DC's 11 Biggest Restaurant Openings of 2013

By Rina Rapuano  |  December 16, 2013
Credit: The Arsenal/Rina Rapuano

Buzzy new restaurants often fall into two categories: those that start out shaky and grow strong, and those that start out strong and can’t maintain it for one reason or another. There are, however, a growing number of places that manage to settle into a groove and consistently provide diners a pleasurable experience. Here are 11 that we’d put our money on - and we explain why their openings were significant additions to Washington's dining landscape this year.

  • Credit: Elizabeth Parker

    The Restaurant That Stole Our Hearts...

    Rose’s Luxury has managed to defend its place as this year’s critical darling since it opened in early October. The food is both innovative and comforting, the space is both hipsteresque and approachable, and the service is both competent and fun. It's rare that an opening makes the (sometimes jaded) Washington food collective this giddy, but it's tough to keep the excitement in check when a place successfully lives up to its potential - and exceeds our expectations - so decisively and so swiftly (202-580-8889).

  • Credit: Rina Rapuano

    Proof That DC Has a Softer Side...

    In a city chock-full of sleek, modern and sometimes - dare we say - sterile dining rooms, the November reopening of Iron Gate was a breath of traditional air. The word on everyone’s lips isn’t one normally uttered when referring to DC restaurants: “romantic.” While the former stables bring us back in time, chef Tony Chittum’s keeps a foot in the past and the present with his personal twist on Greek cooking (202-524-5202).

  • Credit: Rina Rapuano

    The Opening That Gave Us the Biggest Beer Buzz...

    Despite all the exciting things going on in DC’s beer scene, The Arsenal gave us the most exciting beer-focused concept this year - and the first big news in the Navy Yard boom. Beer director Greg Engert worked with brewer Megan Parisi and chef Kyle Bailey to bring about a restaurant on the cutting edge of brewing, flavors and sustainable methods - such as making pasta out of the brewing leftover grains (202-524-4862).

  • Credit: Jody Brady

    Best Reminder That Less Is More...

    Among the big-production openings this year, the small but mighty Etto on 14th Street NW shows us once again that simple, pure Italian food deserves as much attention as seafood tours and performance cocktails. It takes a light but deft hand to impress with something as humble as a celery salad - and as sublime as ice cream infused with prosciutto (202-232-0920).

  • Credit: Jason Varney

    Best Reminder That More Is More...

    Le Diplomate came on the scene this spring, and our first hint that it was going to be an important opening this year was the gorgeous exterior that somehow looked more like a hyper-realistic painting of a Parisian cafe than the real thing. But it was also the food - including some outstanding housemade breads, a stellar seafood tower and a perfect foie gras parfait - that kept the place packed through the summer and fall months (202-332-3333).

  • Credit: Greg Powers

    Biggest Proof That Where There’s Smoke...

    Many kitchens dabbled in smoky flavors this year, but it was the April opening of South American powerhouse Del Campo that proved the old adage that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Chef Victor Albisu gave us the biggest, boldest use of smoke this year, and it paid off in the form of national accolades and a fervent local following (202-289-7377).

  • Credit: Scott Suchman

    Biggest Show of Faith From an Outsider...

    Not that we need to prove anything to anyone, but DC has been stung lately by celebrity chefs who were in and out of DC before you could say, “Check, please.” The northern chainlet Osteria Morini opened last month with big-name New York chef Michael White and his backers giving a boost to the newly overhauled Navy Yard neighborhood. Early signs point to this opening as mutually beneficial for the city and the restaurant (202-484-0660).

  • Credit: Jody Brady

    Best String of Longshots...

    Not everyone could get away with opening a bar that primarily serves sherry and Spanish ham; an oyster bar with a heavy-metal theme; and a soon-to-open Southern spot that... well, ok: there’s nothing risky about a Southern-fried whiskey bar. But Derek Brown and his crew had the cojones to open all three - Mockingbird Hill, Eat the Rich and Southern Efficiency, respectively - in one year along a scrappy, up-and-coming stretch of Seventh Street NW. We can’t wait to see what he’ll come up with next (Mockingbird Hill, 202-316-9396; Eat the Rich, 202-316-9396).

  • Credit: Mark Silva

    Best Reason to Discover Bloomingdale...

    Those in the know have long been aware of several tasty reasons to venture to Bloomingdale, but the April opening of Red Hen made everyone else in the area well aware of that neighborhood’s charms too. A lusty version of rigatoni with a sausage ragù, irresistible crostini topped with smoked trout, hard-boiled egg and roe, and an alluring wine list featuring a new hit for the area - orange wines - added up to a pretty exciting opening (202-525-3021).

  • Credit: Greg Powers

    Tastiest Use of Space...

    Whoever said you can’t be all things to all people never met local celebrity chef (and Top Chef alum) Mike Isabella. The restaurateur opened Kapnos to great fanfare this summer; soon after, he announced a second location to open in Ballston next year. But the surprise hit in all this rapid-fire expansion is his G by Mike Isabella, which serves outstanding sandwiches by day and an equally compelling tasting menu by night. Weekends bring a family-style Sunday Gravy, giving us a whole other experience - and yet another reason to return (202-234-5015).

  • Credit: Lorraine Fitzsimmmons

    Best Spin-off of a Super-Fancy Original…

    Chef Fabio Trabocchi regularly dazzles guests at his fine-dining Fiola, but that showboat’s little-brother restaurant, Casa Luca, opened in July and is quite dazzling in its own right. The beautiful space and whimsically patterned china are the perfect backdrop to elegant pastas and outstanding teacup-sized portions of the season’s best bites (202-628-1099).