These restaurants help define what it means to eat, live, and love in Washington, D.C. These are the Greats.Less
Having operated since 1856 (albeit in different locations), D.C.’s oldest saloon is the restaurant equivalent of Forrest Gump—a presence that has consistently butted up against American history, hosting figures such as Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt. Despite its age, the Old Ebbitt Grill maintains its popularity as a place “for everyone and every time,” as its director of operations once described to The Washington Post.
This Georgetown stalwart has served a faithful lineup of salads, pastas, and sandwiches along with Persian specialties since 1991. The latter offerings reflect chefs Maziar and Sahab Farivar’s Iranian heritage. The duo introduced the neighborhood to their Middle Eastern roots through crowd pleasers such as pistachio-crusted cod with a sweet and sour sauce of dried apricots, figs, sour cherries, and shaved almond and qaymeh, a hearty lamb stew.
Most people associate the phrase “all you can eat” with quantity over quality. Ambar Capitol Hill challenges that assumption, offering limitless, made-to-order Balkan dishes for lunch, brunch, and dinner. Far from a gimmick, the “Balkan experience” is a great way to try dishes such as ajvar, a roasted pepper and eggplant spread, ćevapi, or grilled Balkan kebabs, and sesame-crusted Atlantic salmon with eggplant jam.
The Salt Line might be steps from Nationals Park, but it feels like it should be perched on the New England coast. The spacious patio and interior mix of weathered wood and tile bring a seaside vibe to the banks of the Anacostia River, making it a hotspot for D.C. residents on warm days and game days alike. But it’s the food that landed the restaurant a spot on The Washingtonian’s 100 Very Best Restaurants list.
D.C. is home to the largest Ethiopian population in the country, so Ethiopian cuisine is an important part of the city’s eclectic restaurant scene. Letena stands out in this crowded field. Owner Yamrot Ezineh’s chemical engineering background informed her methodical approach to recipe development as she tested every dish extensively, even traveling back to her native Ethiopia to consult with some of the country’s top chefs.
The Tabard Inn’s restaurant is a venerable name in D.C. dining and has operated continuously since 1922 within the namesake hotel, earning it landmark status in February 2020. The hotel and restaurant are both employee-owned businesses and known for their high levels of service. The bar room evokes a bygone era with low-slung, wood-beamed ceilings and clusters of cushy chairs and couches. The seats urge diners to settle in with a house cocktail, such as Here Comes the General!
When chef and humanitarian José Andrés debuted Jaleo in 1993, he challenged the idea that a fine meal had to be a prim and proper one. That very accessible ethos still steers the lively tapas spot. Groups gather here to share plates such as croquetas de pollo, crispy golden chicken fritters filled with creamy bechamel sauce (the labor-intensive dish takes three days to prep). Order the José’s Way tasting menu and graze on the chef’s favorites.
A farm-to-table menu featuring sustainably sourced produce and meats, freshly baked loaves of bread, and in-house distilled spirits makes Founding Farmers one of Washington, D.C.’s most-reserved restaurants. Owned by the Farmers Restaurant Group, this local hotspot chain is loved by Washingtonians for its weekend brunches while out-of-towners prefer it for its ideal location, just three blocks away from the White House. Another crowd pleaser: Uncle Buck’s beignets.
This Italian gem scored fan-favorite status soon after opening in 1979. Locals flock to the historic red-brick rowhouse for its intimate interiors and attentive staff. But it’s the superb seasonal plates that seal the deal, such as a milestone-worthy beef lasagna with housemade mozzarella and hand-made paccheri pasta with a hearty tomato-based meat sauce of pork belly, short rib, and sausage.
In a city of high-roller steakhouses where loaner jackets hang in the closet to maintain the dress code, Medium Rare has a cult following for offering exactly the opposite: a single menu item that is a $28.95 prix-fixe meal. For that price, diners receive a signature culotte steak cooked to their liking, hand-cut fries, crusty bread, and a simple green salad. Owners Mark Bucher and Tom Greg were determined to deliver the simple but elegant dining experiences they had in France.