D.C.'s 44 Most Powerful Restaurants Celebrity chefs. Sublime menus. Crowds that don't notice the dull food. In culinary D.C., power takes many forms.

Page 2 of 4

33. 701

701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, (202) 393-0701

Powerful Because: It’s beloved by lobbyists who don’t go to jail.

During George W. Bush’s first term in office, it would have been easy to put Signatures, located on the west side of the Navy Memorial, toward the top of any power list. That’s where superlobbyist Jack Abramoff held court, crafted deals, and plotted his path to amass more power—and money. On the east side stood 701, restaurateur Ashok Bajaj’s now-20-year-old restaurant, among the first fine-dining establishments to take a chance on D.C.’s near-dead downtown. Signatures is long gone. Abramoff, after a prison stint, is reportedly working at a Baltimore pizza place. But 701 is still around and Penn Quarter is booming. Bajaj, unlike Abramoff, doesn’t take foolish risks, and 701 remains stately without being stodgy. Chef Ed Witt’s cooking keeps people coming back. Bajaj says that when he got advice to scrap 701’s name and try a new approach with a new identity, he replied, “Why would I do that?” With a reputation for quality and consistency—and as a haven for the city’s powerful types—701 has staying power. —MG



107 D St. NE, (202) 546-4488

Powerful Because: If senators still decided history over drinks, they’d do it here.

It’s far too easy to forget about The Monocle, the 51-year-old Senate-side restaurant nestled up against the Capitol Police headquarters at the edge of a large parking lot. While its traditional menu focused on seafood and steak might seem quaint to more contemporary diners, it has enviable proximity to the nation’s most powerful legislators. Tradition reigns supreme—portraits of members of Congress dot the walls—but it’s a place surprisingly at ease with itself. While modern-day political conflict has killed off bipartisan camaraderie on Capitol Hill, The Monocle is a good reminder of the days when the politically powerful would find time to relax and recharge at a nearby watering hole. —MG

31. Zaytinya

701 9th St. NW, (202) 638-0800

Powerful Because: You still want to eat there, years later.

Almost every week brings a new restaurant to the city. Crowds flock. Crowds decline. Crowds move on. But not at Zaytinya. Eight years after it opened (when Penn Quarter was just starting to push its neighborhood branding northward), José Andrés’ homage to Turkish, Greek, and Lebanese cuisine continues coaxing crowds with a balance of refinement and familiarity. Locals and tourists alike are drawn to the sleek, white, bright interior, well put-together food, and affordable menu. Sustaining such a full house almost every night of the week is no easy task in this transient town, where new restaurants—whether good or bad—command attention. Besides an array of tempting mezzes, Zaytinya pumps up the star power in the kitchen. Andrés is not the only boldface name protruding from this dining scene staple: Two-time Top Chef alum (and owner of the forthcoming Graffiato) Mike Isabella once plated lamb shanks and tabbouleh in the 230-seat Mediterranean haven. —SG


3311 Connecticut Ave. NW, (202) 244-6750

Powerful Because: It may be strong enough to break the curse of Cleveland Park.

Just two years ago, Cleveland Park felt like a ghost town. High rents and a tough economy put a damper on the Connecticut Avenue commercial strip. Even Starbucks closed. Restaurateur Ashok Bajaj’s side-by-side eateries, recently joined and relaunched after a sharp-looking renovation, were among the few survivors. The neighborhood has seen a renaissance of sorts this year on the restaurant front, with the opening of Medium Rare, Tackle Box, and Palena’s retail market. But it’s unclear whether the newcomers will ever demonstrate the same kind of longevity. When Bajaj opened Ardeo in 1998 (its sibling Bardeo would later open next door, but recent renovations have fused the two in one space), it brought sleepy Cleveland Park a bit of downtown sophistication. Bajaj says the place became a sort of reference point for the real estate market. “They would say, ‘It’s near Ardeo.’” And who can argue with the power of local real estate? —MG

29. Birch & Barley/ ChurchKey

1337 14th St. NW, (202) 567-2576

Powerful Because: It gets to order drinks for the whole area.

The biggest name in beer bars these days is but one gem in the crown of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which counts Virginia’s Tallula, Vermilion, and Rustico among its nine-restaurant assembly. Beer director Greg Engert oversees suds selection for the whole group, which gives him tremendous clout in deciding what you’ll be drinking. In fact, brewers tend to grant Engert first dibs when hawking the latest seasonal releases to D.C.-area sellers. Engert says his buying power derives more from extensive quality controls—religiously cleaning tap lines, pouring at precise temperatures—than the sheer breadth of his business. But the result is the same: suds galore. —Orr Shtuhl

28. Founding Farmers

1924 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, (202) 822-8783

Powerful because: Sorry—and seasonal—only seem to be the hardest words.

Founding Farmers was pretty much bitch-slapped by The Washington Post in 2009. Former Post reporter Jane Black revealed its supposed farm-fresh menu was not as local or seasonal as it preached. The restaurant put forth a nasty rebuttal. But it has since re-shaped its message, acknowledging its menu may not always reach perfection with the most sustainable or organic items, though the restaurant will surely strive for it. If there’s power in the mea culpa, then Founding Farmers swallowed a heaping helping of pride. (It doesn’t waver, however, in its green leadership, as the first D.C. restaurant to be LEED Gold certified.) The sniping over vendors and sourcing may never have reached the masses, though; Founding Farmers still does a whopping 1,240 covers a day, a testament to its staying power. And no wonder: It shares a building with the International Monetary Fund and sits just three blocks from the White House. With neighbors like that, Founding Farmers must have known how to keep calm and carry on. —SG


Various locations, fiveguys.com

Powerful Because: It’s a rare example of a local export taking the country by storm.

Ask any out-of-towner to name one thing synonymous with the D.C. food scene, and this is probably their answer. While the chain technically originated in Arlington and now has its headquarters in Lorton—nine locations are inside the District line—there’s a slice of D.C. pride embedded with every four pickles under each patty sold outside the metropolitan area. With more than 700 locations in the U.S. and Canada and plans for another 100 in the pipeline, that’s a lot of pride to swallow. This past May, the holding company that doles out franchises under the Five Guys moniker secured some $55 million in new capital and a $45 million revolving credit line, ensuring that the region’s most powerful fast-food chain keeps acquiring new plots for its peanut-oil fryers at a zippy pace. —CS


2029 P St. NW, (202) 872-1180

Powerful Because: They don’t care who your boss is.

There are two reasons why it can be difficult to get a reservation at Obelisk, Peter Pastan’s unassuming Italian restaurant in a Dupont Circle rowhouse. First, there are only a few tables, greatly reducing your chances of nabbing a seat on any given night. Then, there’s the James Beard Foundation-nominated chef, who has been long respected in the D.C. dining community. While those two ingredients create a powerful combination, Obelisk’s power is also understated. Though the restaurant, which opened in 1987, is certainly a temple to fine dining, it’s far from stuffy. In some ways, this chill dining environment seems the polar opposite of a power spot. Pastan put it succinctly in an interview with the Current newspapers: “We’re very democratic in our approach to reservations. It doesn’t matter who you are, who your boss is, if you are the boss: If we’ve got a table, you can have it.” Shunning the powerful can be its own act of power. —MG

25. Pizzeria Paradiso

3282 M St. NW, (202) 337-1245; 2003 P St. NW, (202) 223-1245

Powerful Because: They know a lot more about beer than you.

Knowledge is power, and when it comes to knowing malt and hops, there’s no beating the, ahem, highly educated servers behind the stick at Pizzeria Paradiso. D.C.’s pioneering gourmet pizza place, now with three area locations, also greatly influenced the enduring craft-beer craze. Whether it’s the latest local brew or the hottest experimental Danish-Belgian cult collaboration ale (for real; it’s called Mikkeller USAlive), the bartenders will tell you its provenance, its recipe, and whether or not the brewer puts cream in his coffee. Those who seek power may not be worthy of attaining it, but those who seek suds in Georgetown, Old Town, or Dupont Circle will find in Pizzeria Paradiso riches of the mind as well as the gullet. —OS


101 Constitution Ave. NW (202) 547-8100

Powerful Because: D.C. sightlines are valuable—and so are TV chefs.

If this place were any closer to the Capitol, the hostess would have to seat you in the reflecting pool. The big white dome is practically across the street. Lobbyists, staffers, and other power brokers pack in every morning for breakfast. But not all power rests in the dining room. With one celebrity chef name-dropped on the sign out front and another, Top Chef alum Brian Voltaggio, previously in charge of the kitchen, the swanky steakhouse at the foot of Capitol Hill pulls some serious culinary cred, as well. As for the current kitchen boss: Can you really ask for a more apt name for that location than Matt Hill? —Melissa E. McCart

23. Art and Soul

415 New Jersey Ave. NW, (202) 393-7777

Powerful Because: Everyone wants to eat like Oprah.

If Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement helped deliver the White House to Obama, imagine what her simple mention might do for your restaurant. Owner Art Smith spent 10 years as the mega talk show host’s personal chef. These days, he caters to the slightly less influential powers that be on Capitol Hill. Opened in 2008 in the Liaison Hotel, a short walk from Senate offices, the 221-seat Southern-style eatery ensures that dirty deals can be done over “dirty rice.” It may not garner the triplicate star ratings of other power spots in town. But, as Winfrey shows time and time again, even a single star can carry a lot of, um, sway. —CS

Photo Slideshow: Inside D.C.'s Most Powerful Restaurants

View D.C.'s Most Powerful Restaurants 2011 in a larger map

Our Readers Say

Great issue Chris - well done. But you forgot Ris - definitely a power spot!
I was hoping to see the Tune Inn here. It would have been a nice contrast to most of the other places on the list. Longevity, magnatism, power brokers. It does have it all.
Sort of bummed to not see Restaurant Nora here yet Lauriol Plaza made the cut?! I guess when you're from So Cal - Mexican food elsewhere doesn't hold a candle. But great article nonetheless!
The Tune! How did I forget? Ris and Nora are also solid nominations. Man, where were you smart people when I put out a call for powerful suggestions?

What other illustrious places did we miss, folks?
What about the Palm?
Well done. I Ben's deserves a "longevity" icon. Anyone but the Florida Avenue Grill been around longer than they have? And I'm with the folks who think Nora should be on the list. Also, The Tabard Inn.
Elizabeth's Gone Raw, 1341 L Street, is oh-so-powerful as it forges a path to the future of food. With only 100 or so high-end raw restaurants like it in the world, it gives our taste buds AND our bodies the right stuff.

old ebbitt, the tune inn, billy martin's tavern, famous luigi's, and the old europe german restaurant are older than ben's.

I'm a NoVA native, so I don't know if that qualifies me as a DC transplant, but I've been to Lauriol Plaza about half a dozen times.

Let me be the first to break the news to you - people don't go there for the food (which I agree is ho-hum). People go there for the frosty pitchers of strawberry swirl frozen margaritas. On a muggy DC summer night, there's nothing better.
as much as i hate it, how on earth does cafe milano not make this list? egregious oversight
Really? I know it's new and all, but Meridian Pint has become a game changer in the DC beer scene. Forget that they were granted exclusive rights to the first DC brew in 50 plus years (first weekend). Forget that their beer director, Sam, is the first Certified Cicerone in DC. Even forget their devotion to environmental sustainability. It's an amazing neighborhood bar that attracts people from all over town to an area that was pretty much unknown until they came around. Come on, who comes up with these lists?!
Given the fiercely loyal clientele, Palena seems pretty powerful.

I think if you wanted this to be accurate, you would have to do a different list for every kind of powerful. The most powerful four tourists shouldn't be stacked against the most powerful with regulars or most influential over the local food trends, and so on.

How powerful is Minibar really? Isn't it just because it's so small? Very few people go or can even afford to go, and it's unheard of among politicos. Less than one tenth of one percent of people in the city have been.
Merdian Pint? Maybe for the "Hipster Power List"
Merdian Pint? Maybe for the "Hipster Power List"
Meridian Pint!

The article is called "D.C.'s 44 Most Powerful Restaurants" not Bars. Also you have to be around for a little longer to make lists.
A few things here, Kushi and Cava seem too be missing from here. Some places here, ie Minibar are so small how can they not be a tough reservation. You want to make a list, start by not using someone else's list!
No Matchbox? There's always a wait there, it was built from scratch. It's sort of a local institution at this point!
Matchbox is certainly no power spot and it never will be. meridian Pint is great but its too new.
Did I miss Palena in Cleveland Park? One of the best restaurants I have ever been to, let alone in DC.
Busboys and Poets is number SIX??? Were you seriously smoking an enormous blunt when you made this list?!?!?
Georgetown-centric reponse, but interesting that Cafe Milano, Billy Martin's Tavern and 1789 are not mentioned here.
Hot restaurants, hot menus, very delicous.
Hot restaurants, hot menus, very delicous.
Chris this is one of the most olkovoreed topics today! Thanks so much for bringing forth the reality of the power within us. It's a choice and so often we choose to operate on auto-pilot in our daily lives. Wonderful article and pics!
ben's needs to be 1

Leave a Comment

Note: HTML tags are not allowed in comments.
Comments Shown. Turn Comments Off.