DC/VA's Best (long)
As I'm moving out of DC in exactly 2 weeks I thought I'd throw something on the board about my absolute favorites and why. Note that I have no ownership or special affiliation with any of these restaurants, though in some cases I have sent a glass of champagne back to the kitchen or to the staff for superb service. At some of these restaurants I am a regular, but I do my best to never take a comp and to narrow out when I'm getting special treatment. My general rule is that I don't tend to sit with the same servers and I am often in on off nights when regular management isn't there. That's the end of my qualifications in the opening, but I'll note anything I've got in the body.
By the way, I've lived in the DC metro area exactly 1063 days and visited approximately 225 different restaurants in that time. My initial goal was to eat at every restaurant rated 23 and above in Zagat, though I abandoned that goal after about 50 places and switched up to just eating wherever I felt like. Some of those places remain favorites, some have fallen by the wayside. Zagat's ain't wonderful but it was a nice starting point in 2004.
These are in no particular order.
Eleventh Street Lounge, 1041 N. Highland St., Arlington, VA. I started going to Eleventh Street long before the current chef, Antonio Burrel became head chef. He's a chef I've somewhat followed since he was at Bis, then Viridian now Eleventh Street. The owners of Eleventh Street should be glad to have him as he is taking bar food in NoVA to new realms. The truffled deviled eggs is a hint towards an old Escoffier recipe (eggs in egg wash trick), the sea scallop and watermellon with guacamole dish is an intricacy of flavors and textures so perfect on the tongue, and the broccoli cheddar soup is insanely good. Pros: Amazing food, killer service. Cons: Too euro club ish for me late at night, I hate techo music, smoking is allowed.
Tallula/EATBar, 2761 Washington Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia, 703-778-5051. This is something I always thought Arlington needed- a gastropub. They continue to do wonderful small plates including the risotto fritter, the charcuterie selection and the wonderfully inexpensive steak tartare. The beer selection is incredible as well. Pros: Great food, great service, great prices. Cons: Bar can get VERY loud when full.
Ray's The Steaks, 1725 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA, 703-841-7297. A lot has been said about this place, but I'll say a bit more. I'm from the mid-west. I was born in Indiana and lived off grain-fed cattle for the first 8 years of my life. And flash forward to finding Ray's. Far and away the best value steak house in the DC area, and I would argue perhaps the best meat of any steakhouse in the DC area. Not a lot of ambiance, but who needs ambiance when you've got food like this at these prices. Pros: Best steaks in DC, I love the curt service, one of the finest values in dc. Cons: Sometimes there's a wait.
2941, 2941 Fairview Park Drive, Falls Church, VA 703-270-1500. One of the best fine dining experiences I've had in the DC area, while being in one of the most romantic settings. Plus they give you cotton candy at the end of the meal. Very pricey, but stick to the tasting menu and you can't go wrong. The bread is also insanely good. Look to Kathy Morgan, the sommolier for all your wine choices. Out of all the sommoliers I've talked to in the DC area she has one of the best noses and tasting abilities I've ever seen. Pros: Simply impeccable food and service. Cons: Expensive, in Falls Church.
Restaurant Eve (Tasting Room), 110 S. Pitt Street, Alexandria, VA 703-706-0450. I think the tasting room is simply the best food being prepared in the Mid-Atlantic. I've said it before, I'll continue to say it, I think the work this restaurant is doing time and again is sensational. Every course has been perfectly executed, every wine pairing has been perfect, every server has been personable while still remaining professional. I can't say enough good about this place. Pros: Everything. Cons: none in my book.
Dino, 3435 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 202-686-2966. Lately there has been a bit of concern on this board regarding my treatment at Dino. Let me clear this up right now. I'm a regular at Dino, though I often come in on nights when the owner who is often on site isn't there, I regularly sit in new servers sections who don't know me, and I'm regularly there on off nights. And I've sent food back to the kitchen before. The only benefits I ever see from this restaurant is that occasionally I get to talk wine with the owner a little bit at the end of the meal, but my food isn't coming out differently than anyone elses, nor is my service any more attentive or less attentive than anyone elses in the restaurant. Now that that's cleared up- I find Dino to be my value place in DC. I adore Italian food and I honestly don't find that DC has much if any other Italian worth mentioning at this price point. The wine selection is fantastic, there's something on the menu for anybody, and the homemade pastas are insanely good. I'll add to this that I did have my first date with my soon to be wife at Dino, so it holds a little bit more sentimentality to me, but believe me, if the food wasn't good or the service wasn't good I wouldn't keep coming back. I've got one more meal at Dino before I leave DC. Pros: Value, high quality ingredients, great service, great people. Cons: I'm working hard to find one...maybe that there's no French wine on the menu? :)
Palena, 3529 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 202-537-9250. Much has been said about Palena, and I will attest to only having eaten at Palena twice (everything up until now I've eaten at least 3 meals at). The food has always been stellar as has the service. The attention to detail is what really gets me here. True story, and the only really solid comp story I've got, I tried to take 6 of us there in February when my father came into town on a whirlwind trip. That day the kitchen had a flood and the restaurant had to be closed leaving us scrambling for another reservation. A few months later my girlfriend and I went to have dinner there. They not only remembered my name in their database, but they brought us a free glass each of stellar Blanc de Blancs (I believe it was Schramsberg) for having come back. That's attention to detail. Every dish comes out that way, every meal has been that way, and the wine is awesome there. Pros: Exquisite food and service. Cons: Price.
Komi, 1509 17th Street, Washington, DC 202-332-9200. This stands up to Restaurant Eve as being one of the finest meals in DC, and I consider this to be a supreme value as well. $175 for a full 20+ course tasting menu INCLUDING pairings is insane. Every course was a new flavor sensation, every course demonstrated something from the simple to the infinitely complex. This is a trip worth every penny.
OK, that's what I've got for now, though I'm sure I'll come up with some more later, but these are my favorites that come to mind.
Thanks for the recommendations, you will be missed. Congratulations on your upcoming marriage. I share a lot of your same goals about eating at all the best DC has to offer and luckily I still have a lot more time to do it since I have just started, but I have eaten at many places on this list and can say that there isn't one on this list that I either haven't already had the same great experience at or is on the top of my list to try.
I'll say it again; you've given more insight with your posts both here and on dr.com than any other poster. I've gotten to experience dining experiences vicariously and it's been very enjoyable.
Chicago is a fantastic dining town, from what I hear. I'm sure you will be a positive presence in that dining scene as well.
I wanted to add to this list:
Lebanese Taverna Market, 4400 Old Dominion Dr., Arlington, VA, 703-276-8681. Truly excellent clean place to get a variety of prepared foods. It's not the best lebanese food I've ever had in my life, that would be in the middle east, though a lot of their dishes are close seconds. Stick to the grape leaves, shawerma, fatyer b'jibne, and hummus and you'll do well. Pros: Easy to get to by car, parking is solid, cheap prices. Cons: Wish they were open earlier in the day for me to take food to work.
Last night is the last time I get to eat at Dino before I move. It's a little sad, but I'm ready for some solid wine and homemade pastas!
Glad that you've finally put your devotion to Dino in perspective for us. Sounds like it's been something of a very enjoyable second home for you.
I don't think many of us have problems with Dino but consider it an excellent neighborhood restaurant and perhaps only questioning whether others will find it an epiphany.
I've never sent food back there as you have but there are other places in Washington which have pasta just as "insanely good," including my own house. Not that hard. There are flaws (including that I hate having my half portion served in a cereal bowl) and they sometimes miss. I'm not going to tell you what the flaws are any more than I'd tell you that your precious baby's eyes are too close together and he looks funny. Fortunately, the wine list, service and prices more than make up for any flaws and the food is generally excellent for a neighborhood restaurant. I've never thought however that I died and went to the Italian section of Heaven.
How fortunate you are to go to Chicago!. One of the best food cities is America, always under-rated by the East and West Coast food writers. Probably out of envy for the energy of the place - driven by the music scene I miss so much in Washington. I know you'll love being able to get great Middle Eastern food with a short drive to Dearborn and maybe explore the fabulous Soul Food available there.
Best of luck to you and your fiancée. We'll miss your great postings here.
You will be missed! I've always enjoyed your postings. I enthusiastically agree with your assessment of Kathy Morgan - I've worked with a couple of the top notch sommeliers in the area to arrange small corporate parties, and she is my favorite (especially due to her ability to find great pairings from wine regions I haven't tried before). Thanks also for your recommendations on places that are good for kids - that helped me out a few times.