1. 12 STORIES CELEB APPEAL Rub elbows with Vernon Davis (of the Redskins), Tim Daly (Madam Secretary) and more. WHAT THE CHEF LIKES David Sears says the buttermilk fried chicken sandwich is a personal fave, with its kohlrabi slaw. WHAT TO WEAR Classy but avant-garde ensembles, like a structural dress or suit with a fedora, are de rigueur. After all, you're floating in a luxe late-night space from the creators of Mr. Purple. ELUSIVE ENTRANCE Head to The Wharf, where a chic elevator next to Blink Optical whisks you to the top. DECOR DETAILS Paige Smith's “Yes, Yes, Yes” piece is a double whammy, says Gerber Group CEO Scott Gerber—one-of-a-kind and Instagrammable. 75 District Square SW, 202.894.9700, 12storiesdc.com
2. MAMA CHANG WHO TO KNOW No need to ask for the legendary Peter Chang; peek through the open kitchen and he'll be at his wok. WHAT WE LIKE The wines are sourced consciously, like the 2016 Stolpman Vineyards La Cuadrilla (all profits go to vineyard workers). The irreverent menu descriptions add more to savor: The NV Ninth Island is a “tuxedo on a dirt bike.” OFF-MENU MUST The staff always tests new recipes; ask the servers for specials. NO. 1 DISH The scallion bubble pancakes are on nearly every table. CUSTOM CUISINE Personalized banquet menus are available upon request at least two weeks in advance. SPICE QUALITY Chang is a master of numbing spice; try the pickled chile fl ounder fish pot. 3251 Old Lee Highway, Fairfax, Va., 703.268.5556, mamachangva.com
3. JULII BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE The center marble table with green suede chairs offers comfort and privacy. WHAT THE CHEF LIKES Sasha Felikson loves his pickled mustard seeds, which give the rich stuffed cabbage a tart jolt. WHAT WE LIKE The chicken kebab is brined, then glazed in a coating of harissa that makes our eyeballs sweat. OFF-MENU MUST A burger: The menu hints at how to order its iteration. SECRET SAUCE The aleppo oil is made inhouse daily and garnishes many dishes; and the truffles, which can be added to entrees, arrive from Italy weekly. DECOR DETAILS Each piece of the gold leaf bar ceiling was applied individually by hand. 11915 Grand Park Ave., North Bethesda, 301.517.9090, julii.com
4. CONRAD WASHINGTON, DC WHO TO KNOW At Estuary, Bryan Voltaggio, and occasionally brother Michael, are on hand in the open kitchen to chat about dishes inspired by their youth in Frederick, Md. PRIVATE DINING The Blue Willow room has a mosaic by artist Vanessa Ryerse, who was commissioned by the hotel. RARE TASTE The puffer-fish tails are indigenous to the region. NO. 1 DISH The Maryland crab roll; the duo searched for roughly three months for a crabshaped stencil for the plantain chips. FOR MORE Stay in a premier suite or 10thlevel room for Sakura Club access: Private chef Brendan Kim's menus pay homage to a single country each day. THE BOTTLE Club guests can savor Chichibu Distillery Ichiro's Malt & Grain whiskey. 950 New York Ave. NW, 202.844.5895, conradwashingtondc.com The expansive 12 Stories spans 3,500 square feet and offers much room for lounging. The sesame shaobing can be ordered with other shareable dishes on the giant lazy Susan. Julii's lamb tagine is aromatic and enticing. Conrad's eateries pour a range of colorful cocktails
5. OFFICINA BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE Be progressive: sunset cocktails on the terrace, liqueur in the amaro bar, a meal in the trattoria, an aperitif on the first floor— and pasta to take home from the market. CHEF'S TABLE The restaurant auctions off private dinners with chef/owner Nick Stefanelli for charity. Follow @officinadc to nab your seat. THE BOTTLE Start with the Dom Pérignon on the terrace. Preorder the 2002 Dom Pérignon P2 while you're there too. WHAT THE CHEF LIKES The bucatini all'amatriciana: “I could eat [it daily],” he says. OFF-MENU MUST The market has a nightly butcher's special; call ahead for a custom order, like a T-bone or offal. DECOR DETAILS The wine cellar's humidor was built for the shah of Iran and given to the chef as a gift. UP NEXT Stefanelli opens his third restaurant, the Greek-influenced Philotimo, in the fall. The Wharf, 1120 Maine Ave. SW, 202.747.5222, officinadc.com
6. ROOSTER & OWL WHO TO KNOW Manager Ben Byron is the resource for special or off-menu wines. NOT JUST THE BOTTLE Order the beverage pairing; the mixed selection (cocktails, vino, sake, beer, cider) is tailored to your order, with exclusive wines not offered by glass or bottle. OFF-MENU MUST It's as if everything is off-menu; there are only 16 items, and they constantly change thanks to executive chef Yuan Tang, who runs the eatery with wife Carey. (One day each week is dedicated to testing.) NO. 1 DISH A constant is the pineapple bun (aka the bread) that starts the meal service—also Carey's favorite item. WELL-RESERVED The eatery is booking six weeks out for dinner. So put in your reservation now. 2436 14th St. NW, 202.813.3976, roosterowl.com
7. POCA MADRE THE COCKTAIL Made with mezcal, the Charlie & the Chapuline Factory is topped with a dried grasshopper. BEHIND THE BAR The drink menu is driven by mezcal, with rare sips (upward of 70). The staff also helps with tastings (for the uninitiated) or dinners with producers and importers (both in July and August). WHAT WE LIKE The ceviche is tops, with variations like shrimp and scuttlefish. OFF-MENU MUST The taco omakase is an exploration of masa and offered Tuesday through Thursday; the menu changes weekly with 12 courses for $90, with an optional $40 beverage pairing. NO. 1 DISH Chef/owner Victor Albisu's fried chicken is crispy, drizzled with a spicy agave syrup and served on a lake of Oaxacan mole with indulgent foie gras. 777 I St. NW, 202.838.5300, pocamadredc.com At Offi cina, guests can sip the Apothecary's Daughter cocktail at the amaro bar. The risotto at Rooster & Owl is topped by uni. Chef/owner Victor Albisu's grandma was known for her suspiro limeño—his twist is dubbed suspiro Mexicano and has a caramel core with a trio of corn preparations.
8. THREE BLACKSMITHS WHO TO KNOW Co-owners John and Diane MacPherson are the hosts for every dinner service, so you'll get to know them over the course of your meal. Reservations require a deposit because the team collects ingredients specifically for your visit. THE BOTTLE John calls the Henri Cruchon Nihilo from Switzerland “odd and delicious.” WHAT WE LIKE The commitment to local producers ensures that every visit is different, with tastes like coal-bed-roasted seckel pears. NO. 1 DISH The wood ice cream is made with apple wood from Copper Fox. It's chopped, charred and steeped in custard for 18 hours. DECOR DETAILS You can't miss the handmade front door pulls by local master blacksmith Nol Putnam. And your bag sits on a sheepskin-covered stand. LOOK OUT FOR... There's a message carved into one of the exposed beams in the dining room, but no one has found it yet. 20 Main St., Sperryville, Va., 540.987.5105, threeblacksmiths.com
9. ST. ANSELM BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE The chef's counter gives you a view of Top Chef alum Marjorie Meek-Bradley at work. Or there's the booths near the bar; pull the velvet curtain for privacy. WHO TO KNOW Sommelier and wine guy Karl Kuhn waxes poetic about the latest vino from Oregon while sporting a Star Wars T-shirt. PRIVATE DINING The somewhat hidden Beefsteak room is modeled after political fundraising dinners. THE BOTTLE It's all about Madeira. Beverage Manager Vanessa Cominsky suggests newbies try the Greatest Hits flight or, for history, the 1850 lineup. For steak? The D'Oliveiras Boal 1968. OFF-MENU MUST Add S.O.S. sauce to the dry-aged burger at brunch. “It's such a creamy addition,” says the chef. NO. 1 DISH The axe-handle is popular, but the biscuits cook up a near frenzy; nearly 20,000 have been made since the eatery opened. Union Market, 1250 Fifth St. NE, 202.864.2199, stanselmdc.com
10. PUNJAB GRILL WHO TO KNOW CEO Karan Singh wants diners to feel like they've stepped inside their own personal palace to savor refined Indian cuisine—when a guest asked what dining like a maharaja was like, he flew in one. PRIVATE DINING The Sheesh Mahal is covered in 150,000 handlaid mirrors and is the most overthe-top spot to treat yourself in DC. (Hermès plates? Please!) It costs a minimum of $3,000. Book it, and your wish is the staff's command. THE BOTTLE Among the 300 bottles: the 1990 Château Lafite Rothschild, 1ER Cru Classe, for $2,985. (Caymus is also poured by the glass.) RARE TASTE Try the caviar service. WHAT TO WEAR If you're dining amid semiprecious stones, marble, mother-of-pearl, backlit tiger onyx, pink sandstone and more, you should dress the part. Cartier, Prada, Ferragamo, Versace—you'll fit right in. 427 11th St. NW, 202.813.3004, punjabgrilldc.com The seasonal lamb loin at Three Blacksmiths has roasted sweetpotato cubes and granola, and is an example of the ever-changing lineup of dishes. St. Anselm has a hefty collection of Madeiras, like the D'Oliveiras Malmsey 1907, Boal 1903, Bastardo 1927 and Sercial 1862. Punjab Grill's Sheesh Mahal arguably offers the most indulgent private dining experience in DC.