Since its earliest days, Washington, D.C. has played host to swaths of European diplomats who bring their proud cultures and cuisines along with them. Designed by the French-American engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant, even the city of D.C. itself inspires an Old World mindset, with wide tree-lined streets and plentiful parks and monuments.
It’s no wonder some of the best chefs of Mediterranean cuisine have chosen Washington, D.C. as their city of choice. Here are four Mediterranean restaurants recognized by our inspectors as exceptional.
Designation: The Plate
What Our Inspectors Say: “Tucked inside the former stables and carriageway of a historic townhouse, Iron Gate is blessed with one of the city's most charming atmospheres. The cozy dining room is complete with requisite dark wood beams, exposed brick walls, tufted leather banquettes, plus that historic cherry on top: the roaring fireplace. The trellised garden patio, heated and open most of the year, is a close second. The kitchen features a prix-fixe dinner menu along with small plates, where the chef displays myriad riffs on Greek, Italian and Mediterranean classics. Chilled spring pea soup is refreshing and delicate; green tomato keftedes are a vegetarian version of the traditional Greek meatballs; and crispy arancini stuffed with spinach risotto hint at spanakopita.”
Designation: One Star
What Our Inspectors Say: “Climb the stairs of a historic Dupont Circle townhouse to find this diminutive restaurant with a focus on drama. The smattering of well-spaced tables and a hushed ambience fashion a very promising date night. Photos are verboten, which is no matter since you’re so busy having a good time in “real” time. The staff is relaxed, engaged and professional. That said, they provide precious little information on how each evening’s single prix fixe will unfold—there are no menus, and diners have a minimal glimpse of what is to come next. But relinquishing control to these capable chefs (and sommelier) is the only way to go, as the results are bound to leave you feeling uplifted. Meals begin with small bites that treat the palate to raw, cool and cooked flavors. These have included soft brioche topped with trout roe, sliced sea scallop crudo over a lobster reduction and sweet-savory warm Medjool dates filled with mascarpone and finished with a sprinkle of sea salt. From there, delve into a duo of wonderfully rustic house-made pastas, like ravioli filled with celery root and dressed with morels, favas and bits of lamb's tongue. Roasted kid goat with fluffy pita conjures the best of Greece.”
Designation: Bib Gourmand
What Our Inspectors Say: “Awash in a palette of cool blue and white with an entire wall artfully decorated with Turkish nazar ornaments (eye-shaped amulets used to ward off evil spirits), Zaytinya speaks to the ease and elegance of the Mediterranean—and indeed this restaurant offers a smorgasbord of Med-influenced flavor. Though large, the dining room is sectioned into cozy nooks, and the warm, friendly service makes it feel especially inviting. If the look is a little bit of this and a little bit of that, so is powerhouse chef José Andrés' meze-minded menu. Ouzo-battered catfish skordalia and oyster saganaki are proof that Greek influences run deep, while the wine list is especially far-reaching with bottles from Lebanon and Romania along with surprises from Greece and Turkey.”
Designation: Bib Gourmand
What Our Inspectors Say: "'Sababa,' which means 'cool' in Hebrew slang, is exactly as advertised. Sharing a wall and connected by a gorgeous zinc bar to Bindaas next door, this Mid-East ode is awash in Mediterranean tiles. But despite the hip digs, it’s all about food here. The fine-tuned menu features Israeli salads, dips and kebabs, but small plates are its heart and soul. Start with salatim, a five-salad starter. Then choose from dishes such as charred eggplant with herbed labneh, fried cauliflower with tahini and raisins or pomegranate-glazed chicken liver. The list goes on, but one thing to never skip is the hummus. It's so much more than the usual, that it's even listed as a daily special. Keeping in line with the sauce is their Israeli- and Greek-focused wine list."
Hero image courtesy of Think Food Group.