DC Restaurant Week Top 20 Picks

There are a lot of “foodies” in town and even more food bloggers, including yours truly, who all have their opinion about DC Restaurant Week. Proponents support the concept of restaurant week, generally because they agree that the promotion is helpful to bolster business in an otherwise slow time of the year for the restaurant industry. Those who oppose restaurant week, argue that it’s just a gimmick and that some restaurants don’t put their best foot forward and offer second-rate dishes or don’t offer good service during the week-long promotion.

If you ask me, opinions are like butts (just in case you’re eating while reading this). Everyone has one! So who should you listen to? Whose advice should you follow? I can’t tell you that; however, I am glad to offer some Restaurant Week Tips from your resident Native Washingtonian Restaurant week pro! For example, Restaurants that offer their full menu, such as Chef Geoff’s or Dino, are considered the best deal. The restaurants that already offer prix-fixe menus or pre-theatre menus all year-long you can take advantage of anytime. In addition, restaurants that offers any small-plates/tapas/mezze, are all great, but already generally offer good deals year-round. Some restaurants offer only limited selections, or include various surcharges (sometimes called supplemental fees) for some of their better dishes – these should be avoided.

These are my Top 20 2012 Summer DC Restaurant Week picks based on their reputation, quality of food, restaurant week menu offerings, or based on my own past restaurant week experience. Visit Dining in DC’s exclusive DC Restaurant Week page for menus, features, and more.

Amish Chicken. Photo by Lisa Shapiro

1. Mintwood Place –  Located in Adams Morgan, Mintwood Place (1813 Columbia Rd.), opened in late January of this year and are participating in DC Restaurant Week this summer for the first time. Many local DC area residents have been very eager to visit since it has gotten such great reviews. It makes perfect sense to me why they are doing so well, especially since a top-notch team conjoined their talents, including the young and talented executive chef Cedric Maupillier, formerly of Citronelle and Central Michel Richard and Neill Blackwood at the front of the house, formerly of Mokomandy and Trummer’s on Main. Sous chef Dawn Swaney was Maupillier’s sous chef at Central prior to his departure in 2010; thus picking right up where they left off with little to none transition time. They already know that they work well together and make a great team — and it shows. I’ve been once for dinner and have been raving about it ever since. I’m dying to return! Even Tom Sietsema gave them a whopping 3 stars! On Maupillier’s DCRW  Dinner menu, for a $5 supplemental fee, you can start off with a few “nibbles” such as warm olives, chipotle roasted almonds, deviled pickled eggs, or maple pork cracklin’. For first course, chose from a tomato gazpacho, iceberg salad, country pate, or summer flounder ceviche. The first two sound lovely, but if this ceviche is anything like his was at Central, I’m sure it will be take your breath away. I love it when chefs offer items from their regular menu! That’s how you know that you’re getting true value. For second course, I’m looking right at the (Cast Iron) Amish Chicken or the Tagliatelle Bolognese. For dessert, chose from four sumptuous options, such as vanilla creme brulee, blueberry tart, brownie sundae, or chocolat mousse. Be sure to spring for one of their hand-crafted cocktails! You won’t be sorry (well maybe after 3 or 4 you would!).

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Mascarpone Basil Mousse, Herb Vinaigrette, Balsamic Gastrique and Garlic Croutons

2. Willow  Located walking distance from the Ballston metro in Arlington, VA (4301 N. Fairfax Dr.), I can’t speak highly enough of executive chef Tracy O’Grady and her modern continental cuisine. She is one of the most talented chefs in the DC area who prides herself on using the freshest ingredients featuring local produce, meat, and grains while incorporating classic French and Italian influences. Willow has become one of my favorite places. My husband and I went in July 2011 and summer (2010) for restaurant week and had incredible meals. Chef O’Grady always has beautiful presentations of her food, and the cuts of meat are interesting. I love that Willow clearly marks their menu for vegetarians with a little (v) to let guests know that the dish is made without meat products. If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll make out like a bandit at Willow. Chef O’Grady treats you right! Stay tuned! Willow will most likely extend their promotion until the end of August. 

Photo courtesy of CityEats.com

3. GraffiatoRAMMY Nominated for Best New Restaurant 2012, Graffiato (703 6th St., NW) is by far one of my favorite restaurants in DC. Since my first review, I’ve been at least 3 more times. I can’t get enough. In Winter 2012, Graffiato participated in DC Restaurant Week for the first time for lunch only, this summer they are participating for lunch and dinner! Huzzah! I can confidently say that it is well worth the visit. If you read my July 2011 post then you’ll know that Mike Isabella’s first baby (in my opinion) has lived up to the hype. Their DC Restaurant Week menus actually offer 4 courses for the price of 3 – $35.12. I’m pleased that some of his signature dishes are included on the DCRW menu, such as the Pepperoni sauce with the flatbread and also his risotto (always cooked to perfection). For second course, don’t be shy about the cauliflower, it’s delicious! Before you get on the horn, Graffiato no longer uses Opentable.com as their online reservation system and using CityEats.com exclusively. If you haven’t already noticed, most of my favorite restaurants have chefs that change their menus seasonally, offering the best quality and flavor in their food. Graffiato is no different. Don’t wait! It will fill up! *Note: Graffiato is extending their DC RW promotion thru Aug. 26th.

4. Adour – Situated inside the elegant and luxurious St. Regis, Washington, D.C., Adour (923 16th St., NW) offers locals and visitors alike a glimpse into legendary Chef Alain Ducasse’s culinary mastery in an opulent setting. They participating for Lunch only for the traditional DC RW (Aug. 13-19); however, they are extending their promotion to August 20-26th and adding a new special dinner 3-course menu for $55 off their A la carte menu. If you can swing it, the 3-course lunch menu for restaurant week at just $20.12 with no surcharges, is an extremely high value. The restaurant is closed Sundays and Mondays, but will most likely extend the promotion another week (if past behavior indicates future behavior). I went to Adour for dinner during Winter 2011 Restaurant week (and also to celebrate my birthday) and had one of the best meals of my life. Consistently ranked on the Washingtonian 100 Very Best Restaurants List for a reason, if you haven’t been, you should definitely go. And make sure that you try the macaroons. The pastry chef, Fabrice Bendano just won the RAMMY for Best Pastry Chef of the Year!

5. Westend Bistro – I love this restaurant, but not just because I think chef Eric Ripert is dreamy (but it certainly helps). I’ve had several meals here, one of which was my 4 year blogiversary and we were sat practically in the kitchen. Chef de cuisine, Joe Palma executes the American menu of simple signature dishes inspired by Chef Ripert’s family traditions and recipes with precision and great care. The focus is on using seasonal ingredients, culled from fresh, quality produce by local farmers in the Mid-Atlantic region. Their Lunch and Dinner DC Restaurant Week menus have been posted online. Even for a non foie gras or pate lover, the Duck Liver Mousse is to die for (pardon the pun). On the restaurant week menu, I’m certain that the Pork and Duck Pate will be delicious!  Another note: while I have advised against dining at restaurants that offer prix-fixe menus all year round as a general restaurant week no-no, since Westend Bistro offers a pre-theatre menu only between 5:30 p.m. and 6:15 p.m., an exception can be made here.

Chef Morou Ouattara

6. Farrah Olivia –  A special 3-course dinner menu for DC Restaurant Week will be offered. Chef Morou’s African, French and Middle Eastern influenced cuisine will be offered in the private dining room at Kora (2250 Crystal Dr.), the Crystal City restaurant that he co-owns with his brother, Amadou and wife, Heather. My husband and I went recently for dinner and once again, it was one of my most memorable meals of my life. One of his signature dishes is the painted soup. For summertime he offered, eggplant and tomato basil gazpacho. Another recent favorite was the Hangar steak with mushroom gratin, date wine reduction, and alligator pepper. While the DC Restaurant Week menu has not been posted online yet; however, if you haven’t been, you should not miss the opportunity to try this internationally known chef’s work.

7. J&G Steakhouse - One of the chicest dining rooms in DC and rated as one of Washingtonian’s 100 Very Best restaurants, J&G Steakhouse is a showcase for chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s favorite dishes from his New York restaurants. Enjoy and upscale menu of worldly steakhouse classics with a French twist. Located in the mod W Hotel, known for its spectacular rooftop views, I have been fortunate enough to dine at J&G for brunch, lunch, and dinner. I have never had a meal here that I didn’t love. Again, while it is against my own advice to visit a place during restaurant week that offers a pre-theatre menu, I will make an exception here because the 3-course pre-theatre menu is only offered from 5-6:30 pm. Insider tips: Request a table along the window wall with the cushy, high-backed benches where couples can sit side by side and foursomes can gather round. Plan ahead and skip the valet parking at the hotel which is $30. Opt to park at the garage at 1325 G St., NW, where it’s just $13.

8. Fiola - RAMMY Winner for Best New Restaurant 2012, Chef Fabio Trabocchi’s Trattoria Moderna, located in the heart of Washington, DC at 601 Pennsylvania Ave., NW has dazzled the foodies of DC. The restaurant offers traditional Italian dishes with the contemporary interpretation for which Chef Trabocchi is known. Fiola participated in Winter 2012 DC Restaurant week, so it is not their first time. Dinner at Fiola is currently my only reservation thus far, and I’m dying to go. It’s been on my list for a while. Also I’ve heard great things about their new expanded patio, which seats up to 70 guests, almost twice its capacity last year. The 3-course dinner menu is available.

Photo courtesy of BibianaDC.com

9. Bibiana– My very first visit to Bibiana was for lunch September 4, 2009 on its opening day. With top-notch service, knowledgeable servers, and an award-winning and extremely talented chef Nicholas Stefanelli, I recommend it highly to everyone. Owned by the restaurateur Ashok Bajaj, who has earned coveted James Beard Foundation nominations for service and also was named one of the 50 Most Powerful People in Washington by GQ magazine in 2009. Overall, Bibiana doesn’t really need to participate in DC Restaurant Week because it has steady business regardless, but I think that the fact that Mr. Bajaj does participate is an even better reason to dine there. The service is the best-in-the-biz and Chef Stefanelli’s seasonal menu, offering modern Italian cuisine is a must try. If you haven’t been, you’re missing out. Note: Bibiana is extending their DC RW promotion thru Sunday, August 26th

10. Rasika RAMMY Winner for Best Chef of the Year 2012, executive chef Vikram Sunderam has been busy winning coveted awards and opening the new Rasika West End. Last Summer 2011 for DC Restaurant Week, the stars aligned and finally I went to Rasika to try some of executive chef Vikram Sunderam’s deliciously authentic Indian cuisine for the first time. My expectations were high, but were exceeded, especially because of the much-praised palak chaat and the excellent service. Chef Sunderam’s restaurant week menus are always very promising and at such an excellent value, which includes some his best dishes, such as the palak chaat, black cod lightly sauced with star anise, dill, and honey. Both Lunch and Dinner 3-course DC Restaurant Week menus have been posted online. Rasika would be higher on my top 20 list; however, the restaurant offers a $35 pre-theatre menu (M-F 5:30-6:30 p.m.; Sat 5:30-6:30 p.m.) with similar offerings as restaurant week. Rasika is no doubt one of the best restaurants in DC and now there are two locations to meet that demand.

11. Kaz Sushi Bistro - If you’re a sushi connoisseur and love real sake, you shouldn’t bother going anywhere else.  Located downtown (1915 I (eye) St., NW), the RAMMY award-winning Chef, Kaz (Kazuhiro) Okochi offers deliciously fresh and innovative sushi at modest prices. The Summer DC Restaurant Week menus (both lunch and dinner) have not been posted online; however, their MO for DCRW usually includes diners being  offered a choice of two preset menus. On the lunch menu diners are usually offered a choice of Miso soup; bento box (seaweed salad, Asian short ribs, spicy California roll, or miso-marinated salmon, and spicy green mussels). For dessert, choose between green-tea ice cream or mango sorbet. For dinner appetizers: if he offers the Scallop ceviche, you’ll want to pick it for sure!; or seared Sockeye salmon with wasabi/tuna sauce; spicy shrimp fritter; crispy calamari salad; teriyaki pork ribs; grilled miso-marinated salmon. For main course, choose either three nigiri or two maki. I recommend the lychee panna cotta with mango sorbet for dessert. Note: Kaz Sushi Bistro is extending their lunch and dinner menus one week thru Sunday, August 26th

Co Co. Sala’s Bacon Mac & Cheese

12. Co Co. Sala Renowned as the chic fine dining place to gorge oneself on artisan coffee, gourmet chocolate, decadent desserts, Co Co. Sala lures locals and visitors alike into their opulent den with an incredible deal. While Co Co. Sala only offers a dinner option for DC Restaurant Week, they will extend their promotion til August 26th, giving diners a chance to get their cocoa fix. For $35.12, you’re actually getting five courses. You’re given an amuse bouche of their signature frozen hot cocoa, choice of salad, two of their “co co. bites”, including their famous bacon mac & cheese, and then a decadent dessert. I’m so glad that they are bringing this dish back! I get hungry just reading the menu. Although, cocktails are not included in the deal, I would be remiss not to mention that Co Co. Sala’s cocktails, are to die for and are the best that I have ever had. Co Co. Sala is a must-do any day of the week, but don’t miss the chance to taste the hand crafted from luxurious Valrhona chocolate. Also, Co Co. Sala is offering a special Restaurant Week Saturday/Sunday Brunch menu! French Toast S’mores could really be a beautiful thing. The 3-course brunch menu is available for $20.12 on August 18th, 19th, 25th and 26th.

13. Art and Soul Under the direction of two-time James Beard Award winning chef, Art Smith, executive chef Wes Morton, never ceased to amaze with his southern inspired dishes, just like Art and Wes’ mama made. Look for favorites on their restaurant week menu that are available on the regular lunch, such as Art’s famous fried chicken. This is a great opportunity to sample some of his extraordinary cuisine, prepared with love – at an exceptional value. Chef Morton has created a special 3-course prix fixe menu with seasonal favorites. Check back to see when it’s available online. It’s no secret that Art and Soul is one of my favorite restaurants in DC. In fact, I practically tell everyone.

14. Tallula – One of my favorites in Northern Virginia, part of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, Tallula offers a modern approach to classic American fare in an upscale yet friendly environment. In the past, Tallula has offered their entire menus to diners, for the best possible value. Guests will choose any appetizer, entree and dessert from their full dinner menu. The menu focuses heavily on bold flavors resulting from the use of fresh, local produce and the highest quality meats they can find. The extensive wine list features more than 350 wines by the bottle and 70 by the glass. If you haven’t been to Tallula, you are missing out.

15. Poste Moderne Brasserie – With executive chef Dennis Marron at the helm, foodies can rest easily that you’re eating the freshest and highest quality ingredients there is. His breadth of experience and strong personal commitment to local farmers and ingredients will build upon Poste’s excellent reputation of supporting sustainable farming and restaurant operations. Chef Marron comes to Poste from The Grille at the Morrison House and Jackson 20. Both their lunch and dinner 3-course menus have been posted online. On the dinner menu, standouts include Lamb Carpaccio thinly sliced seared lamb loin, micro basil, sungold tomatoes, and Cashel Blue cheese. Sounds dee-lish! There are five options for main course, of which the Pot Au Feu one pot poached Polyface Farms half chicken, parsnips, rutabaga, baby carrots, baby turnips, bacon sautéed garden kale, with grilled ramps and the Rockfish Basquaise chorizo broth poached, clams, fingerling potatoes, baby carrots, fennel, red peppers, with confit tomatoes sound divine!

16. Chef Geoff’s – Well-known for offering their entire regular menu to diners at all three of the Chef Geoff’s locations, they are definitely one of my top choices. Chef Geoff’s prides themselves on offering guests a great experience during restaurant week, just like every other week. Guests may choose any soup salad or starter followed by any entree followed by any dessert with no upcharges. We’ll see what Chef Tracy cooks up this year. Last year he ran a social media campaign to see how many would ’vote’ to have the restaurant extend the Restaurant Week promotion for up to a month! Also, Chef Geoff -Tysons Corner won the 2011 Hottest Restaurant Bar Scene RAMMY Award!

17. – Acadiana, Ceiba, DC Coast, PassionFishDistrict Commons -The Passion Food Hospitality restaurant group’s owners, Chef Jeff Tunks, Gus Dimillo, and David Wizenberg have a longstanding tradition of offering any entree on their regular menus while offering selected appetizers and desserts for the restaurant week prix-fixe menu. Their latest project District Commons participated in DC Restaurant Week for the first time in Winter 2012. I have been to every single one of their restaurants, except the newest, and I have never had but an exceptional meal. Between all of the sister restaurants, there is a variety of of cuisine types from down home Southern cookin’ at Acadiana to delicious seafood from the Mid-Atlantic region at DC Coast. If you’re dining with kid’s, PassionFish is a must visit. The kid’s menu is thoughtful and your kids will love their fun presentations.

18. Jackson 20 – Located in the Hotel Monoco in Old Town, Alexandria, VA, (480 King St.), Jackson 20 is a modern American tavern featuring regional fare inspired by traditional recipes. In the past, Jackson 20 has offered their entire menu at all for both lunch and dinner, and in addition, continued to offer their beverage specials, including bottomless mimosas for brunch, Wine Down Mondays and their 20/20 wine list (20 wines for $20). Jackson 20 is also participating in Alexandria Restaurant Week, Aug. 17-26 with the same menus.

19. Dino – Every year, Restaurateur Dean Gold always gets into the spirit of restaurant week by going the extra mile. Dino serves excellent authentic Italian fare using the best seasonal ingredients at an exceptional value all year round with the Menu della Sera offering 3 courses for just $39!, but always kicks it up a notch for restaurant week, or shall I say month?! Dino will run their restaurant week promotion for an entire month, beginning August 1st and offers guests a gift certificate good on a return visit for September 6 thru September 30th. What a deal!

Photo by Moshe Zusman

20. La Sandia – I’d be wiling to bet money that you haven’t visited La Sandia, located inside Tysons Corner Center mall on the lower level. If so, you’re seriously missing out. I’ve been several times, and I can’t get enough. Chef Richard Sandoval, internationally recognized as the Father of Modern Mexican Cuisine, elevates Mexican cooking to new heights at La Sandia serving up authentic Mexican specialties alongside over 200 fine Tequilas. Inspired by his culinary mantra of ‘old ways, new hands,’ Chef Sandoval reinterprets traditional dishes with innovative techniques and skillful presentation. La Sandia is participating in both DC RW Lunch and Dinner and their menus are posted online. Their deals include choice of house-made refreshing beverages, such as the Mojito or Sangria!  Try one of their signature dishes; the Beef Flautus with crispy corn tortilla and slow roasted beef brisket. Also their Chile Relleno which is an anaheim pepper stuffed with market vegetables, chipotle-cotija rice, and avocado turns heads (and noses!). For dessert, their churros are excellent! (Ask for the caramel sauce!)

Restaurant Week Tips and past years Top Ten Picks draw from years experience, and I put my all into it. Please let me know what YOUR top picks are!

16 Responses to “DC Restaurant Week Top 20 Picks”

  1. Robert

    Jul 17. 2012

    Looking for lunch that includes filet mignon as a menu item. Recommendations?

    Reply to this comment
    • Lisa Shapiro

      Jul 17. 2012

      Robert, That might be a tall order, but I will look into for you.

      Reply to this comment
    • test

      Aug 15. 2012

      Willow has filet mingnon tips on its really terrific restaurant week lunch menu.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Sarah

    Jul 18. 2012

    Do you know which restaurants are extending their restaurant week? I took a gamble and picked the wrong week to be off work.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Tighe

    Aug 06. 2012

    I have never tried Fogo De Chao and have always heard incredible things. I have a reservation made for restaurant week, would you say this is a good time to give it a try?

    Reply to this comment
    • Lisa Shapiro

      Aug 06. 2012

      Hi Tighe, Yes, I would. Brazilian steakhouses are usually very expensive and I think if you’re getting the same service of all-you-can-eat Rodizio than it’s an excellent value.

      Reply to this comment
  4. Monica

    Aug 07. 2012

    Looking for a vegan restaurant that participates in restaurant week!

    Reply to this comment
    • Lisa Shapiro

      Aug 07. 2012

      Monica, You want it to be only vegan? Hmm … that sounds like a tall order. You will be able to find Vegan items at Willow, Open Kitchen, Rasika, Carmine’s, and maybe a few others but it’s hard because DC Restaurant Week usually only offers a few choices for each course. You could try those restaurants that offer their entire menus, such as Urbana, Dino, Chef Geoff’s and all of the PassionFood Hospitality restaurants, like Acadiana, Ceiba, DC Coast, etc. Good Luck!

      Reply to this comment
  5. ct

    Aug 15. 2012

    You lost my respect for this list when you added Chef Geoff’s. Service is terrible and the food has become mediocre at best.

    Reply to this comment
    • Lisa Shapiro

      Aug 15. 2012

      Well in my defense, they’re not in the top 10 … which location do you frequent the most?

      Reply to this comment

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