As a child, Chinatown was the ultimate weekend excursion. Legal Seafood dinners preceded Gallery Place movie nights, Sunday mornings marked a day devoted to roaming Dim Sum carts and long afternoon naps, and a strategized route to the parked car for views of hand-pulled noodles was inevitable.
Chinatown and neighboring Penn Quarter have changed a lot since then. Our Sunday brunch Dim Sum spot is no longer pushing maneuverable carts. New restaurants opened, surged, and have since fallen to downtown turnover.
And the once ‘Verizon Center’ is now called ‘CapitolOne Area’, conjuring up many confused faces when DC newbies ask for directions to the basketball game.
In today’s Chinatown, Michelin stars are common-place, stylish shops entertain downtown fashionistas, and new DC residents are exploring a transformed Chinatown that leaves remnants of the area it once was. But the original Chinatown magic remains and dazzles in a whole new way.
Table of Contents
- 1 Cranes
- 2 Zaytinya
- 3 Centrolina
- 4 Kofuku DC
- 5 Farmers and Distillers
- 6 Daikaya
- 7 Present Company Public House
- 8 Fig & Olive
- 9 Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse
- 10 DBGB Kitchen and Bar
- 11 CHAIA Chinatown
- 12 Flight Wine Bar
- 13 RPM Italian
- 14 Boqueria
- 15 L’Ardente
- 16 Little Sesame
- 17 Nando’s Peri Peri
- 18 Cava
- 19 Chinatown Express
- Address: 724 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Chef Pepe Moncayo is mending an unanticipated breach between Japanese and Spanish cuisines. His Michelin star restaurant Cranes blends the two culinary viewpoints with reimagined flavor combinations and ingredients that create a dining style of his own…Spanish Kaiseki, a combination he coins ‘a natural cultural and culinary marriage.’
A modern and monochromatic dining room allows for small and colorful fusion plates to shine and the extensive sake selection to fill in where the food leaves off. Choose from seasonal tapas, a la carte items, and a 6-course bento Omakase spread. Dessert toes the line between Japanese and Spanish influence with obvious Spanish preparations and impactful Japanese touches.
- Address: 701 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
A Jose Andres’ original, Zaytinya never fails to impress. An avant-garde sculpture and Zaytinya’s outdoor winterized patio greets diners upon arrival before a vast dining room, towering ceilings, and cooling Mediterranean blues impress diners for the eclectic mezze feast to come.
Interpretations of Turkish, Greek, and Lebanese flavors fill sunlight-kissed tables, but steaming baskets of thin and pillowy pita bread don’t have guests waiting long for food. Plates come out as they’re ready, so be sure to order a few spreads to join the piping hot bread pockets.
Well-versed or daring diners order a glass of potent retsina, a Greek red wine with oaky pine undertones.
- Address: 974 10th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Part Osteria and part mercato, Centrolina helps fill hungry bellies in CityCenterDC and nearby Chinatown. The modern, warm, and geometrical dining room connects to the parallel mercato, where fresh pasta and other Italian staples feature behind glass cases.
Different dining nooks including bar seating, booths, an outdoor patio, and tables with open kitchen views are central to the immersive Centrolina dining experience.
- Address: 815 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Sushi and ramen are a match made in hot and cold heaven. Kofuku is petite on the inside, but the menu assortment is anything but. Start with assorted small plates before diving into steaming bowls of ramen, warming udon noodle plates, and visually stunning sushi nigiri, sashimi, maki and rolls.
Farmers and Distillers
Address: 600 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001
Farmers and Distillers is home to American-fusion fare and house-distilled spirits. The menu boasts an interesting mix of southern comfort food with Asian influence from nearby Chinatown. Starters range from parmesan garlic knots to handmade dumplings, meatballs, and ahi tuna bites. For the mains, choose between ‘Chinatown Favorites’, burgers, and handmade pasta among other robust options.
Mixed drinks feature Founding Spirits vodka, gin, and bourdon cocktails from the farmer-owned basement distillery.
- Address: 705 6th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
An excellent date night destination, Daikaya stands out with two different dining options. The lower level dining room serves all things ramen in a bright, colorful, and wood-toned bar while the upper level hosts Izakaya dinners in the low-lit and moody large dining room.
Izakaya refers to a casual Japanese bar that serves small and inexpensive plates, snacks, and cocktails, similar to a Spanish tapas bar, British pub, or American tavern.
Present Company Public House
- Address: 438 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001
Converted from DC’s oldest firehouse, the Present Company Public House is the face of neighborhood gastro pub gatherings, beers on tap, and bottomless weekend brunches.
Happy hours headline Wednesday through Sunday, precluding dinner-time pub grub available inside the old firehouse or out front on the expansive patio.
Fig & Olive
- Address: 934 Palmer Alley NW, Washington, DC 20001
Part of the CityCenterDC family, Fig and Olive bestows even more Italian flare to this hopping city crevice. True to the name, the menu embodies the magical versatility of olive oil when partnered with fresh local produce and ingredients.
The 360-degree square bar grants guests ample sipping and munching time in bright orange bar stools and overhead wine bottle views on floating shelves.
Window seating extends beyond the traditional with lounge-style chairs and sofas and elegantly set tables in between. The outdoor patio extends the airy interior with beautiful ambience during the warm summer months.
Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse
- Address: 950 I St NW Suite 501, Washington, DC 20001
Del Frisco’s is lavishly grandiose, but worth it for steakhouse fanatics in need of an over-the-top celebration destination. If the degree of splurge is still unclear, browse a menu that starts with a stunning seafood tower before moving to wagyu meatballs, lump crab cakes, and tuna tartare to share.
Steak selections begin with the humble filet mignon and work up to a 32-ounce prime tomahawk and dry-aged cuts.
DBGB Kitchen and Bar
- Address: 931 H St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Daniel Boulud is French chef royalty, managing restaurants up and down the east coast and abroad. DBGB, Boulud’s DC restaurant child, mimics French bistro dining with a modern edge and casual American fare influence.
Tall glass windows dawn cheeky culinary-related quotes, a personal favorite being ‘Without butter, without eggs, there is no reason to come to France’. Gorgeous DC spring weather, even if fleeting, allows accordion windows to open up and let the CityCenterDC air brush bistro plates and wine glasses.
- Address: 615 I St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Vegetarian tacos made the laborious journey from Georgetown to Chinatown when CHAIA opened their third location in the middle of downtown DC. Tacos, enchiladas, and quesadillas occupy a menu full of fresh produce, melty cheese, and handmade corn tortillas.
Limited indoor seating combines airy wood accents, woven basket light fixtures, and green plants for a uniquely warm fast-casual dining experience.
Flight Wine Bar
- Address: 777 6th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Beer flights are not only common knowledge, but one of many new faces of DC nightlife and entertainment. But Flight Wine Bar was part of a wine flight movement in 2014 that popularized a new concept for sampling wine.
With over 600 wines, 22 wine flights, and more than 35 wines by the glass, Flight Wine Bar makes a pledge to spotlight smaller, family-owned businesses that deserve a seat at the bar.
A petite and elegant menu and tiled half-moon bar compliment flights, bottles, and glasses in a room kissed by warm yellow light.
- Address: 650 K St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Chinatown’s RPM Italian is only the second of two nationwide locations, towing Italian sentiments and flavors from the original in Chicago. The massive dining room showcases elegant tones of black and white, so the striking red sauces and vibrant green herbs pop when plates hit the tables.
Cold and hot antipasti preclude pizzettes, pasta, and mains, with a bread service menu category all of its own…just the way it should be.
- Address: 777 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Spanish tapas were an instant hit when they made the ocean journey across the Atlantic to DC. Boqueria’s first restaurant was in New York, but brought the flashy east coast name and flavors down south to Washington DC.
The perfect destination for shared plates and communal eating, Boqueria sticks to Spanish tradition with a plethora of fresh seafood, charred tomato bread and delightful fried mouthfuls.
- Address: 200 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001
A few blocks from Chinatown proper, L’Ardente self identifies as a ‘glam Italian’ restaurant. It hasn’t been open long, but the excitement is already echoing throughout DC.
The Unconventional Diner restaurant team saw an opportunity to reinforce Italy’s downtown presence, along with the notion that Italian food is both inherently glamorous and rustic. Pizza, antipasti, and pasta take center stage in the eclectically modern dining room. The rosemary focaccia is a stunner.
Address: 1828 L St NW, Washington, DC 20036
Little Sesame is named after the cornerstone ingredient of Middle Eastern cooking…tahini. Hummus is perhaps the most globally recognized tahini application, which helps give the famous chickpea spread a smooth texture and nutty flavor.
At Little Sesame, hummus turns fast casual and prepares hungry eaters for hummus bowls, pita sandwiches, and hot-pressed pitas that strike similar notes to an Italian panini sandwich.
Nando’s Peri Peri
- Address: 819 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
This Afro-Portuguese fast-casual roast chicken hub originated in South Africa but was made especially popular in the United Kingdom before settling in the US. Flame-grilled chicken pieces with varying heat levels are served with a plethora of sides and sauces.
- Address: 707 H St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Cava recently made the transition to fast-casual Greek cookery from a more traditional sit-down restaurant setting, which is extremely convenient for downtown tourists or business-people. The new model starts with a salad, grain bowl, or pita base with additional dips, proteins, toppings, and dressings.
- Address: 746 6th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
As a child, walking by Chinatown Express and watching expert chefs stretch and pull homemade Chinese noodles in the street side window was the highlight of every Chinatown outing. The food is satisfying and fulfills the frequent urge for classic Chinese-American flavors.