Your Guide to the Good Life in Washington D.C.

May 24, 2016

Washington D.C. has long been a destination for high school class trips. Only in recent years has it been a destination for great eating. In 2014, Bon Appetit named Rose’s Luxury the best restaurant in America, and that's just the beginning. In fact, there are stunning new restaurants (and old stalwarts) to visit, and plenty to do between meals, too.

It happened that Food52 asked for D.C. suggestions the very same day Jenny and I planned an epic afternoon baking 33 dozen cookies for her daughter’s bat mitzvah. Over cookie scoops and parchment paper, butter, sugar, chocolate, and eggs—and a beer—we put together this list of must do’s.

New on the menu: Peruvian chicken with lots of good things on the side.

A photo posted by Rose's Luxury (@rosesluxury) on

Here are our picks, the city over. First, where to eat:

  • Right off the bat, we have to say: Rose’s Luxury is terrific, and if you get in line at 5 PM—and are flexible about bar or table seating—order a cocktail, dive into the lychee salad, tender pasta, and generous platter of brisket or fried chicken.
  • Make reservations weeks ahead for glorious hearth cooking at The Dabney, inventive Caribbean/Mediterranean at Tail Up Goat, and sensational Italian at Masseria (we love the outdoor patio).
  • Have an expense account? Don't miss two newcomers Pineapple & Pearls (from Rose’s Luxury Aaron Silverman) and Kinship. (Wine and service included). Currently, we're patiently waiting for Shaw Bijou from 2016 Top Chef contender Kwame Onwuachi.
  • For some star-gazing Washington style—Hey, there's the congressman from Illinois’ 2nd district!—go to Charlie Palmer’s, and if you see Secret Service at BLT Steak, Michelle Obama is probably at her favorite corner table surrounded by her best friends. Dive into the dumplings and look for denizens from the Hill at The Source.
  • Eat at reasonable prices in pleasant surroundings at three of our favorite neighborhood haunts: Etto (pizza), Compass Rose (get the kachypura), and Osteria Morini ($10 pasta Mondays from November through March and OMG desserts year round).
  • Fast casual dining is a big category in DC. Expect local, fresh ingredients, great prices, and delicious options. Check out homegrown favorites: Cava, Veloce, and Beefsteak.

Hit happy hour:

  • Yes, we DCists are savvy when it comes to finding free events (ask your favorite lobbyist or cozy up to a diplomat for embassy fêtes), but when we're paying, we happy hour. Oysters at Pearl Dive, Churchkey for flatbreads and so many beers, delicious and reasonably priced cocktails at Petworth Citizen, Izakaya Seki for something funky, and Ghibellina is a classic. For a good dive bar, there's nothing like the Tune Inn.

Well that was a perfect weekend. ☀️ #mondaze #acreativedc #unionmarketdc 📸 by @dnalaburbana

A photo posted by Union Market DC (@unionmarketdc) on

Getting around—and what to get to:

  • Navigating the city is easily accomplished on a bike (Capitol Bike Share), and less easily on the much maligned Metro system. When all else fails, there are readily available Uber cars.
The National Mall Photo by Sebastian Bassi
  • Walk anywhere in Rock Creek Park. If you're a runner, lace up and do the stairs at the Lincoln Memorial for sunrise views that can't be beat. Sunsets (with beverages) are sensational at the W Hotel.
  • Washingtonians love our monuments and a walk around the National Mall means a stop at the iconic Vietnam Veterans memorial, the stunning Korean War memorial—and a chance to pet Fala, FDR’s dog](, remembered in stone next to his master, our 32nd president. But the little known, quiet and exquisitely beautiful Congressional Cemetery is a lovely oasis. Look for headstones remembering President John Quincy Adams, composer John Phillips Sousa, Civil War photographer Matthew Brady, and the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover.
  • The Smithsonian Institution is a national treasure, or so said James Smithson, who funded the museums. Thank Smithson for free access, something he advocated so diligently that none of the 19 museums and galleries will ever charge admission. Of course, visit Julia Child’s kitchen, but take kids to the Air and Space Museum to see rockets up close.
Julia Child's Kitchen Photo by Jeremy Keith
  • And if all you want is a good cup of coffee, hit the Wyedown or Slipstream, or check out local roaster Compass coffee, being served at the brand new and sugariffic Buttercream Bakeshop.

D.C. is waiting to greet visitors. We can't wait til you get here.

Shop the Story

What are your favorite spots in D.C.? Tell us in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • MrsWheelbarrow
  • healthierkitchen
  • Rachel
  • zora
  • Jen
My new book, PIE SQUARED. Irresistibly Easy Sweet & Savory Slab Pies is available for preorder and on shelves October, 2018.


MrsWheelbarrow June 1, 2016
I believe the Dancing Crab closed.
healthierkitchen May 26, 2016
Great list, Cathy!
Rachel May 25, 2016
My husband and I just bought a house right next to the Wharf, and it's changing by the day. We're so looking forward to the new spots that will be there! I love your list and there are too many great restaurants here to ever fit into one list but you've done a fabulous job. If I could add a couple of suggestions, Domku, next to Petworth Citizen is one of my favorites for Swedish soul food, and Cafe Leopold is (quite literally) a hidden gem in Georgetown. B Too, Belga Cafe, and Brasserie Beck are all amazing for Belgian cuisine too.

Really loved this spotlight on DC Mrs. Wheelbarrow :)
zora May 25, 2016
Chaia, my friend Bettina Stern's new vegetarian taco place in Georgetown has been getting rave reviews.
healthierkitchen May 26, 2016
It's terrific, in the fast casual category!
Jen May 25, 2016
Garden District at 14th and U is one of the best places to be on a beautiful day with a small but delicious beer menu and some of DC's best bbq (seriously, the staples like pulled pork and brisket are great but the short rib when they have it is fantastic). It's also very reasonably priced by DC standards and excellent people watching. Get there around opening on a weekend though, or you'll be standing.
Emily L. May 25, 2016
I have to add Toki Underground for amazing ramen and Alfie's for the best Thai I've had since living in Bangkok!
MrsWheelbarrow May 25, 2016
Yes! I completely agree on both counts.
AB May 25, 2016
Metro trains and busses are a great way to get around -- please don't encourage more drivers on DC roads!
MrsWheelbarrow May 25, 2016
I hear you!
healthierkitchen May 26, 2016
Just FYI to anyone coming to DC in the near future, Metro has been having some problems with aging infrastructure and can be unreliable on weekends particularly. Check their website for track closures and single tracking ahead of time!
LT May 25, 2016
Maketto! For locally roasted Vigilante coffee in the morning, and for the best goddamn Taiwanese/Cambodian food in the evening.
MrsWheelbarrow May 25, 2016
And a bizarre but fabulous shop.
EC May 24, 2016
Rock Creek Park is a little over 4 square miles. Philadelphia's Fairmount Park is over 14 square miles - and I'm not sure it is the largest urban park in the U.S. Thus, Rock Creek Park is in no way the largest urban park in the U.S.
MrsWheelbarrow May 24, 2016
You're absolutely right! One of those urban myths I've been repeating for decades. Color me embarrassed.
jfrob May 24, 2016
My favorite eatery in DC, for many years, has been the Dancing Crab. Crab, salad, and beer are perfect. Mallet and butcher paper tablecloth provided.
MrsWheelbarrow May 25, 2016
It's a classic!
Skylar June 1, 2016
I've tried finding anything on them, everything I've found says they cancelled their renovations and are now permanently closed? Is this correct?