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Washington, D.C.

The United States Capitol building

Mr. Harper's Travel Guide

Set on the banks of the Potomac River between Virginia and Maryland, the capital of the United States is both grandly public and profoundly private. What goes on in the back rooms of K Street remains as invisible to the world as the Washington Monument ...

Set on the banks of the Potomac River between Virginia and Maryland, the capital of the United States is both grandly public and profoundly private. What goes on in the back rooms of K Street remains as invisible to the world as the Washington Monument is plain to see. Washington, D.C.’s public side offers plenty to pack any visitor’s itinerary. It is nothing less than awe-inspiring to stand before iconic landmarks such as the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial, and the endlessly fascinating museums of the Smithsonian alone could fill several days of uninterrupted exploration. But it would be a mistake to ignore the subtler charms of the capital – the shops, bars and restaurants of Georgetown, for instance, or the Queen Anne row houses and inviting outdoor cafés of DuPont Circle. Outdoor enthusiasts will also discover much of interest, from bird-watching in Anacostia Park to kayaking down the Potomac.

bird icon Recommended Luxury Hotels in Washington, D.C.

All Andrew Harper-recommended hotels offer impeccable accommodations and high levels of personal service. Only the best of the best make our list, so we rate them on a scale from bird icon 90 to 100.

Best Restaurants in Washington, D.C.

Long-lived restaurants are a rare species. This bright example has been humming along since 1979 under the direction of Nora Pouillon, an early proponent of local sourcing and organic food. Look for dishes such as mussels marinière with white wine, tomatoes, leeks, peppers and saffron aioli crostini; and pan-seared wild Alaskan halibut with black lentil ragout, chard, roasted tomato and an herb pesto. At our last meal, we ended with the flawless peach cobbler with ginger ice cream. Closed Sunday.

2132 Florida Avenue N.W. Washington, D.C. Three-course tasting menu, $70; vegetarian option, $60

Tucked into a handsome Dupont Circle townhouse, this restaurant proves that fine dining doesn’t have to be stuffy. Chef/owners Peter Pastan and Esther Lee present an Italian-inspired menu that changes daily, but choices might include pastas such as squab agnolotti with chanterelle mushrooms, and main courses like red snapper with preserved lemon, olives, capers and Roman artichoke; or roasted suckling pig with rapini and pepperonata (for two). The well-priced wine list emphasizes bottles from Italy and California. Closed Sunday and Monday.

2029 P Street N.W. Washington D.C. Five-course menu, $75 Tuesday-Thursday; $85 Friday and Saturday

The food here is up-to-date yet rooted in the traditions of Southern cooking. For example, shrimp and grits comes with Benton's bacon, okra, scallion, beech mushrooms and a spicy shrimp butter; and the Langenfelders’ Grand View Farm pork rib chop is accompanied by baked beans, Benton’s bacon, okra and hush puppies. Extensive by-the-glass wine list. Closed Sunday.

1990 M Street N.W. Washington, D.C. US$70. Six-course tasting menu, $80

Just south of Farragut Square, Equinox is sophisticated but understated. Chef Todd Gray is a strong proponent of Mid-Atlantic ingredients. On our most recent visit, I couldn’t resist the truffled risotto fritters with sweet garlic crème fraîche. Among the main courses, look for dishes such as seared pork belly with seafood bouillabaisse, herbed polenta, Maryland jumbo lump crab meat and pickled ramps. 

818 Connecticut Avenue N.W. Washington, D.C. Three-course menu, $60; five courses, $75; seven courses with wine, $115

At chef Robert Wiedmaier’s romantic restaurant, the menu changes frequently, but dishes have included Santa Barbara uni served with shrimp tagliatelle and a pesto coulis; pan-seared turbot with sweet onion purée, leeks, crispy capers and a tarragon essence; and Angus filet mignon with cauliflower, cippolini onions and a cranberry-Cabernet sauce. The extensive wine list has 24 selections by the glass. 

2401 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. Washington, D.C. Four-course menu, $95; five courses, $115; six courses, $135; seven courses, $155

This airy restaurant features chef José Andrés’ imaginative take on the cuisines of Turkey, Greece and Lebanon. Mezzes abound with selections such as spanakopita (spinach pie) and mercimek köftesi, traditional seared patties made from red lentils. More substantial dishes include grilled octopus with marinated onions, capers and a purée of yellow split peas; and braised lamb shank with eggplant purée. The fascinating wine list has more than two dozen by-the-glass offerings. 

701 Ninth Street N.W. Washington, D.C. US$60
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