Best Restaurants Near DC’s Convention Center

Check out these top restaurants near DC's Convention Center.
By: Nevin Martell

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After a long, tiring day of crisscrossing Washington, DC’s massive convention center making connections and sealing deals, it’s easy to cop out when it comes to dining out. Resist the temptation to order room service or settle for a familiar fast-food concept. Since you’re smack dab in the middle of the up ‘n’ coming Shaw neighborhood and within walking distance of the bustle of Chinatown and Penn Quarter, there are plenty of fantastic dining options spanning diverse cultures. Whether you’re in the mood for Mediterranean, itching for Italian or have a yen for ramen, or you’re looking to explore the latest cutting-edge cuisine, or just want a stellar sandwich, these top 5 restaurants near DC’s convention center are sure to satisfy.

Want more info about The Capital City? See Travel Channel's Guide to Washington, DC.

Photo by: Under A

Under A

Two is better than one. Located just a few minutes’ walk away, in nearby Chinatown, this bi-level eatery features a ramen joint on the ground floor and an izakaya (Japanese tavern) above it. The downstairs noodle house is bursting with energy. Pop songs blare, conversations burble and the compact open kitchen hums. There are 4 broth choices for your ramen -- classic shoyu, soy-based shio, barley fortified mugi-miso and a surprisingly satisfying vegetarian option.

Boost your bowl with braised pork belly, marinated bamboo, seaweed or a nitamago (soft-boiled egg). If you’d rather enjoy cocktails and small plates instead, climb the stairs to the dimly lit, dark wood-lined second level. For a quick fix, order up and slam down a round of Dai-drops -- sake spheres sunken in Sapporo beers. When it comes to dining, grilled oysters dressed with sake, skewers of fried pork and Brussels sprouts and miso-braised mackerel are all good choices.

Photo by: Bossi, flickr

Bossi, flickr

This alleyway deli, a stone’s throw from the DC convention center, transforms iconic international dishes into world-class sandwiches. The Kingston comes packed with spicy jerk chicken offset by a sweet pineapple salsa, while the Seoul bursts with bulgogi beef, pickled kimchi, Asian slaw and a swipe of garlic mayo.

Breakfast-all-day options are worth enjoying at any time, especially the Oslo (smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers) and the Mexico City (ham, avocado, eggs and a smoky, spicy chipotle butter). All of them are served on crusty golden baguettes with soft, spongy cores. The bread ends make perfect scoops for the garlicky house-made tzatziki and smooth hummus. Save a little room for dessert, so you can relive your childhood with a whoopie pie (or two).

Photo by: Greg Powers & Audrey Crewe

Greg Powers & Audrey Crewe

James Beard Award winner José Andrés’ vibrant homage to Mediterranean cooking in nearby Penn Quarter never fails to delight. All meals begin with a basket of piping hot, puffy pita that you dip into extra virgin olive oil zigzagged with tartly sweet pomegranate molasses. After that, you can choose from an extensive menu that caters equally to carnivores, pescetarians and vegetarians.

A selection of spreads, such as za’atar-spiced tangy Lebanese yogurt and smoky baba ghanoush, always go over well. This is tapas-style dining, so mix your order up with a few favorites and a couple of choices that might be outside your comfort zone. Delicate grilled octopus, veal sweetbreads dressed with cumin and sumac, and potato-crusted snails are all worth exploring.

Photo by: Greg Powers

Greg Powers

Top Chef All-Stars finalist Mike Isabella’s first restaurant opened with a bang in summer 2011 and hasn’t had a quiet moment since then. Situated just a few blocks south of DC’s convention center, in Chinatown, the Italian-American hot spot is great for happy hour or a relaxed dinner. Start with Isabella’s famous pepperoni sauce and breadsticks, then move on to the wood-fired pizzas.

The Jersey Shore -- flash-fried calamari dressed with cherry pepper aioli -- is always a good bet, as is the Countryman -- black truffle paste topped off with blobs of melted fontina cheese and a gloriously golden sunny-side-up egg. Most of the small plates menu changes seasonally, including the freshly made pastas. During the summer, the sweet corn agnolotti is an absolute must, while the comforting potato gnocchi should be your focus when temperatures are colder.

Photo by: Greg Powers of Greg Powers Photography

Greg Powers of Greg Powers Photography

Tucked away in Blagden Alley in DC’s Shaw neighborhood, across the street from the convention center, you’ll find one of the city’s most forward-thinking restaurants. Its seasonally influenced new American tasting menu is available as a 24-course Journey, 16-course Progression, or a stripped-down 4-course prix fixe.

If you have the 3 hours or more required to go all the way -- do it. Tattooed chef-owner RJ Cooper presides over the open kitchen at the center of the exposed brick dining like a pirate captain commanding a galleon. The James Beard Award winner revels in defying convention and expectation. A sweet- looking macaron might hide a savory filling, while a garden bed of dirt might turn out to be a dessert composed of ground coffee and cacao nibs. Make sure to try some of “chef-tender” Bryan Tetorakis’ cocktails, which blend classical elements with inventive molecular gastronomy.

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