by Lauren Sloat - 260 Reviews - 86 List
The downtown D.C. Penn Quarter neighborhood--which encompasses Gallery Place, the Verizon Center and Chinatown--is home to some of the district's most renowned and respected restaurants and celebrity chefs. Proximity to Ford's Theater, The Shakespeare Theater, Warner Theatre and National Theater means that many of them have pre-fixe menus perfect for pre-show dining, too. You'll find great pizza and Indian, Spanish, Mediterranean, Mexican and Chinese cuisine, as well as restaurants to satisfy wine and chocolate lovers. Loosen that belt, because you'll want to try them all. Where to start? Check out this collection of the best restaurants in Penn Quarter. (Photo of Zaytinya by Flickr user Daquella Manera)
Updated: December 21, 2010
This chic, Mediterranean tapas spot (part of the Jose Andres empire) gained fame when former head chef Mike Isabella appeared on "Top Chef." Though he's since left to pursue his own tapas venture, the restaurant remains a popular spot for celebratory gatherings over the tasty small plates.
Chef Vikram Sunderam (formerly of London's Bombay Brasserie) is at the helm of the open kitchen at this upscale Indian spot, which specializes in authentic yet modern fare from the tawa (griddle) and tandoor (clay oven). Make reservations'the restaurant books up far in advance as it's consistently considered one of the best restaurants in D.C.
Borrowing inspiration from the Spy Museum next door, Zola's mirrored surfaces and hidden portals create a sleek, ultra-modern atmosphere reminiscent of a ?James Bond? set. The upscale American cuisine features scallops, veal, lamb and lobster macaroni and cheese.
With more than 1,000 bottles of wine and 40 varieties available by the glass, Proof is a can't-miss restaurant for district wine lovers. Menus change frequently to accommodate seasonal fare, but expect shareable small plates such as halibut, hangar steak, pork chop and duck breast.
Everyone should experience this chocolate-themed restaurant and lounge at least once. From the signature Co Cojjito cocktail (it's infused with chocolate vodka and garnished with dark chocolate flakes) to bacon macaroni and cheese topped with a strip of chocolate-coated bacon and sumptuous desserts, it gives new meaning to the term chocoholic.
Exotic cocktails (try the kumquat mojito or lychee and rose martini) and delicious dim sum morsels that come expertly steamed, baked or fried make this chic restaurant a good bet for both dinner and drinks. Good deals abound during daily happy hour in the bar area from 4pm to 7pm.
Another classy spot for Asian-inspired fare, Oya and its white leather booths, fireplace and waterfall provide quite the backdrop for soju cocktails, sushi and dishes such as Pekin crepes and grilled Mai Thai chicken salad. A $10 to-go bag lunches offer a cheap way to experience the cuisine.
There's usually a wait outside this Chinatown spot, but it's worth it. Though it's known for fresh pizzas and delectable sliders, you should take a look at the desserts, too: Fresh donuts served with espresso Kahlua creme and the gelato cookie sandwich earn rave reviews, too.
Jose Andres isn't the only celebrity chef in Penn Quarter. For those without the means to check out Michel Richard's flagship restaurant (Citronelle in Georgetown), this more casual bistro is the way to go for gourmet American fare with a French twist.
Another great spot for cocktails and small plates, the Latin-Asian fusion cuisine at this Richard Sandoval spot means interesting offerings such as Won Ton tacos and Thai chicken empanadas. The modern, bright decor makes even happy hour feel like a special occasion.
Fresh guacamole--prepared tableside, always--is one of the biggest draws at this upscale Mexican eatery, though all the dishes--especially the tablones, or beef short ribs--taste authentic and fresh, and pair nicely with the signature pomegranate margarita.