Washington, D.C., best-known for its political celebrities, is also home to notable stars of the culinary world, from hip Top Chef talent Spike Mendelsohn to James Beard favorite Cathal Armstrong. Food, like politics, is also seen as something with the potential to create change. Acclaimed chef José Andrés, for example, is known not just for his cuisine, but for his nonprofit work addressing global hunger and other humanitarian crises. Appropriately, the dining scene here also reflects the country’s melting-pot culture, with top celeb-helmed restaurants serving dishes from India, Greece, Turkey and beyond. Who knows? Dine at one of these hot spots, and you may even run into the president himself.
Famed Spanish-American chef José Andrés helped bring the concept of small plates to America, and continues that tradition here. Zaytinya (which means "olive oil" in Turkish) serves up modest portions of Turkish, Greek and Lebanese cuisine, allowing guests to taste several flavors in a single evening. The lamb dishes in particular stand out, including a braised shank with eggplant and kefalograviera cheese puree, and a pita stuffed with ground lamb, tahini sesame-seed paste and garlic yogurt. In addition to owning several highly-rated restaurants across the U.S., Andres is known for his activism, which landed him on Time’s 2012 "Most Influential People" list.
This fine-dining restaurant is actually in Alexandria, Va. — but the cuisine is well worth the 20-minute drive from downtown D.C. Ireland native Armstrong, who has been nominated for a James Beard no fewer than seven times, puts extra care into every detail of the menu: He integrates fruits and vegetables from his own garden into the dishes, for example, and serves palate-cleansing amuses-bouches between courses. Order from the set tasting menu or go à la carte, selecting from Maine lobster, Muscovy duck, filet of rockfish and other delicate fare. Alternatively, try the chef’s choice menu and leave your dining experience up to Armstrong’s celebrated culinary vision.
This elegant Indian restaurant has been lauded as one of the finest in the country, even earning a spot on Zagat’s "Top 20 Restaurants in America Survey" in 2014. The accolades are in large part due to the inventive and authentic preparations of chef Sunderam, who has become locally and nationally known as a result of Rasika. Well-known dishes such as chicken tandoori, raita and chaat are served alongside more surprising creations, including honey-ginger scallops and a venison chop with garlic and green cardamom. A temperature-controlled wine cellar is stocked with selections from a global wine list that runs 18 pages deep.
Fiola has won kudos not only for its cuisine, including a "Best New Restaurant" honor from Bon Appetit, but for superb wine curation—last year, Wine Spectator bestowed it with an "Award of Excellence," while Wine Enthusiast named it one of "America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants." The 41-page wine list offers the best of French, Spanish, Italian and California varietals alongside more unusual finds from the likes of Argentina and even Lebanon. The wine pairs beautifully with selections from Trabocchi inventive, daily-changing menu featuring artisanal cheeses, fresh seafood, inspired pastas and more.
At this casual Capitol Hill eatery, Mendelsohn, a Top Chef veteran, elevates burgers to new heights with inventive ingredients such as onion rings and daikon, an Asian white radish. To embrace the location, order the Prez Obama Burger (stacked with applewood bacon, Roquefort cheese and horseradish mayo sauce) or the healthy Michelle Melt (a turkey burger topped with ruby tomatoes, swiss cheese and caramelized onions, and served on a wheat bun). Pair your selection with a sweet homemade shake—the roasted marshmallow and cookies-and-cream are particular favorites. Just how tasty is the fare at Good Stuff? Obama himself once ate here while working on debt negotiations.