There’s a lot more to Washington DC than politics. The city is dynamic, with a great gastronomic scene, and always seems to be evolving. We recently met up with some of DC’s local Fora Advisors, who shared their insider recommendations for what to eat, drink and do in the nation’s capital.
Where to eat in DC, from local dives to Michelin-Starred musts
You’ll find an excellent iteration of virtually any kind of food, especially Middle Eastern cuisine. Fora Advisors Julie Hart and Anna Tretter recommend Albi, a lively, sophisticated-casual gem that boasts a Michelin Star. Head to its sister restaurant, Yellow Café, for Levantine pastries, wood-fired pita sandwiches and creative beverages.
“She's funky, you can't go wrong with a single pastry on the menu and the lattes are incredible,” Anna said.
Reservations come highly recommended at La Vie, a favorite of Fora Advisor Alana Stoyas, and at Maydan, a beautiful Middle Eastern gem beloved by Fora Advisor Jen Perrone. (If Maydan sounds familiar, that’s because you may have seen their eponymous cookbook, a true kitchen staple.)
“If I could only ever eat at one restaurant again, I would pick Maydan,” Jen said. “From the moment you walk in, you are consumed by the warm energy of the space (and the literal wood-burning oven right by the entrance). It's not worth trying to decide which spreads and condiments to pick: just order them all.”
For more gourmet Middle Eastern food, Fora Advisor Tiffany McClain loves Lapis, where Afghan cuisine takes center stage. Julie recommends Chloe, somewhere that has plenty of options for vegetarian and pescetarian diners. Plus, Chloe’s location, in the Navy Yard neighborhood, is prime: “Take a walk along the water after dinner,” Julie advised.
Don’t sleep on DC’s Italian food, either. The seafood-centric Fiole Mare, a favorite of Fora Advisor Michelle Vivoli, is “a great place to go if you are looking to celebrate a special event, or just get dressed up for a fantastic dinner,” she said. “I still think about that lobster ravioli and grand chocolate cake! The food and service were incredible. Plus, you cannot beat the views overlooking the Potomac!”
Another special-occasion option is the rustic-chic Masseria, a Michelin-Starred gem that showcases coastal Italian fare using locally sourced, farm-to-table ingredients.
“Their six-course tasting menu based on the chef / owner's Puglian heritage is wonderful,” Julie said.
It’s “a DC hot spot with the menu to back it up,” she said. “Do not miss the 40-layer lasagna (not a typo!) nor the whole branzino!”
For top-tier pizza served in casual digs, Jen recommends Menomale, in DC’s Brookland neighborhood, also known as Little Rome, she said. Her favorite? The chef’s special: mozzarella, arugula, cherry tomatoes and prosciutto, which comes with its “own set of pizza-cutting scissors,” she added.
“For adults, the complimentary sambuca and amaretto to finish your meal adds a special touch,” she noted.
The chef and humanitarian José Andrés has set up shop in DC, serving stand-out Mexican food via Oyamel, a top recommendation from Fora Advisor Chantae O'Connor. It’s casual, hip and fun, but the food is masterfully prepared and utterly delicious.
For a cozy tavern moment, head to St. Anselm, says Fora Advisor Angela Comer. “From the buttermilk biscuits to the ribeye, you can't go wrong here,” she said. And if you’re craving beautiful seasonal food in a Scandinavian-chic setting, Nina May is the obvious choice, according to Fora Advisor Sarah Eppler.
“Elevated yet comfortable, this neighborhood gem uses hyper-local ingredients and offers something to suit everyone's palate,” said Sarah.
Speaking of hyper-local ingredients, the Dabney serves up elevated, sustainable sourced food paired with excellent cocktails, says Alana. Opt for their eight-course tasting menu, or their à la carte bar menu, which features a daily selection of satisfying dishes like plump koginut squash with goat feta and kale, or delectable sticky toffee pudding paired with sour cream ice cream and sugar plums.
As we said, DC is always evolving, with new stars popping up all the time. Bronze, a new restaurant celebrating the diverse and ultra-flavorful cuisine of the African Diaspora, beckons.
“This futuristic Afro-fusion newcomer is absolutely amazing,” Courtney said. “Wonderful, creative food alongside an incredible cocktail menu leads to a unique dinner.”
DC’s best bars, from hip speakeasies to sophisticated classics
Washington DC is certainly not lacking in excellent places to drink, either. If you’re a whisky enthusiast, head to Jack Rose Dining Saloon, says Chantae, with over 2,600 bottles (and counting) of whisky (and whiskey) to choose from. Chantae also loves Hotel Washington’s VUE Rooftop for — what else? — the views, and Off the Record, a “great speakeasy-ish type bar in the Hays Adam hotel,” she said.
For additional speakeasy vibes, Angela recommends the “small but fun” watering hole, the Mirror. “It's like walking into Alice in Wonderland,” she said.
The neighborhood staple Hill Prince delivers good vibes in a cool setting. It’s a “lovely cocktail bar with a back barn area where you can often find DJs spinning,” said Courtney. More good vibes can be found at the outdoor Metrobar, where food, art and culture collide, says Jen.
Tiffany loves the Middle Eastern-inspired Green Zone, where guests sip drinks like the smooth Saz'iraq, with notes of caramel and anise, or “A Few of my Favorite Things” (ingredients: ramallah arak, scotch, lemon, honey, nostalgia), as reggae and Latin music play.
If you’re more of a wine person, not to worry: Sarah recommends Maxwell Park, “a neighborhood spot for wine enthusiasts,” she said. Although, this charming, local delight also has some serious cocktail game. For a more traditional bar experience, the St. Regis Bar delivers that “old-world feel — perfect for after-work or dinner cocktails,” she said.
What to do in DC: monuments, museums, nature escapes & more
As for activities, you’ll never be at a loss for things to do in DC. World-class monuments and museums abound. The National Mall is a must, of course, but for a fun spin on a classic, both Angela and Fora Advisor Caroline Murray recommend seeing them at night, either by scooter or by bike.
“The monuments are empty and look so much more interesting at night,” Angela said. “Rent a scooter or go take a tour.”
Jen is partial to the Library of Congress: “Visit the largest library in the world!” she said. “You can browse their incredible collection for free and book a free timed pass for the Thomas Jefferson reading room.”
“People always ask if you can tour the White House,” she added, “and the answer is yes! Just write to your Member of Congress between 21-90 days ahead of your trip and request a tour. It's not a guarantee that you'll hear back or that your dates will be available, but totally worth trying if you are coming to DC.”
On the museum front, Caroline loves the International Spy Museum, “an amazing interactive museum that kids and adults alike can enjoy,” she said. Gail Collins’s go-to is the Hillwood Estate and its accompanying gardens.
“A delightful tour through Marjorie Merriweather Post's estate will transport you back to the Gilded Age,” she said. “Enjoy viewing each furnished room as well as decorative arts belonging to the Post family. Don't miss viewing up close the stunning gowns in her closet!”
And Courtney recommends the National Museum of Women in the Arts, which “recently reopened after a multi-year renovation and it is absolutely worth a visit,” she said.
For something involving the outdoors, Sarah has you covered. Kayak along the Potomac to “avoid traffic and get some exercise,” she said, and check out the locally kept secret, Barbie Pond, where an ever-changing selection of dolls — Barbie and otherwise — are cheekily displayed in a lovely garden on Avenue Q. Additionally, Arlington National Cemetery, though somber, she said, is still worth a stop.