A memorable night out in the nation’s capital can mean dining amid the political elite. With no shortage of special occasion spots, Washington, D.C.’s celebratory restaurants include a first family-endorsed steakhouse and a centuries-old saloon, frequented by a cavalcade of former presidents.
But rest assured there are more underrated gems: Dine on stews and spiced meats at a posh Ethiopian concept in Georgetown. Or take a large group to a Sichuan hot pot icon in Arlington. And if you’re willing to stretch beyond the city center, an idyllic, farm-to-table hideaway, complete with a reservable gazebo, awaits in neighboring Lovettsville.
Whatever the occasion, these 15 spots are fit for birthday dinners, anniversary meals, and even moments that call for a festive, midweek taco night, so book them now.
Bourbon Steak (Foggy Bottom)
This steakhouse at the Four Seasons Hotel is a special occasion spot worthy of presidents. Case in point: the Obamas hosted their 20th wedding anniversary dinner here in 2012. You’ll find the upper echelon of D.C. society gathered for celebrity chef Michael Mina’s butter-poached meats that have made a name for themselves across the country. The refined, sleek interiors match the menu’s tasteful selection of black angus filet mignon, Japanese A5 striploin, and Mina’s signature Maine lobster pot pie with brandied lobster cream. On weekends, bottomless brunch with A5 wagyu steak and truffle eggs is served on the outdoor garden patio. Though this is a national chain, Mina knows how to make each Bourbon Steak feel special, and the Four Seasons setting accommodates that.
Das Ethiopian (Georgetown)
In the heart of Georgetown’s historic district, traditional Ethiopian fare in a fine-dining setting takes shape at Das Ethiopian. A MICHELIN Bib Gourmand recipient, Das is known for a spread of stews, vegetables, and spiced meats served atop the restaurant’s signature injera flatbread. Plenty of vegetarian options are centered around lentils, chickpeas, and stewed carrots, though meat lovers will be content, too—the Ethiopian-style short rib is a must for sharing and the chicken doro wat provides a kick of flavor. Sleek, elegant lines and muted tones embellish this special occasion spot with some of the best Ethiopian food D.C. has to offer.
Equinox – DC (Downtown)
Not to be confused with the namesake gym, Equinox restaurant is a fine-dining establishment from husband and wife duo Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff. Gray, a five-time James Beard Award nominee for best chef in America, has served Washingtonians the mid-Atlantic, regional cuisine he’s best known for since the restaurant opened in 1999. And he keeps things fresh with a rotating, plant-forward à la carte and prix fixe weekly menu, which might include grilled hen of the wood mushrooms with roasted rapini and teriyaki sauce alongside pan-roasted duck breast with peach puree and baby bok choy. The classy interior, with white tablecloths and black leather seats, stays true to Equinox’s fine-dining DNA.
Maïz64 (Logan Circle)
Housed on bustling 14th Street in Northwest D.C., Maïz64 offers a unique twist on Mexican cuisine. Chef Alam Méndez Florián displays his Oaxacan heritage in signature dishes such as the smoky charred broccoli taco, (served with black mole and shaved cashews), and the slow-cooked brisket (served with cauliflower puree, seasonal vegetables, and segueza, a chunky, corn-based mole). Set the mood for your special night out with a cocktail or two crafted with house-made bitters and syrups, like the mezcal martini with hoja santa liquor, made from a peppery herb, or the tequila-infused amaranth horchata.
Ottoman Taverna (Mount Vernon Triangle)
Indulge in Turkish cuisine at Ottoman Taverna, a love letter to prolific D.C. restaurateur Hakan Ilhan’s homeland. A striking mural of the Hagia Sophia welcomes diners into this MICHELIN Bib Gourmand’s spacious dining room, featuring white trellis walls and wood-beamed ceilings with striking honeycomb patterns. The menu, perfect for sharing, showcases an array of hot and cold mezze such as stuffed grape leaves, hummus, and falafel, as well as meat-heavy mains like the char-grilled beef kebabs and the thyme and pepper marinated lamb chops.
Elizabeth’s Gone Raw (Logan Circle)
Named one of the best vegan restaurants in the world by the Evening Standard, Elizabeth’s Gone Raw is a fine-dining restaurant that’s only open on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. The unique spot serves raw-vegan courses with organic wine pairings inside an elegant townhouse lined with framed oil paintings. The seasonal prix fixe menu by chef Francisco Hernandez includes white asparagus artfully prepared as a custard with black caviar and tarragon hollandaise foam, followed by cashew creme fraiche served in a huitlacoche shell with silver queen corn and piquillo pepper. A fully raw menu is also available upon request. Elizabeth’s Gone Raw is a one-of-a-kind experience for both plant-based and fine-dining aficionados.
Via Sophia Washington D.C. (Downtown)
Housed inside the elegant Hamilton Hotel, Via Sophia is redefining hotel dining. The contemporary, all-day osteria serves Neapolitan pizza made in an Italian, wood-fired oven, classic pasta, and aperitivo at happy hour. Taking typical Italian ingredients and shaping them in pizza form, the carbonara pie is topped with pecorino, bacon, ricotta, and a farm egg. In the pasta department, linguini is intertwined with clams, garlic, chile flakes, and embellished with fresh parsley and olive oil. The stylish interior with quartz, wood, and brass accents complements the swanky but approachable menu.
Old Ebbitt Grill (Penn Quarter)
As D.C.’s oldest bar, Old Ebbitt Grill has been a regular haunt for presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt, Grover Cleveland, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, and William McKinley since it opened in 1856. Founded in a boarding house, it has since moved several locations and now lives in a Beaux Arts-style building that was formerly the B. F. Keith’s Theater. The historical establishment is furnished with antiques and heirlooms collected over the years with famous paintings on its walls and a stunning ceiling mural inside the bar. Dining areas at the restaurant include the main bar, oyster bar, Grant’s bar, main dining room, and the downstairs cabinet room. Don’t miss the freshly shucked oysters, famous crab and artichoke dip, and crab cakes. The hot pastrami sandwich with Muenster cheese, coleslaw, and Thousand Island dressing sandwiched between pumpernickel bread is also an iconic dish. It all adds up to an experience that’s worthy of a presidential celebration.
Marcel’s by Robert Wiedmaier (West End)
French Belgian fare is served in four to six courses amid chic beige interiors at Marcel’s by Robert Wiedmaier, chef-owner of several D.C. area restaurants including Mussel Bar & Grille, Brasserie Beck, and more. Feast on dishes such as dover sole with crispy gold potatoes and chive butter or mussels with tomato fondue, vermouth glaçage, and Gruyère cheese. For extra-special occasions, definitely opt for the luxurious Petrossian caviar service. The restaurant and Palladin room (tucked behind velvet curtains) can also be booked for a more intimate private dining experience and special occasions for small and large groups.
Rose’s Luxury (Barrack’s Row)
Helmed by James Beard award winner Aaron Silverman, Rose’s Luxury was one of the first restaurants in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area to score a MICHELIN star for its playful new American dishes, such as the pork and lychee salad with garlic oil and whipped coconut milk. Several “best-of” lists later, the restaurant’s cozy townhouse interiors and flawless service have earned it a special spot in the hearts of Washingtonians—including former POTUS Barack Obama—for birthdays, anniversaries, and celebratory cocktails under its moody string lights.
The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm (Lovettsville)
What feels like a secret hidden in the woods of Lovettsville, an hour out from D.C.’s city center, is a new American, farm-to-table culinary experience with produce freshly sourced from the restaurant’s certified organic farm the day you dine. The setting is as peaceful and tranquil as you’d expect, with diners congregating under a tent with hanging paper lanterns surrounded by nature. There’s also a reservable outdoor gazebo for a truly special private dining experience. No matter where you sit, the seasonal tasting menu impresses with dishes such as a farm egg with spinach and sheep milk cheese; chicken confit with mushrooms and escargot; and braised lamb with sweet basil polenta.
Dauphine’s pays homage to the spirit and cuisine of New Orleans through its Louisiana-flavored menu and Crescent City-inspired interiors. Every dish here takes NOLA cuisine to the next level. The duck jambalaya for two features a heap of roasted duck breast, fresh duck and jalapeño sausage, sauerkraut, and duck skin cracklins. The bread service comes with buttermilk biscuits, baguette, and sweet potato brioche, all served with salted cane butter. And the classic po’boy sandwich is served on Leidenheimer bread from New Orleans with beef debris and fried oysters. Finish your meal with a digestif or café au lait and don’t forget the beignets with powdered sugar.
Mala Tang (Arlington)
Traditional Sichuan hot pot comes alive at Mala Tang, named after the distinctive spicy style of hot pot served across China. The restaurant specializes in an assortment of skewers cooked in spicy green or red pepper broth, as well as stir-fried dry pot customizable to your preference. For those new to spicy hot pot, select the milder level for a subtle taste of the numbing sensation—which comes from the capsaicin in chile peppers and the heat from Sichuan peppercorns—by dipping raw ingredients into the steaming pot of broth to cook as you eat. The spirited restaurant is lively with families and friends gathered around circular tables, engaged in the celebratory cooking experience.
Sushiko (Chevy Chase)
Washington, D.C.’s first sushi restaurant has served exceptional rolls since the 1970s. The art of sushi is very apparent at Sushiko, with picturesque bento boxes, sashimi platters, and donburi bowls displaying colorful and intricate platings by executive chef Piter Tjan. Expansive paintings line the sleek dining room; to keep date night intimate, opt to sit at a booth. A sidewalk patio that’s open every Friday and Saturday makes it possible to dine al fresco on delicate fresh cuts of hamachi crudo and soft-shell crab rolls.
Café Riggs (Penn Quarter)
Situated on the first floor of the Riggs hotel, Café Riggs takes cues from ornate, European-style brasseries with olive-toned sofas, baby blue leather chairs, and burgundy bar stools against marble pillars. The café’s all-day menu—meaning you can celebrate anytime—is balanced with plant-based dishes; appetizers of goat cheese tarts, beef tartare, and mussels; and entrees such as branzino, crab tagliatelle, and steak frites. You can also get a whole-roasted truffle chicken or boneless ribeye with mushroom ragu to share. The raw bar dishes out fresh oysters, halibut ceviche, and shrimp cocktail, and brunch specials make it the ideal setting for a celebratory bellini or mimosa to toast the weekend.
Christabel Lobo is a food and travel writer based between Washington, D.C. and south India. Find her on Instagram @whereschristabel and Twitter @wheresbel.
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