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.
A sure-fire hot spot is Circa Chinatown, where you can get your fill of tuna poké nachos, steak frites and kale salads. One of the neighborhood’s more unique 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.”
Featuring dishes like Not “Guacamole” and Burrito “The King” stuffed with wagyu beef, lobster and caviar, Poca Madre is where former RAMMY Award-winning chef Victor Albisu dishes out Mexican food his own way.
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. Well-known local restaurateur Ashok Bajaj recently opened the Mediterranean-inspired Olivia and is also behind one of the neighborhood’s (and the city’s) most lauded restaurants, the Indian fusion hot spot Rasika.
Using market-fresh ingredients, Boqueria recreates an authentic Barcelona market experience through its distinctive tapas and takes on classic Spanish dishes. Choose from meat, seafood and vegetarian options to divvy up at the table, or get adventurous and order from the Chef’s Menu at this night-on-the-town destination.
Looking for a quick bite before the event? Chaia’s plant-based tacos pay homage to local producers with delightful combinations like roasted butternut squash with goat cheese, chipotle yogurt and mint pressed between a corn tortilla. The tacos pair nicely with an array of fresh sides, including the fan-favorite green rice with feta, herb pesto and pepitas.
Date Night Hits
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.
Situated in an historic bank from the early 1900s, Succotash is a stunning, multilevel restaurant featuring an array of design accents that maintain a sophisticated look and feel. And we haven’t event talked about the food yet, which blends Southern cooking and Asian flavors. Classics like fried catfish are enhanced with mint-jalapeño aioli, while the dirty fried chicken is topped off with a honey gochujang sauce nori flakes.
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.