To be perfectly honest, this post could just be a roundup of some of my favorite dining destinations in DC that don’t get a ton of hype — but since there is a lot of urgency right now around booking dinner reservations for Valentine’s Day, I’m going to make it tailored to that.
Gerald and I have never really done a Valentine’s Day celebration. I think we’ve stayed in and made dinner every year we’ve been together, and are planning on doing the same this year. That being said, we do love going out for casual dinner dates on a whim (and without a reservation), and we kind of have a rotation on lock. Read on for my favorite under the radar restaurants where you’ll more likely than not be able to get a walk-in table this Valentine’s Day or for your next date night!
Disclaimer, these restaurants are on the more casual side — but as you know, I kind of wear whatever I want, whenever I want, so feel free to break out that killer dress and wear it to my favorite hole-in-the-wall spot. It’s Valentine’s Day after all! P.S. all of these are pretty affordable — you’re welcome!
Cheese board from Lavagna
Baby Wale | Shaw: I might be biased because my company designed the space, but I love the layout of this restaurant. It boasts if not the longest, one of the longest, bars in DC, so it has a steady happy hour scene, but I’ve never had to wait for a table. I always order the grilled romaine Caesar salad and their fries, but they have a great menu with options for every kind of eater. Hot dogs, pizza, ramen, steak — it sounds weird, but I love it.
The Commodore | Logan Circle: When Gerald and I are craving comfort food, this is where we go. This dive bar not only serves up some of the best mac n’ cheese and fries I’ve ever had, but also has amazing prices on cocktails. $10 for a Gimlet? Yes, please. They have great BBQ platters and a soundtrack filled with Blink 182 and Third Eye Blind that makes me long for the late 90s.
Shaw’s Tavern | Shaw (duh): I adore this place. They have the best salads in my neighborhood, a communal atmosphere, and another great soundtrack of indie tunes. (Oh, and a great house red for $7 a glass AT ALL TIMES!) We love this laid back spot and always share an order of green-fried tomatoes and fries when we go. (My favorite salad is The Cuke!)
Salad prettier than me from Shaw’s Tavern
Casolare | Glover Park: Alright fine, this is another client, so again I am biased — but the food here is really worthy of a trip to Glover Park. Tucked in the Glover Park Hotel, the sister restaurant to Alta Strada features coastal Italian fare — think inspired seafood dishes and thin crust pizza — in a gorgeously appointed setting. Perks of a hotel restaurant mean there are almost always tables available, but I can vouch for the quality of their food — it’s way better than a standard hotel spot!
El Riconcito | Shaw / Mount Vernon Square: This is my favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant ever (I first featured it in my Mexican Food Guide!), and it is nothing fancy — but they have great, inexpensive El Salvadorian food and cheap drinks. If you want the most casual dinner out you can get, this is the spot for you.
Lavagna | Eastern Market: We’re suckers for a good bowl of pasta, and Lavagna doesn’t disappoint. The cheese board alone is worth the trip to this neighborhood wine bar and Italian eatery! Fairly priced, you can snag a bottle of wine and a carbo-loaded meal for two for well under $200.
Dirty Habit | Penn Quarter: Another hotel restaurant! Located in Hotel Monaco (where Gerald and I are getting married!), this thoughtfully-designed bar features a mix of Asian-French fusion dishes like charred eggplant and short rib, but still has more traditional dishes like kale salads and truffle risotto. It’s also a six-minute walk to E Street Cinema, perfect for catching an indie film before or after dinner.
Let me know if you have any favorite under the radar spots!