Growing up, I wasn’t that into food — I ate whatever my mom made for dinner or had in the kitchen and that was that. When I went to college I ate at the dining hall or made frozen microwave meals, occasionally going out for pizza or fries “downtown.” It wasn’t until I moved to DC that I started getting into food and seeing dining out as a way to experience new things, catch up with friends, and explore other areas of the city. Whether it’s DC visitors, coworkers, or friends, one of the most common questions I get asked is “where should I go for _____?” Brunch, happy hour, parent-friendly lunch, special occasion dinner recs, you name it — I almost ALWAYS blank on the spot. I figured it was finally time to write it all down, plus I had to do something with these cute pics from a Tulips event with Bubbles & Bloggers!
Disclaimer: I am a vegetarian, but by no means are ANY of these restaurants considered vegetarian or vegan restaurants. I pride myself on being the kind of vegetarian that is easily adaptable and never forces someone to not go to a restaurant because “I can’t eat there.”
Read on for my top picks for eating out from everything to special occasions to the best dive bars with a draft beer list parallel to their food options.
Photos by The Carolove
Special Occasion Restaurants: these are reserved for milestone occasions — birthdays, anniversaries, catching up with friends we haven’t seen in a long time, etc.
- The Dabney – tucked away in Blagden Alley, this Mid-Atlantic restaurant is probably Gerald’s and my favorite restaurant. Although the restaurant’s main feature is an open hearth, the menu is filled with roasted vegetables and an amazing array of sides. The menu is 100% locally sourced, so it changes on the daily. From the service to the fare, we’ve always had an amazing experience here!
- Kyirisan – I think I love this French-Asian fusion restaurant so much because I’ve had such good times here. Roxanne and I have been on two double dates here, and we both thought the service was phenomenal and the food like nothing else we’d seen in the city. See my recap of our wine pairing dinner here!
- Red Hen – hands down, the best Italian in the city. You know your pasta is good when you don’t leave dinner feeling like a whale because the restaurant uses whole, fresh ingredients! This menu also seasonally rotates but they always have a burrata option on their apps list (GET THIS) and the sausage fennel ragu is Gerald’s favorite dish and always available
Casual Restaurants: you know, for when you feel like grabbng a quality impluse dinner and recieving a check that isn’t $200.
- Lauriol Plaza – I could probably write a book about how much I love this place. Just a few blocks from the Dupont Metro, this three-story spot serves AMAZING chips and salsa and margs and has the perfect casual ambiance despite its white table cloths
- Pizza Paradiso – this restaurant is both my Dad and Gerald’s favorite pizza places. This woman-owned spot has locations in Georgetown, Dupont, Alexandria, and Hyatttsville, but it still has the heart and soul of an independent pizzeria. From their massive beer list to their fresh, hand-tossed pizzas, this is easily a crowd-pleaser
- Shaw’s Tavern – I’ve never had a bad meal at this neighborhood spot. Serving up fresh takes on southern comfort food, the atmosphere is always lively and their playlist on point. I love ordering “The Cuke” salad with a side of fries for dinner, or splitting a flatbread and a bottle of wine on their dog-friendly patio for happy hour
Bars With Good Food: for when you want to get a buzz on, but need some sustenance to soak all that booze up
- Mission – did you really think that this wouldn’t make it on here? While their margarita pitchers are lethal, the happy hour nachos make the perfect dish to sop up the tequila
- The Commodore – I suppose this could be considered a dive, but my friends, Gerald, and even my mom love this Logan Circle BBQ spot. They call their fries “really good fries” on the menu, and they certainly live up to their name
- American Ice Co. – I’m so thankful that I don’t live next to this bar because I would be there LITERALLY.ALL.THE.TIME. I’m obsessed with this watering hole and will jump at any chance to go to it. Also serving BBQ and nachos (are you sensing a theme?), I literally crave their veggie nacho platter 24/7
Brunch: restaurants without bottomless options need not apply
- Ambar – with locations in both Arlington and Capital Hill, this is always my first suggestion for brunches. The Balkan restaurant serves up bottomless Mediterranean-style dishes and an amazing dessert spread. $35 gets you both bottomless drinks and small plates!
- Agora – another Mediterranean restaurant, this spot’s bottomless options are great for those who don’t love mimosas. You can order beer and liquor drinks in addition to champs to pair with your dips and flatbreads
Favorite Happy Hours: cause ya girl loves a discount just as much as the next one
- Tulips – I mean really, can you beat $1 glasses of champagne and $1 oysters?
- Chaplin’s – this Charlie Chaplin-themed ramen bar holds a special place in my heart because it’s where Gerald and I first met. Aside from that, they have killer cocktails for $6 on their menu ALL WEEK LONG. Order the Vegabond — ya welcome.