Even after the kitchen closes officially at this Italian eatery, the wood-fired oven stays open for late night bites by Top Chef contestant and Food & Wine's Best New Chef in the Mid-Atlantic, Mike Isabella. Located next to the Verizon Center, this place is bustling, so come early (or late) for a minimal wait. The menu is casual and elegant: order a Jersey Shore pizza (fried calamari, tomato, provolone and cherry pepper aioli), and elegant house-made pasta, with Prosecco on tap. Take one of six seats at the second-floor Ham Bar to watch chefs prepare various types of charcuterie.
With a James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef in America under his belt, a network of successful restaurants, and a pioneering penchant for molecular gastronomy, chef José Andrés is a local celebrity. Jaleo offer a unique selection of modern Spanish tapas. Fancy a shoe full of chicken croquettas or a fried organic egg topped with caviar, anyone? Cocktails are similarly miraculous, including a selection of gin-tonics, the unofficial cocktail of Spain. “José's Choice” contains essences of Kaffir lime, juniper, lemon and lime. “Barrel Aged” contains pickled ginger, allspice, orange and lemon. Jaleo's colorful and contemporary dining room and artwork evoke a sense of youthfulness and fun. Choose your wine or beverage from a list via iPad, and snag a seat made from a Vespa scooter at one of two retrofitted foosball tables. Keeps your eyes open for the cheering crowd on the bathroom floor.
Around the corner from the White House, this Beaux-Arts restaurant was a favorite of Presidents Grant, Cleveland, Harding and Theodore Roosevelt. Despite its storied history, anything goes in the fashion department while dining at the Old Ebbitt. Its main attraction is the Oyster Bar, which features bivalves from both coasts that change daily. The mahogany and velvet booths get busy during annual events like the Oyster Riot held in November. Old Ebbitt's famous happy hour includes a half price raw items: oysters, clams, shrimp, crab claws, even lobster.
For the best mojito as voted by locals in the Washington City Paper (and $5 during weekday happy hour), look to the first floor bar. While this classic cocktail is one of Zengo's best offerings, its Latin-Asian small plate fusions served on the second floor overlooking 7th Street are new and creative, offering everything from lobster sushi rolls to Handi Pandan Waffles (coconut ice cream, warm cherry chutney and strawberry-guava coulis). Vegetarians and gluten-free eaters also enjoy special menus.