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14th Street Why is every new restaurant instantly full?

Le Diplomate
Darrow Montgomery

Diners of Washington have a new mecca: 14th Street NW. This was a gangbuster year for the corridor with more than 20 new restaurant openings and more on the way. Compare that to 2012, when only four restaurants opened on the same strip. (The same number debuted in the second week of May 2013 alone.) Many of these arrivals—Kapnos, Doi Moi, Le Diplomate, and Etto—have already become some of the top places to dine in the city.

But with so many places to eat, why is it so damn hard to get a table?

Waits often span hours even on Tuesday nights. And on weekends, the foot traffic can look like a mob scene. One explanation: More people are moving to the District, about 1,000 a month (and apparently they all have to check out Le Diplomate immediately). More tourists are coming, too: Visitor spending on food and beverage went up about 5 percent last year, to a total of $1.7 billion. (Again, did they all go to Le Diplomate?)

Aside from the sheer increase in hungry mouths, 14th Street’s growing reputation as a culinary destination feeds itself. The more restaurants that cram in, the more the neighborhood becomes a place where people will head to eat and drink. The businesses thrive off each other.

And while every place may seem packed, they aren’t really. Plenty of less trendy restaurants can seat you at anytime. Others may have waits, but they’re shorter than they used to be.

Still, the overall trajectory is more booked reservations and long lines. So good luck with that table: The 14th Street corridor shows no sign of letting up anytime soon.

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