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With its 176 resident embassies and bustling population of international ‘locals,’ no neighborhood in Washington DC is as culturally diverse as Dupont Circle. Some of the city’s oldest and best-kept secrets are hidden in this eclectic array of brick row houses, where old world charm meets boho chic. Here’s our guide to 10 restaurants that truly capture the culture and history of Washington DC.
There is a reason this rustic and convivial Bistro Du Coin is always jam-packed – the food is classic and hearty, the bread is warm, and the wine list is rich. With its red-chequered tablecloths and Edith Piaf records, this neighborhood staple forsakes pretentiousness as it serves up perfectly seasoned steaks tartare and the most authentic moules frites this side of the Atlantic. Take your palate on a tour of the different regions of France with specialty items like the tartiflette savoyarde and the escargots à la bourgignonne, then end the experience with a wistful Paris rêverie over an aromatic café liègois.
Bistrot du Coin, 1738 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC, USA +1 202 234 6969
GBD is kitchen shorthand for golden, brown and delicious and it describes this casual neighborhood joint perfectly. Chef Kyle Bailey’s menu serves up comfort food par excellence for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with doughnuts and fried chicken as the stars of the show. Orders are placed at the counter, where the smell of roasted coffee and colorful array of eleven different doughnuts generally get customers excited. Rustic, unpretentious and invariably satisfying, GBD is the all-American, DC after-hours joint that will fry away any sorrow.
GBD, 1323 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC, USA +1 202 524 5210
This historic townhouse and carriageway started out as an inn in 1923 and over subsequent decades, has served as a debutante’s tearoom, a Middle Eastern restaurant, a reception hall, and a haunt for local writers such as Tom Wolfe. As of 2013, under the direction of Vermilion Chef Anthony Chittum, charm and romance have returned to Iron Gate, where food is locally sourced and infused with a nostalgic Mediterranean flair. The ricotta dumplings, the charred octopus, and the slow-braised pork ragu are delectable savory options, but be sure to save room for a few bites of the exquisite chocolate mascarpone tart.
Iron Gate, 1734 N St NW, Washington, DC, USA, +1 202 524 5202
Kramerbook and Afterwords Café is one of the spots that define the Dupont Circle neighborhood. Part bookstore, part restaurant, part late-night dessert and latte bar, Afterwords at Kramerbooks is quite an experience. In true bohemian fashion, the cafe serves up breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a full bar that even a penniless writer could afford. The portions are hearty and the dessert names are novel-worthy – ‘Dysfunctional Family Sundae’, ‘Flourless Chocolate to Die For’. At the weekends, the café is open twenty-four hours and showcases local musicians and poets. No marketing or advertising needed: Afterwords, or ‘Kramer’s’ as the locals call it, truly is a cultural landmark.
Madness and happiness are the themes of this Alice in Wonderland-inspired restaurant. From the giant papier-mâché top hat up front to the welcoming sweet hot tea, the Madhatter is guaranteed to put you in a quirky mood that will have you on the dance floor in no time. The menu includes fun happy hour specials such as Alice’s wonder basket and dinner items like the Tweedledum burger – you can even reserve the Upside-Down Room for a whimsical brunch or tea party. Top it all off with the signature Madhatter rum punch and you will get even the most hardened DC businessmen giggling.
The Madhatter, 1319 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC, USA +1 202 833 1495
Nora offers a warm welcome as America’s first certified organic restaurant. Austrian-born chef Nora Pouillon launched her namesake restaurant in an old, 19th century red-brick building and since 1979, she has been serving up a different menu each day. Ingredients are fresh, seasonal, and locally sourced, and everything in the restaurant (down to the waiters’ shirts) is eco-friendly. Whether you opt for the prix-fixe tasting menu or order a la carte, take the time to savor the crisp clean flavors and the antique Mennonite and Amish decorations in each of the five dining rooms. If you are lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of Nora herself indulging in one of her creations.
Nora, 2132 Florida Ave NW, Washington, DC, USA +1 202 462 5143
A fireplace, brick walls, sophisticated contemporary American dishes and live jazz – the restaurant at Hotel Tabard Inn has it all. The hotel itself is one of Washington’s oldest Classical-Revival style row houses and was named after the hostelry in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The inn has preserved its turn-of-the-century charm, and the restaurant’s elegant menu compliments the antique-filled setting perfectly. Brunch spots and patio seating may be notoriously difficult to get, but the signature house-made doughnuts and the crab cakes are well worth the wait. Really and truly Washingtonian, the Tabard Restaurant is a classic in every sense.
The Tabard Restaurant, 1739 N St NW, Washington, DC, USA +1 202 331 8528
In a city as suited-up as Washington DC, Teaism is an impromptu breath of whimsy and fresh air. As the name indicates, this teahouse is a haven of calm right in the middle of bustling Dupont, with two stories of warm wooden floors and thick stone walls lined with teapots. It offers more than just a dizzying array of every tea imaginable: the health-conscious Asian fusion menu includes a Thai chicken curry, a mouth-watering plum ochazuke and even a lemon-infused tempeh burger. The restaurant’s quaint location and rustic French panes make it an ideal spot for people watching or even snuggling in with a good book on a rainy day.
Teaism, 2009 R St NW, Washington, DC, USA +1 202 667 3827
Teddy and the Bully Bar offers a fun, historical twist to any exploration of this presidential city. Strategically located across the street from a building where Theodore Roosevelt lived, the restaurant is a grand salute to the celebrated president. The interior, which took 50 artists to design, features a fake moose and bull and 480 miniature Mount Rushmores. The menu includes some legendary Roosevelt favorites – oyster flatbread, wild game and biscuits. Whether you come in for a bourbon or for serious dinner, be sure to save some room for the ‘best hot chocolate in DC,’ served up in a Teddy Roosevelt mug that you can also purchase at the restaurant’s gift shop.
Teddy and the Bully Bar, 1200 19th St NW, Washington, DC, USA, +1 202 872 8700