reservation for Minibar inside the Cafe (hardest reservation in town, only 6 stools) it is an absolute treat, all small tastes prepared in front of you. About 30 or so, each exquisite.
Montmartre is a good French bistro, near the Eastern Market Metro.
Other fancy places, and expensive, are Citronelle (considered one of if not the best restaurants in town) CityZen (former chef from the French Laundry) Marcel's (old style, very formal French-Belgian)
If you are asking for reasons not to go to the Inn at Little Washington, I have many. The top of my list is that the food does not merit the sky-high price. Another reason may be that, if you are coming to DC for only 5 days, you will spend one of them getting back and forth to the Inn. "Little Washington" is nowhere near Washington, DC.
I'm surprised that The Oval Room doesn't get mentioned more often. The food is delicious. The service has a degree of friendliness that is not always evident in top restaurants. We have dined there twice, and, each time, we had a great experience.
Once, we opted for the tasting menu and the chef was amazingly flexible and responsive to individual preferences. One diner didn't care for fennel so the chef substituted a different fish preparation. Two other diners didn't want the duck course, so they asked for and got another fish course. The second time, we ordered a la carte meals, focusing almost exclusively on the waiter's enthusiastic recommendations. He knew his menu. Yum!
The current chef was the executive chef at Jean Georges, one of the top rated restaurants in NYC. We swooned over our July meal at Jean Georges and we taste the Jean-Georges pedigree in The Oval Room's food. The cuisine is creative without being weird. Occasional dishes suggest the current fascination with technical/molecular gastronomy but even those haven't descended to the Emperor's new clothes levels I've read about in some restaurants.
As to places to enjoy a pint, I will second the recommendations for the Brickskeller and RFD (in the Dupont Circle and Chinatown areas, respectively) (www.lovethebeer.com) if what you're looking for is the broadest selection of craft beer (i.e. hundreds of bottle choices). If you're hockey fans, go to RFD for a few pints and then walk one block away to see the Capitals play at Verizon Center (the cheapest seats are $10 and readily available at the box office).
If you're looking for a more upscale atmosphere and actually good food to enjoy with your beer, I'll suggest Pizzeria Paradiso (www.eatyourpizza.com) in Georgetown (sit downstairs in the bar if you can, it has a fireplace and is much cozier). It has a much smaller but very excellent selection of craft beers and really good pizza as well.
My favorite location to enjoy a pint is The Reef in Adams Morgan on 18th street. A rotating selection of unique beers. They clean their tap lines regularly, so it makes for a great tasting beer. The food there is just ok, but the beer and alcohol makes it worthwhile. I'd stay away from there late on a Friday or Saturday though. Also- no Jagermeister, no Budweiser, no redbull and no doubles to be served there.