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FOOD

Here's why Washington DC is Bon Appetit's 'Restaurant City' of the year

  • bad-saint-dc-restaurant-clams.jpg

    Clams at Bad Saint (Alex Lau)

  • bad-saint-dc-restaurant-goat-lasagna-EDITED.jpg

    Goat Lasagna at Tail Up Goat (Alex Lau)

I'm sure that the President and First Lady have a lot on their minds right now. It’s not because they’ll be vacating the White House shortly, or that they won’t have Air Force One at their disposal, or that all those late-night ragers with Vice President Biden will come to an end (c’mon, that guy parties!).

No, it’s because the First Couple famously loves to go out to eat, and they've never had more good options to choose from in D.C. I mean, really good—we named three D.C. restaurants (Bad Saint, The Dabney, and Tail Up Goat) to our list of the 50 finalists for America's Best New Restaurants.

If you’re a bit skeptical of my enthusiasm for the D.C. dining scene, you’re not alone. After one particular eye-opening visit, I returned to the BA offices in New York and told editor-in-chief and D.C. native Adam Rapoport that his hometown was blowing up. He laughed. Then he told me to get out of his office. He didn’t believe me. Look, Adam and I both know that D.C. has had its fair share of incredible chefs: the late-great Jean-Louis Palladin, Michel Richard, José Andrés, Ann Cashion, Nora Pouillon... the list goes on. 

But there’s something else going on with this new wave of restaurants crashing onto the scene. Yes, D.C. has long been a city that could out power-lunch any place in the country, and great meals could be had at many of the big-box restaurants in the center of town. But now D.C. has more than that: It finally has a ton of great neighborhood restaurants. And they are sprouting up in areas that you would not have imagined ten years ago—neighborhoods like Shaw, Columbia Heights, Barracks Row, and Petworth.

I'll admit I’m no expert when it comes to the history of the D.C. restaurant scene. All I can tell you is that there’s an energy and excitement surrounding all the new places that is palpable. D.C. is bubbling with momentum. You go in to one place, and you hear about another exciting spot just down the street. The table next to you isn’t only talking politics; they’re discussing last night’s cacio e pepe, too. 

Chefs like Andrés, Fabio Trabocchi, Cathal Armstrong, Peter Pastan, Jamie Leeds, Eric Ziebold, and others laid the foundation for this movement and are still doing bang-up jobs at their many restaurants. Now, they're joined by the likes of Johnny Monis (Komi and Little Serow), Aaron Silverman (Rose’s Luxury, our no. 1 Best New Restaurant of 2014, and Pineapple and Pearls), and a bunch more folks whose names you might not recognize now, but you will soon.

My list of new D.C. restaurants that I can't wait to return to is a long one. There’s the live-fire cooking at The Dabney; the bold Filipino food at Bad Saint; the relentless hospitality at Rose’s Luxury and its sister restaurant, Pineapple and Pearls; the top-notch cocktails at Columbia Room; the inventive Southern Mediterranean-inspired food at Tail Up Goat (the goat lasagna is my favorite pasta of the year); the Asian street food at Maketto; all the food stalls packed into Union Market; Kinship; Metier; Whaley’s; Daikaya; Convivial; Espita Mezcaleria; Masseria; and a bunch of others I’ve probably missed (but I'm sure you'll let me know—find me on Twitter at @AndrewOKnowlton).

What all these restaurants have in common is fearlessness. 

There are no consensus polls being taken on what diners might want or need. Instead, these are chefs and restaurateurs who are simply taking their passions and diverse backgrounds and turning those into the restaurants of their dreams. And thankfully, these days, they have a hungry and food-savvy audience that is willing to try new things. I mean, have you seen the lines at Rose’s Luxury and Bad Saint these days?

So, Mr. President and First Lady, I trust that you'll find the time to check out all the new things going on in your adopted city. Hit as many places as you can. And if by any chance you need a dining companion, I'm available.

Want to know where to eat, drink, and shop in D.C. right now? Check out our City Guide.