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Washington DC has not traditionally been known for its inventive or lively dining scene but the quality and variety of restaurants has become a lot better in recent years.
For those staying in the traditional tourist core of DC, there are three relatively distinct neighborhoods to choose from: Downtown, Dupont Circle, and Penn Quarter.
Among the more innovative and better restaurants downtown is Butterfield 9, an American eatery with excellent food and superior service, although be sure to sit downstairs as the low-ceilinged upstairs mezzanine guarantees you won't hear the conversation of your dining partners. Just up 14th Street is Ceiba, a Latin fusion restaurant owned by the group who also offers you DC Coast at 14th & K Streets as well as TenPenh on Pennsylvania Avenue. Equally expensive, however. Another high-end choice that tends to be filled with lawyers, lobbyists and other business types is Tosca, a starch-white Italian restaurant with excellent food. Oceanaire Seafood Room is a steakhouse but with fish -- very fresh and delicious fish in inventive preparations as well as simple grilled. Don't miss the amazing hash browns and creamed spinach. A new offering from the legendary Michel Richard (Citronelle in Georgetown) is Central, on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Near the White House, on 13th and EYE Street, is Tuscan West. Tuscana West is full of the warm-hearted wines and food that match the spirit of Italy, specializing in housemade fresh pastas, fresh-baked variety of Italian breads, stone-baked pizzas, char-grilled seafood and meats, wonderful daily specials and housemade desserts. Tuscana West is the perfect spot for a romantic evening, a special celebration or an executive power luncheon, as well as offering special events, and a great happy hour.
For a more relaxed setting, hop on the Metro and head to Dupont Circle. With all the gentrification going on in Washington, Dupont has gone a bit yuppie, with the hipsters moving to areas like Logan Circle and Columbia Heights, but it remains a fun neighborhood easily reached by public transportation. P Street between 19th and 22nd streets alone is home to about a half dozen of DC's best restaurants. Al Tiramisu is arguably DC's best (and increasingly expensive) Italian. Next door is Pesce, a moderately priced fish restaurant that does simple offerings well. Across the street is the constantly crowded Pizza Paradiso, a brick-oven pizza place, which is next door to Obelisk, a very high-end and adventurous Italian.
Penn Quarter, the area around the Verizon Center (host to NBA, NHL and many concert events), is DC's hottest new restaurant area. Jaleo, one of the first restaurants to venture down to this once-crime ridden area, is a popular and delicious Spanish tapas bar which remains crowded night after night despite the multiple options that have recently opened nearby. Rosa Mexicano is a crowded and pricey neo-Mexican restaurant that offers delicious pomegranate martinis and guacamole made by hand in a molcajete. Also in this neighborhood is Zola, where its location right above the Spy Museum lends itself to inventive design and really wonderful New American food.