Washington, D.C.

A chef’s guide to Washington D.C.’s best restaurants

As chef de cuisine of the newly minted Amity & Commerce at Mandarin Oriental, Washington, D.C., Justin Houghtaling has combined his French training with the flavours of the mid-Atlantic and the approachability of an American bistro. “It’s a melting pot of inspirations,” he says of his own restaurant. Here, he shares his favourite places to dine in the city

Brightly coloured sushi bento boxes at Sushi Taro

For the city’s best sushi

Sushi Taro is a Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant on the eastern edge of the Dupont Circle neighbourhood. “This is my favourite place in the city and has been for years,” says Houghtaling. “They serve excellent, authentic Japanese food. And it’s not only the sushi – everything coming out of the hot kitchen is very creative, yet traditional.” Diners can drop in for a casual lunch or upgrade the experience by reserving a seat at the coveted omakase counter, where up to six small dishes are followed by seasonal sushi and sashimi. The menu changes daily, but Houghtaling recommends looking out for specials such as grilled fish collar and ramen.

Plate of food at Tail Up Goat

For low-key luxury

Tail Up Goat is that rare thing: a low-key, neighbourhood restaurant with a Michelin star. “The overall atmosphere is upbeat, friendly and fun,” says Houghtaling, of this this come-as-you-are eatery in Adams Morgan. The carb-heavy, Mediterranean-influenced menu includes specialty pastas and unusual house-made breads topped with complementary spreads – such as a slice of brown rice bread loaded with taleggio fonduta, broccoli, chilli honey, dried beef and crispy rice.

Mediterranean-inspired plate of food at Komi

For a special occasion

“The food at Komi is just amazing,” enthuses Houghtaling. “There are a couple of other restaurants in the District serving food on that level, but maybe only two. It’s not to be missed if you’re in D.C.” Book well in advance for the fixed-price menu at this Michelin-starred restaurant from chef Johnny Monis. Each dish on the larger Greek and Mediterranean-inspired tasting menu is a surprise until it arrives at your table, though some dietary requests (such as a vegetarian, but not vegan) can be accommodated.

Dining room interior at Del Mar

For Spanish warmth

Houghtaling is a fan of Italian chef and restaurateur Fabio Trabocchi, best known for Fiola and Fiola Mare. Trabocchi branched out into Spanish flavours a few years ago, when he opened Del Mar – his homage to coastal Spanish cuisine at The Wharf, a waterfront development within walking distance of Mandarin Oriental, Washington, D.C. “I love the concept of coastal Spanish cuisine, but really the highlight for me is the exemplary service here – it really makes you feel that you’re special,” says Houghtaling. “Pair that with flawless cuisine, and that’s the perfect combination. If the weather’s good, ask for an alfresco seat with a view of the river.

Three tacos in a rack with bright toppings

For late-night Mexican

After a long day in the kitchen, Houghtaling loves nothing more than a visit to Oyamel, in the Penn Quarter. “It’s a really fun place,” he says of this Mexican cantina  – one of several Washington establishments from local-legend restaurateur, José Andrés. “Chefs love Mexican food; it’s one of my favourite cuisines,” says Houghtaling, who says likes to start with one of the half dozen ceviches on offer, then work his way through some tacos, such as the one stuffed with pork confit, tomatillo salsa, pork rinds, onions and cilantro. Andrés’ other establishments include the two-Michelin starred, molecular gastronomy restaurant, Minibar.

Interview by Rina Rapuano

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