Paola Velez's Washington, D.C. City Guide

The 2021 Best New Chef opts for natural wine, oxtails, and lazy Sundays in the District.

Learn more about the 2021 class of Food & Wine Best New Chefs.

Cocktail Hour

"I really like Dark and Stormys, but the ginger beer needs to be fresh and spicy and not overly sweet. Nothing beats going to a bar and having drinks made by a professional who has taken the time to perfect their craft. In D.C., my go-to cocktail spot is Serenata. Beverage director and partner Andra 'AJ' Johnson is a maven behind the bar, making amazing drinks that have garnered nationwide recognition."

Peace and Quiet

"Little Pearl is a lovely little wine bar in Capitol Hill with a killer wine list and tasty bites. Even though they are only one block away from the main strip on Barracks Row, sitting on their patio feels like you've been transported miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city."

Natty Wine

"My husband and I absolutely love natural wine—whether it's a bottle of Scotty-Boy! blush, Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment, or something a bit more funky and obscure, we're always down to try it! Our go-to shop in D.C. is Domestique, a wine shop dedicated to natural wines. Side note: Besides being absolutely delicious, natural wines always seem to have a great origin story, usually including a 'mad scientist' type vintner."

Best Bites

"These days, a dinner with friends is a great excuse to bust out a nice dress and an eye-catching purse or pair of kicks. Albi is chef Michael Rafidi's love letter to Levantine cuisine. Think fire-roasted meats and pitas, super flavorful savory spreads, and seasonal veggies. Dinner is an experience best shared, allowing you to order more plates than you should without garnering the judgmental gaze of fellow diners at the next table. (Pro tip: Don't leave without trying the labneh soft serve!) Moon Rabbit is always a fun experience! From their impossibly crispy take on the Filet-O-Fish to a Hi-Chew green melon cocktail that has me absolutely hooked, not to mention their ridiculously good pho-spiced fried chicken, I'm consistently and constantly blown away."

Rad Gifts

"My go-to shop for gifts in D.C. is Hill's Kitchen. Not only is it a woman-owned small business, but they have a great selection of kitchen tools, cookbooks, and culinary knickknacks. The owner, Leah, is super helpful and just plain rad!"

Hidden Gem

"Jam Doung Style is an amazing, local, Black-owned spot that serves the best, most authentic Jamaican food in D.C. Growing up in NYC, Jamaican food was a staple on the rotating roster of international meals at my fingertips, and I had no idea how much I'd miss it when I first moved to the D.C. area. But being introduced to Jam Doung was like falling into the arms of your favorite aunt after not seeing her for a while—pure comfort. My go-to dish is the oxtail plate, with rice and peas (with extra brown stew sauce on top), cabbage, mac and cheese, and sweet plantain. And don't forget the beef patty!"

Dogtown USA

"D.C.'s signature dish, hands down, is the half-smoke! It's like a mix between a hot dog and a smoked sausage, with a bit more spice and a coarser grind of meat than a traditional hot dog. And you have to try the version at Ben's Chili Bowl, a local family-owned institution on U Street that's been making them since 1958!"

Lazy Sunday

"Sundays are typically my days to rest, reset, (re)connect with friends over a bite, and tend to my ever-growing balcony plant garden. This means I typically have a relatively short amount of time to shop for essentials, so multitasking is king. When I'm feeling energized and ambitious, I head over to the Dupont Circle Farmers Market to get all the goodies. From edible flowers to the freshest greens, bagel sandwiches to a new plant baby, I can find it all here. When I'm feeling a bit less ambitious and want to stick closer to home, a quick trip to Mom's Organic Market is always the right move. Mom's is a local organic market that has tons of super healthy, organic, and delicious options."

Cult Classic

"When it comes to breakfast, nothing can really beat the classic egg plate: two eggs, bacon, home fries, and some buttered toast. You can find these at any basically any breakfast spot across the city (or across the country), but I've been getting my fix at Silver Diner."

Coffee Break

"Lately, I've been frequenting The Coffee Bar. It's a cute little neighborhood spot with delicious brews, great staff, and a perfect location (e.g., around the corner from my job)."

Pizza Party

"If I have a craving for a New York–style slice, Wiseguy Pizza comes the closest in D.C. But as any true New Yorker knows, there's no such thing as truly authentic NY pizza outside of New York."


"If my friends are visiting D.C. for the first time, I always like recommending they head over to the National Mall and Tidal Basin. From there, you can get a great view of D.C.'s most iconic sights like the Lincoln Memorial, The White House, MLK Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, all of the Smithsonian Museums, and even Congress."

Other People's Pastries

"A little-known fact about me is that I don't really have a sweet tooth. But when it comes to pastries, I absolutely love the whole-wheat croissant at Seylou Bakery. Their dedication to producing the absolute best possible breads and pastries, using organic mid-Atlantic grains that they mill in-house, is nothing short of incredible."

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