By Dave Zuchowski with photos by Bill Rockwell
|Patio of Crazy Aunt Helen’s Restaurant.
Pick the Right Place
People visiting from out of town, either for business or pleasure, are often confronted with a serious decision. How do you pick the right place for lunch or dinner?
On a June visit to our nation’s capital, I wanted to dine at the best restaurants that fit my tastes and pocketbook. But how does one choose? There are gazillions of dining choices in Washington, DC alone. How do you make choosing easier – no matter where you are?
A good place to start is at your hotel, which almost always has a menu portfolio of nearby restaurants or an informed concierge or front desk clerk ready to offer suggestions.
You might also want to check online with the local convention and visitors bureau or tourist information agency, whose website almost always has a link to restaurants. Sometimes, they’re also categorized by type of cuisine, price range, family-friendly, and other categories. Washington.org, the website I checked out on my recent visit, goes even further, providing categories like hot restaurants, affordable eats, best brunches, dishes to try, Black, owned establishments, and more.
Julie Marshal, domestic media relations manager for Destination DC says her organization “features listings of individual restaurants on washington.org and includes editorial content that’s updated regularly with categories like best patios, what’s new, hottest restaurants to try, restaurants by neighborhood, etc. We also frequently feature restaurants on our social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook Instagram, and tik tok. DC’s Michelin-starred food scene is a huge selling point of the city, and is also a stand alone piece of editorial content on our website.”
Another online resource are websites like Trip Advisor, Kayak and Yelp, which are broken down by categories like brew pub, American, ethnic choices and more. Some even provide photos of the restaurant, its décor and popular dishes and have links to restaurant websites, their location, directions and phone numbers.
Of course, another option would be to ask a friend, relative or business associate for word-of-mouth suggestions. In a pinch, you may also try asking your taxi or Uber driver, although their credibility may be an issue.
If you ever find yourself in DC, here are three of the restaurants I honed in on during my June visit. I tried to vary my experiences enough to cover as many bases as possible, and all three proved foodie worthy.
Something Fashionably Upscale
|Outside on the Patio at La Bise.
La Bise (the Kiss), a modern, bright, and colorful 21st century French restaurant, showcases modern, seasonal interpretations of classic French fare. Standout dishes include Grilled Main Lobster with English peas, Chantenay carrot, hoe cake and ginger-carrot emulsions and Spanish Octopus with heirloom bean cassoulet, Calabrian chili, garlic scape and ramp aioli.
|The Spanish Octopus at La Bise
James Beard Foundation’s award-nominated restaurant designer, Martin Vahtra of Projects Design Associates of New York, designed the space, which is meant to mirror the memorable restaurant’s French cuisine, served from the dynamic open kitchen.
|A La Bise Dining Room
An outdoor patio is available in the spring and summer months (weather permitting) and can accommodate 40 guests seated. A knowledgeable in-house sommelier was available for wine pairing the evening of my visit but you might want to try the La Bise Knees cocktail instead, a blend of Bar Hill gin, thyme honey and citrus. 800 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC. Phone 202-463-8700. www.labisedc.com.
|The Bar at La Bise
|Crazy Aunt Helen’s Interior View
A relatively new restaurant, Crazy Aunt Helen’s opened in 2021 and won the Best New Restaurant award DC magazine. Bright, colorful and slightly over the top with its Auntie Mame glitz, the restaurant is as colorful as a peacock.
Varnished wooden floors are a mild contrast to the vibrant colors that brighten the walls with lime green, purple and pink with a magenta staircase leading to the second floor (what else) Peacock Room, where entertainment of all sorts of hues is offered many evenings.
|Charred Shishito Peppers with Corn Fritters
The restaurant serves what owner Shane Mayson calls American comfort for with a touch of the South. Mayson started his restaurant career at age 18 and has worked in the food industry ever since.
At age 52, he decided to open his own restaurant and called on local antique and home furnishings guru, Pixie Windsor, to help out with the décor. Windsor, whose favorite color is pink, is known for her maximalist style. It manifests itself all over the eatery decorated with huge paintings by local artists that change out every two months. Even the outside patio, which seats a dozen or so, has splashes of pink, the color of the tables and chairs.
When it came time to name his new eatery, Mayson decided to acknowledge one of his aunts, who he insists was not crazy but warm and loving.
“Warm and loving Aunt Helen just doesn’t have the same panache and vibe as Crazy Aunt Helen,“ he explains.
|Patio at Crazy Aunt Helen’s
718 8th Street SE, Washington, DC 202-750-8140 or www.crazyaunthelens.com.
Something Upscale without Being Snobbish
|Outside Logan Tavern
Although the Logan Tavern has been around only since 2003, it has a much older vibe. Old fashioned globe chandeliers, a giant clock above the bar, huge photos of architectural elements of Logan Square and comfortable booths ring out time-honored and of-another-era.
|The Cozy Interior at Logan Tavern
Manager Larry Robinson calls the tavern’s style of food casual American cuisine with a modern twist. The eatery’s website describes the menu as serving fresh, seasonal, local and hand-crafted items, and the fact that the tavern sports its own farm in LaPlata, Maryland certainly helps underscore the fresh, seasonal and local description of the produce.
|The Meatloaf Entree
While somewhat undersized, the bill of fare includes favorites like Southern fried chicken, classic meatloaf, ginger grilled pork chops, crab cakes and Korean Vegan Bowl. The Logan is also known for their exceptional hamburgers.
|Buffalo Shrimp and Maple Brussels Sprouts Starters
The starters veer into creative with options like ginger calamari, crispy Korean wings and vegan mushroom tacos. Save room for desserts. They’re scrumptious and adventurous like Logan’s mango Key Lime pie.
|Mango Key Lime Pie
For brunch, the tavern offers make-your-own Bloody Marys, whereby you pick your own brand of vodka, hot, medium or mild spice and a selection of garnishes including shrimp. The beer selections are mostly local, but the wines represent all regions of the globe.
If you decide to take the Metro, get off at DuPont Circle and walk a few blocks down P Street, one of the most gorgeous, tree-lined and stately urban avenues you’ll ever see.
1423 P St. NW, Washington DC 202-332-3710 or www.logantavern.com.