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The Best Places to Eat in Penn Quarter & Chinatown
Your guide to the best restaurants in DC’s buzzing entertainment and business district
A cool collection of museums, theaters, restaurants, retail and the Capital One Arena—which is home to the Washington Capitals, Wizards and Mystics when it’s not hosting an all-star lineup of concerts—make Penn Quarter and Chinatown one of the city’s most engaging entertainment districts. Celebrity chefs mingle with homegrown hot spots in this neighborhood’s active dining scene. And the recently released Michelin Guide deemed not one, but two, restaurants in this buzzy neighborhood worthy of its coveted stars.
The District’s now nationally recognized food scene can arguably be credited to the city’s original tastemaker, José Andrés. The Spanish chef was one of the first to build an epicurean empire in Washington, DC with restaurants like Oyamel Cocina Mexicana, Jaleo, China Chilcano and Zaytinya – all Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand honorees located within a few blocks of each other in Penn Quarter and Chinatown.
Jaleo wows diners with a diverse menu of Spanish tapas, while Zaytinya remains an in-demand reservation after nearly 15 years in business serving up Mediterranean small plates, and Mexican restaurant Oyamel features tableside guacamole and a whimsical dining room. China Chilcano, the most recent restaurant in Andrés’ empire to open in the District, wows with a mash-up of Peruvian, Japanese and Spanish influences (the dumplings section of the menu can’t be beat).
Andrés’ culinary expertise paid off with a two-star Michelin rating for his innovative minibar. The restaurant truly takes dining to an art form with a creative multi-course meal that takes chances with diners’ palates (yes, the chef did just use liquid nitrogen in your meal).
Concerts and Capitals Dining
Penn Quarter and Chinatown’s popularity grew out of its proximity to the Capital One Arena. On most nights, you’ll find scores of people heading to see a high-profile performer or catch a hockey or basketball game inside the impressive venue. Pre- or post-performance, there are a number of nearby restaurants that can up the cool factor on your evening.
One of the neighborhood’s newer options is Dirty Habit, which sits across the street from the Capital One Arena in the Kimpton Hotel Monaco and offers a sexy vibe with craft cocktails and “globally-inspired social plates.” Chef Mike Isabella’s original DC restaurant, Graffiato, serves up authentic Italian fare and Champagne on tap. Sporting a sleek 1940s atmosphere, District ChopHouse & Brewery is a friendly neighborhood locale with handcrafted beer from their in-house brewery and a menu featuring American classics.
At Proof, Penn Quarter’s critically acclaimed wine bar, diners sip on vino from a carefully curated list and sample equally sensational entrees. Next to the International Spy Museum, diners flock to Nopa Kitchen + Bar, an American brasserie from well-known local restaurateur Ashok Bajaj. Bajaj is also behind one of the neighborhood’s (and the city’s) most lauded restaurants, the Indian fusion hot spot Rasika.
Date Night Hits
The cosmopolitan vibe of Penn Quarter and Chinatown also make it a popular place for a sophisticated date night. Love birds will no doubt be booking tables at Fiola, Fabio and Maria Trabocchi’s Michelin-starred Italian restaurant. The Source by Wolfgang Puck, another great option for a romantic evening, is named for its next-door neighbor the Newseum and serves up a delectable Asian menu.
Taste your fill of lusty Balkan reds, Not Your Grandmother's Chardonnay and sparkling rosés at Flight Wine Bar (one of our favorites), which offers up a rotating list of 20-plus different wine flights among its more than 500 wines. Owned by a husband-wife sommelier team, the vino bar sates hungry diners with seasonal dishes like kimchi calamari and tuna crudo in tomato water, as crafted by classically trained chef James Barton.
At Arroz, former Top Chef contestant Mike Isabella transports diners to the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa. Find bold flavors in bomba rice dishes topped with the likes of seasonal veggies, aged duck, suckling pig and more.
If you’re looking for something a bit more pop culture friendly, reality stars (and restaurateurs) Giuiliana and Bill Rancic recently opened a DC outpost of their restaurant RPM Italian. At Co Co. Sala, couples can converse over chocolate-infused entrees, and at 701 Restaurant (another from Bajaj), foodies can enjoy a menu of continental cuisine, while listening to live jazz Thursday-Saturday evenings.Check out our guides to all the best places to eat in DC's happening 'hoods.
Penn Quarter & Chinatown Dining Map
Where to eat in DC’s busiest entertainment district