Michel Richard Citronelle, in the Latham Hotel, 3000 M St. NW, Georgetown (tel. 202/625-2150): This bastion of creatively fine French dining is world-renowned, thanks to the irrepressible Richard and his culinary artistry. If Citronelle is booked, try for a table at his other hot spot, Central, 1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Penn Quarter (tel. 202/626-0015). Either way, you're in for a treat.
Komi, 1509 17th St. NW, Dupont Circle (tel. 202/332-9200): A dinner at Komi restores one, thanks to creative -- but not too creative -- dishes (grilled asparagus with watercress and feta, squab stuffed with foie gras and figs), polished service, and a remarkably relaxed atmosphere. And then there's the chef, the unassuming Johnny Monis, who somehow has figured this all out at the tender age of 30 or so.
Minibar, 405 8th St. NW (inside Café Atlantico), Penn Quarter (tel. 202/393-0812): At this restaurant within a restaurant, genius chef extraordinaire José Andrés (or his stand-ins) concoct whimsical little tastes -- like foie gras in a cocoon of cotton candy. Thirty or more of such creations make an unforgettable meal for 12 lucky people, six per seating. Minibar is the most elusive reservation in town, but if you're determined, call at 10am a month in advance.
Bourbon Steak, in the Four Seasons Hotel, 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Georgetown (tel. 202/944-2026): D.C.'s hot restaurant pulls in a stellar crowd nightly. The perfectly grilled steak, lobster pot pie, french fries cooked in duck fat, and roasted duck with foie gras are all getting a lot of attention. Be sure to stop for a drink before or after in the lounge.
J&G Steakhouse, in the W Washington, DC Hotel, 515 15th St. NW, Penn Quarter (tel. 202/661-2440). Its location at the corner of 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue means there are great views inside and out: Tall windows capture sights of the Washington Monument and the White House grounds. Jean-Georges Vongerichten's slow-cooked salmon, perfectly prepared steak, and molten chocolate cake are reason enough to book a reservation here.
Best Restaurants, Period
You may be in for a surprise, since neither of D.C.'s top two restaurants stands on formality or requires you to dress up. Another similarity: Instead of a menu of choices, both restaurants serve diners a stream of small bites concocted that day at the whim of the chef. Otherwise, the two are as different as night and day. Dupont Circle's Komi is a sparely appointed town-house dining room with just 12 tables. (That may have changed by the time you read this: At press time, Komi was planning an expansion into the neighboring townhouse and the addition of an outdoor cafe.) The barely 30, genius-chef Johnny Monis sends out 18 to 22 little gastronomic masterpieces that often hint of Greek tastes, like the mascarpone-stuffed dates; the cost is $135 per person. At the circus-like minibar, the six-seat dining spot within the Penn Quarter's lively restaurant Café Atlantico, the internationally famous José Andrés, or his stand-ins, have fun whipping up 27 to 30 small taste sensations, like foie gras in cotton candy, for $125 per person.
Best for Romance
At the exquisite Plume, in the Jefferson Hotel, an impeccable waitstaff serves artful French cuisine, from amuse-bouche start to macaroon finale. Only 17 tables fit within its hand-painted-silk covered walls, including a booth that comes with its own chandelier and drawable curtains. If a trendy, sexy scene and exotic tastes are more your style, consider the Penn Quarter's softly lit Rasika, whose hot Indian food spices up the night. And then there's Cashion's Eat Place, a cozy neighborhood joint in Adams Morgan; sit in the intimate, somewhat-private bar area and enjoy American comfort food.
Best for Business
Charlie Palmer Steak, within walking distance from the Capitol, is a favorite spot for expense-account lobbyists and lawyers. On the stretch of Connecticut Avenue between the White House and K Street NW are several excellent eateries that get a lot of administration, lawyer, and lobbyist traffic, both at lunch and dinner; among them are the Oval Room and Equinox, both of which serve modern American fare.
Best for Regional Cuisine
The Blue Duck Tavern pays homage to the tastes of various American regional cuisines by stating the provenance of each dish on the menu; seasonal farm vegetables might hail from the Tuscarora Co-op in Pennsylvania, the duck from Crescent Farms in New York. Johnny's Half Shell, meanwhile, is the place to go for superb Eastern Shore delicacies: crab cakes, crab imperial, and soft-shell crab. While Washington doesn't have its own cuisine, per se, its central location within the Mid-Atlantic/Chesapeake Bay region gives it license to lay claim to these local favorite foods. And nobody does 'em better than Johnny's.
Best All-Around for Fun and Food
Unstoppable José Andrés is behind the always-crowded Oyamel, where everyone's slurping foam-topped margaritas and savoring small plates of authentic Mexican food. A few blocks away, Central makes everybody happy with its convivial atmosphere and Michel Richard's take on French bistro and American classics, from mussels in white wine to fried chicken.
Best French Cuisine
You can go in two directions here. For exquisite, upscale French cuisine, consider Michel Richard's Citronelle and Robert Wiedemaier's Marcel's. Not only are these the best French restaurants, but they are among the top 10 restaurants in the city, period. For French classics with bistro ambience, check out La Chaumiere, whose nightly specials and rustic decor have been attracting regulars for more than 30 years.
Best Italian Cuisine
Tosca is a winner, serving fine and unusual dishes derived from the chef's Northern Italian upbringing. At Obelisk, chef/owner Peter Pastan continues to do what he's always done: craft elegantly simple and delicious food for enjoyment in a quietly charming room.
Talk about competitive. New burger joints are opening all the time, it seems, but for now, the winners are Five Guys Burgers and Fries, with its nicely done, straight-ahead patties; Good Stuff Eatery, with a special sauce and all sorts of add-ons; and Palena Café's famous uptown version of the everyman sandwich. FYI: Palena is also an exquisite fine-dining destination. Check it out.
Best for "Taste of Washington" Experience
Eat lunch at the Monocle and you're bound to see a Supreme Court justice, congressman, or senator dining here, too. For some down-home and delicious Washington fun, sit at the counter at Ben's Chili Bowl, and chat with the owners and your neighbor over a chili dog or plate of blueberry pancakes. The place is an institution, and you can stop by anytime -- it's open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Best for Vegetarians
Rick, a vegetarian-from-birth friend of mine, especially loves these three establishments: Ben's Chili Bowl, where options include veggie chili, chili cheese fries, burgers, subs, and hot dogs; Amsterdam Falafalshop, which draws lovers of its mashed chickpea falafels and 21 possible toppings, plus the twice-cooked Dutch-style fried potatoes; and Zaytinya, which offers a most diverse selection of sweet and savory veggie tapas, including a Brussels sprouts dish -- "Everyone makes a face at the suggestion, but then they try them and fall in love," says Rick.
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Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.