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.

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1515 14th St. NW, (202) 332-8613

Powerful Because: The Obama crowd is a bunch of suckers for thin-crust pizza.

This modern Italian brasserie isn’t particularly close to the Capitol or the White House. Yet it’s become known as a de facto Obama administration club house. Reported sightings have included a slew of White House aides, notably former political adviser David Axelrod as well as Attorney General Eric Holder. And, before he split for the deep-dish capital of Chicago, then chief of staff Rahm Emanuel appeared so regularly as to suggest a potentially mayoral career-threatening thin-crust habit. Even Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano paid a visit. You know, authentic Neapolitan pizza has been done to death in the District. Perhaps it’s time to introduce a new twist: the Napolitano pie. It’s cooked in a metal detector. Please remove your shoes before you eat. —CS



2007 14th St. NW, (202) 797-7171

Powerful Because: It’s the hub of D.C.’s hippest hospitality empire.

Star power? Come on. This is Eric Hilton’s house. The guy from renowned D.C. recording group Thievery Corporation. Hilton and his businessman brother, Ian, are the brains and financial backers behind a vast network of restaurants and nightspots in the city, beginning with Dupont Circle stalwart Eighteenth Street Lounge and extending to the Gibson, Patty Boom Boom, Dickson Wine Bar, American Ice Company, and U Street Music Hall, with another three hotspots currently under development. Marvin is their flagship. The kitchen, helmed by Hilton’s stepson James Claudio and highlighted by a pretty mean rendition of chicken and waffles, also cranks out grub for sister sites Dickson and American Ice. Reviews haven’t been great, but who cares? The place oozes cool, with lines out the door every weekend. People come for the patio and, of course, the DJs. —MEM


2401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, (202) 296-1166

Powerful Because: Kennedy Center pre-show meal turns the ordinary diner into a chauffeured elitist.

Robert Wiedmaier’s first restaurant, opened in 1999, is generally considered among the most expensive places to eat in the city. But with the right timing, its Foggy Bottom location offers the unique ability to make you look more rich and powerful than you truly are. Roll up to the nearby Kennedy Center in an executive town car, courtesy of the restaurant, as part of its $58-per-person, three-course, pre-theater package, until 7 p.m. each night. That’s not to say the venue’s cachet is all show. Marcel’s carried enough sway last year to finally break the strange stranglehold that Palisades sushi temple Makoto had maintained at the top of the Zagat Survey rankings, leapfrogging from sixth to first place in the food category, while the previously first-placed Makoto dropped out of the top five for the first time in 13 years. —CS

19. Rasika

633 D St. NW, (202) 637-1222

Powerful Because: It’s the new Bombay Club.

This Penn Quarter restaurant offers an eloquent combination of gorgeous food (crispy spinach, tandoori salmon) and chic interior, all at a price point guaranteed to impress guests by how much you’re dropping on them. Sure, you could lose just as many rupees at Bombay Club (same owner), that stately old-school power spot with the crusty piano player. But the younger power set prefer to chew their naan some place a bit more hip. Yes, the nouveau Indian restaurant, which is planning a second spot for the West End, claims the loyalty of The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd. But the city’s true commander of cool, Michelle Obama, also anointed it with her presence, knowing its role as a place to be spotted but not disturbed. —SG


1112 F St. NW, (202) 367-1990

Powerful Because: The seating chart is like a civics class.

When Ristorante Tosca opened on F Street NW a decade ago, it was taking a bit of a risk: It made its home in a then-still-blemished section of downtown, within sight of the downmarket free-for-all at the now-defunct Polly Esther’s dance club. But as the forces of revitalization remade nearby Penn Quarter and Gallery Place, Tosca matured as a venue for power-brokers interested in fine Italian dining. Regulars include former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who met with then-Sen. Barack Obama after the 2006 elections, “talking about Mr. Obama’s chances late into the night over Italian food and wine at the restaurant’s chef’s table,” The New York Times wrote. Will that earn Tosca a historic marker on a future Obama heritage trail? Time will tell. What is for certain is that those in the know know where which Tosca regulars sit. According to The Washington Post, Table 26 is the “domain of Tom Daschle,” while “influential Republican lobbyist Mark Isakowitz gets whisked to Table 62 along the back wall’s ‘Power Section,’ the one with the panoramic view of who’s coming and going.” —MG


1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, (202) 626-0015

Powerful Because: It serves the only D.C. hamburger endorsed by Men’s Health.

Yes, Zagat Survey recently deemed this place D.C.’s best power lunch spot, earning 26 out of a possible 30 points for food, 21 for décor and 23 for service. So what? Perhaps more impressive is the way that chef Michel Richard swayed the calorie-counting, washboard-abdominal obsessives at Men’s Health magazine. That’s right. The same publication that strongly suggests you “skip the secret sauce” and “ask for a dry bun” at your typical fast-food joint nonetheless endorsed the buttery breaded hunk of beef at Central as part of its May 2011 “Guy Food Guide.” The fitness fanatics gave Central high marks for the burger’s “juicy, meaty, char” flavors. No mention, however, of Richard’s bucket of crispy fried chicken. —CS

16. Equinox

818 Connecticut Ave. NW, (202) 331-8118

Powerful Because: It passed through fire.

The president and first lady selected this acclaimed seasonal and locally sourced American restaurant as the site of their first date night in the District, just days before his January 2009 inauguration. It’s good to get to know the new neighborhood. Husband and wife team Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray opened up the eatery in 1999 in a coveted spot, about a block away from the White House. Almost a year after they got to know the new neighbors from Chicago, a late-night kitchen fire heavily damaged the place, but the Grays didn’t budge from their powerful perch. They rebuilt, opening six months later to welcoming reviews. One ironic selection for the relaunched restaurant’s new menu: the char. —SG


2800 Pennsylvania Ave NW, (202) 944-2026

Powerful Because: Real estate is destiny.

Celebrity chef Michael Mina’s sleek meat market warrants a mention by sheer virtue of its leasehold. To select a location in more close proximity to Washington’s power set, you’d need to open a restaurant under Obama’s desk in the Oval Office, or under the bed of Benjamins where Ted Lerner rests his estimated $3 billion head at night. You’re inside the Four Seasons, D.C.’s most exclusive hotel, playground for the rich and famous, visiting dignitaries, diplomats, and Hollywood douchebags. Talk about an idyllic setting for fat cats. The steaks are poached in butter and the fries are cooked in duck fat. Oh, and did I mention the pork cupcake? —CS


3236 M St. NW, (202) 333-9180; 707 7th St. NW, (202) 349-3700; other locations in Maryland and Virginia

Powerful Because: Borders went out of business.

Back in 2004 when Rachael Ray’s $40 a Day food-travel show visited D.C., Ray swung by the original Clyde’s in Georgetown to witness a “power lunch.” While watching powerful men in suits presumably making deals, she somehow also snagged a $10.50 grilled sirloin steak and declared in the end that she wouldn’t “veto” Clyde’s because the place is “bipartisan.” Sure, Ray was peddling capital-city stereotypes. (Real power-brokers spend a lot more than that on their red meat). But Clyde’s has perfected the art of peddling an insiderish simulacrum to the masses that visit outposts adjacent to Georgetown shopping or the Verizon Center—where a Gallery Place location has two levels and four bars. Other locations far from the corridors of power include Reston and Columbia. And its biggest new project is slated to go into the old Borders Books and Music storefront at 14th and F streets NW, a gigantic piece of valuable real estate. In a testament to Clyde’s influence, the restaurant group got some of the last of D.C.’s tax-incentive financing for downtown development to make its new venture a reality. —MG


1330 Maryland Ave. SW, (202) 787-6006

Powerful Because: Thomas Keller don’t raise no fools.

The fate of this super-expensive, four-star dining destination, located in the luxurious Mandarin Oriental hotel, seems to rest entirely on the star power of its famed chef, Eric Ziebold. Mentored under the irrepressible Thomas Keller at Napa, Calif.’s renowned French Laundry, Ziebold seems to harbor his former boss’s zeal for the finest ingredients, whether he’s arranging for a shipment of special peppercorns from—cover your eyes, locavores!—China, or lugging crates of fruit from the farmers market. When he’s on his game, the kitchen showcases plates that offer a balance of beauty, whimsy, and an interplay of flavors, emphasizing the season’s best. When he’s out sick, well, you hope Tom Sietsema doesn’t stop by. Such an illness may have cost the place its usual rightful spot in The Washington Post’s Fall Dining Guide (as City Paper reported last October). —MEM


575 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, (202) 637-6100

Powerful Because: The boldface names love it.

The Source by Wolfgang Puck shows up in D.C.’s gossip columns so often that it ought to be renamed the Reliable Source. It appeared in the similarly-named Washington Post column six times over the course of six months ending in April—four more than Georgetown’s Café Milano—drawing a mix of the famous-for-Washington (Lindsey Graham) and famous-for-everywhere (Paul McCartney). The eatery is also perfectly happy to capitalize on reflected star power: After the Obamas had a date night there back in January, the restaurant offered fans an $85-per-person menu that re-created the first couple’s meal, which included a dim sum platter, spicy tuna tartare, and wok-fired lobster. Not that the gossips care, but The Source also trumps Café Milano in the kitchen, where chef Scott Drewno is proving to be one of the most elegant toques in town. —MG


Location varies, (202) 341-6263, twitter.com/lobstertruckdc

Powerful Because: It established food trucks as a legitimate D.C. dining option.

When Red Hook Lobster Pound’s food truck launched in D.C. last summer, there were waits of more than an hour at Farragut Square for a lobster roll. Kicking things off during the dog days of August, the lobster wagon was a major hit on the local news. There was even a report—tweeted, of course—of a lobster roll scalper, selling one for $20. While the local food truck community likes to imagine itself a coalition of equals, the sweet and juicy lobster rolls at Red Hook deserve the greatest share of credit for selling the District on the concept. Trucks went highbrow years ago in other towns, but in Washington, they’d stubbornly remained the province of dingy hot dogs. That popularity, in turn, has helped spark a movement to change the way D.C. regulates eateries: Reason magazine used the truck in a video showing the benefits of government deregulation, and the Wilson Building has been grappling with a large-scale re-write of food-on-wheels rules. —MG

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

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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

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