Many of the city's most talked-about places are going global, while other newcomers remain resolutely American.
The Majestic In May, Cathal Armstrong (an F&W Best New Chef 2006) took over this 75-year-old Alexandria, Virginia, landmark after hearing rumors that it was about to close. He installed chef Shannon Overmiller, who prepares the resolutely American menu: juicy meat loaf with mashed potatoes, chocolate-wafer icebox cake. Under Armstrong's direction, the Art Deco restaurant has instituted a new tradition, Nana's Sunday Dinner, a $68 meal for four that changes monthly and might include barbecued chicken, potato salad and a whole apple pie for dessert. 911 King St., Alexandria; 703-837-9117.
Brasserie Beck Robert Wiedmaier opened this Belgian brasserie as a follow-up to the elegant Marcel's, his first restaurant. The design is meant to evoke an old European train station, with huge glowing clocks that hang overhead; the menu is drawn from the chef's Flemish heritage, with dishes like beef carbonnade (cooked with Kasteel ale, red wine and Belgian mustard). Mussels—in sauces like fennel and chorizo or white wine, garlic and parsley—and crisp frites pair nicely with selections from the multipage beer list. 1101 K St. NW; 202-408-1717.
Hook Chef Barton Seaver is an outspoken advocate of sustainable seafood, and his menu lists some of the most carefully sourced fish in town. Servers navigate the packed Georgetown dining room and describe lesser-known species like delicate wahoo, served raw with orange and basil, and seared weakfish (or sea trout), topped with almond-garlic sauce. Desserts are inspired, as in a lingonberry linzer torte with Taleggio ice cream. 3241 M St. NW; 202-625-4488.
Central Michel Richard Michel Richard earned a reputation as one of the country's best chefs at his polished restaurant Citronelle. At his casual new place, which the jovial Frenchman calls "the democratization of Citronelle," he offers hearty portions of dishes like lobster burgers and wonderfully tender 72-hour short ribs, cooked sous-vide. When he's not cooking, Richard can be found in the dining room, chatting with guests. 1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-626-0015.
Komi Johnny Monis (an F&W Best New Chef 2007) continues transforming his tiny 17th Street restaurant. First, he cut the number of seats by about a third—from 64 to 38—to focus even more attention on customers. Next, he added a menu degustazione of 20 or so small courses, with exquisite combinations like grilled baby octopus with avocado, pig knuckles and lentils. Monis also brought on DC's well-regarded sommelier Derek Brown, formerly of Citronelle, to oversee Komi's expanding wine program. 1509 17th St. NW; 202-332-9200.
Oyamel Last spring, star Spanish chef José Andrés moved his popular Mexican-street-food-inspired spot from its original location in Virginia to DC's Penn Quarter hub (also home to his Café Atlántico, Minibar, Zaytinya and Jaleo). The new space is more intimate, and the cooking more focused: Handmade corn tortillas are stuffed with baby-pig confit, tender braised oxtail or, for the adventurous, sautéed grasshoppers on a bed of guacamole. Andrés tops his margaritas with a "salt air" foam—they're terrific. 401 Seventh St. NW; 202-628-1005.
Proof Champagne trolleys roll up table-side at this new Penn Quarter spot from first-time restaurateur and longtime wine collector Mark Kuller. Chef Haidar Karoum prepares terrific dishes like hamachi with Hawaiian red salt and green papaya, and glazed sablefish with miso emulsion, but what's really exciting is the wine list, overseen by sommelier Sebastian Zutant (note the vertical vintages of California cult wines, like Screaming Eagle). 775 G St. NW; 202-737-7663.
Cowgirl Creamery Peggy Smith and Sue Conley, owners of San Francisco artisanal cheese shop Cowgirl Creamery, have roots in the DC area and chose Penn Quarter for their first East Coast outpost. The bright, airy store highlights mid-Atlantic cheesemakers like Everona Dairy and Firefly Farms, as well as Cowgirl's house-made West Coast cheeses, like buttery Mt. Tam and bold Red Hawk. 919 F St. NW; 202-393-6880.
Dolcezza This chic Georgetown shop serves ridiculously rich Argentinean-style gelato, which means that a lot of the choices are made with dulce de leche. Other selections are often based on what's at the farmers' markets, so in the fall there are options like pumpkin spice, cider clove and peppermint-infused chocolate. 1560 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-333-4646.
Comet Ping Pong The small menu at this throwback pizza joint celebrates delicious thin-crust pies, with toppings that range from clams and smoked mozzarella with potato slices to seasonal options like soft-shell crabs. For dessert: ice cream sundaes. Tabletops in the cavernous dining room are painted green to resemble Ping-Pong tables, reminding guests that after dinner, they can head to the back to play. 5037 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-364-0404.