All words by Elsie Yang
Many more months into the COVID-19 pandemic than we ever thought we’d be, even the most well-outfitted home offices are starting to feel a bit…claustrophobic. While I certainly never thought I’d wish for the days when I could work in an office, suffice it to say that the grass really is always greener on the other side. Luckily, during the global pandemic, I’ve discovered the joys of working from someone else’s home (or something close to it), and in a city like DC, there is certainly no shortage of venues to serve as an office for the morning. And unlike my home (or the office), my favorite venues have chefs that are ready to prepare a delightful meal to make the workday go by just a bit faster, as well as wi-fi (especially if you ask nicely). So if you’re looking for ways to implement a change of scenery in your day-to-day, and while you’re at it, have a truly delicious meal, check out our favorite cafes, restaurants, coffee shops, and yes, bars, to get shit done while eating great stuff.
Cafe Riggs combines convenient location with unparalleled ambience with low volumes, and tops it all off with some of the most delicious (even if expensive) food in the area.
Tucked in the 4-star Hotel Riggs, the all day cafe is the perfect place to pull out your laptop and work uninterrupted for hours on end. The environment makes it abundantly easy to do so — if you elect to eat inside, you’ll have your pick of plush seating options and warm lighting that allows for productivity without feeling surgical. There’s a fantastic lounge at one end of the cafe that makes for an ideal (socially-distant) meeting space, if you’re lucky enough to get off Zoom. On the outdoor front, umbrellas are currently in place to shield you from the sun, but as we move further away from the autumn equinox, Cafe Riggs is also bringing in heat lamps and blankets for guests who elect to work and eat outside.
Foodwise, be sure to go in the morning hours, where you can enjoy the restaurant’s fabulous breakfast and brunch offerings. While it’s difficult to do injustice to omelettes and french toast, it’s also difficult to make them memorable — but Cafe Riggs does just that. The omelette is almost omurice in texture, with vache cheese adding just the right bite, and the brightly-dressed arugula salad made all the more interesting with pickled onions and sunflower seeds. The french toast should be criminal — it’s decadent without being overly sweet, and somehow maintains its structure and integrity while still being fully soaked through with flavor.
Unconventional DIner has been impressing diners for the last two and a half years, and it’s immediately apparent why. Even in pandemic times, the restaurant manages to be warm and inviting, serving up familiar favorites with a distinctive twist.
Open for brunch every day (11 am on the weekdays, and 9 am on the weekends), Unconventional Diner is the perfect place to have your morning coffee and stay for your afternoon calls. The interior of the restaurant, should you choose to dine inside, has maintained its bright and airy modern diner vibe. While the team has added some plexiglass panes to further separate diners, they’re cleverly placed so as to avoid blocking any light. There’s also only one entrance and a separate exit, which means that the easily distracted worker (like me) has fewer distractions to contend with thanks to unidirectional traffic.
In terms of food, the brunch menu is at once comforting and creative. The shrimp and grits with a mango habanero sauce is a twist on a favorite, and of course, you can’t go wrong with Chef David Deshaies’ chicken and waffles. While Unconventional Diner specializes in comfort food, it’s not all American comfort food — after all, Chef Deshaies believes in bringing familiar favorites from around the world, which means delicious shakshuka, fantastic fried rice, and stick-to-your-ribs pozole.
If you’re working late and need a change of scenery, you can always head to Paris. Or at least, DC’s version of the City of Lights, which comes in the form of a beautiful little wine bar in Shaw by the name of La Jambe. While you may not think of a bar as the ideal place for productivity, you’d be surprised what a glass of vino and a bright, airy space (especially as the days get shorter) will do for you.
While you should certainly plan on getting there early or plugging in some headphones, (it is, after all, a popular place), if you snag a table outside or by the windows, you may just find yourself an unconventional office space for the early evening. Thoroughly French in the best of ways, you’ll find a long list of French wines, French bites, and a distinctly French ethos that makes working here feel less like work. And if you’re burning the midnight oil, La Jambe’s beautifully lit patio just may make those late-night hours feel a little less tragic (especially when paired with a good glass of bordeaux).
If you’re feeling fancy (and why shouldn’t you be), head over to the five-star Line Hotel, where Chef Erik Bruner-Yang will cook for you (and trust me, you want him to cook for you). The Line Hotel, located inside a century-old church, is a little slice of DC history, and makes for a stunning backdrop against which to do your day’s work. It’s especially delightful as an escape on the weekend, where you can luxuriate in your surroundings while getting on with your business. It’s no wonder that the hotel continues to be a coveted wedding destination, even during the pandemic, where large fetes have given way to microweddings.
The absolutely stunning sitting area of Cafe Spoken is the ideal place to spend your weekend — large tables on either end of the restaurant offer plenty of space to spread out with your laptop and your coffee and several plates of food. The lighting is beautiful and unobtrusive, and the jazz playing in the background always puts me in a productive mood. The wi-fi is free and the staff is among the friendliest I’ve encountered, making for an unparalleled experience.
Food-wise, there’s no way to go wrong with any of Chef Bruner-Yang’s Asian-inspired dishes, but I’m a particular fan of a large bowl of mentaiko creme fraiche made with udon noodles, which at $14, is an absolute steal. You also can’t go wrong with the omurice, and the sandwiches are similarly divine.
For the traditionalists among us who prefer to work from coffee shops, pass up your corner Starbucks and instead head to Big Bear Cafe, where the team has been dishing up solid coffee, tea, and other sources of caffeine for 13 years. A beloved neighborhood institution, Big Bear’s dependable wifi paired with their classic bakery offerings (and some more substantial menu items as well) make for a delightful place to do work from the morning hours to early afternoon.
Get there sooner rather than later in the season to take advantage of the cafe’s patio — you’ll practically be working in a garden thanks to plenty of greenery that is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also a fabulous way to catch some shade while the sun is still beaming. Big Bear has also recently fired up a new oven, so be sure to check out their freshly breads, pastries, and the like.
You could easily spend the whole day at Maketto, and luckily, the multi-talented space is open from 7am to 10pm Monday through Saturday. Described as a communal marketplace combining retail, restaurant, and cafe experiences, Maketto is what work from (someone else’s) home dreams are made of. With several different spaces (and aesthetics) spread across several different floors, you’ll certainly save yourself from boredom when working out of Maketto. Regardless of which space you pick, though, you’ll practically bathe in natural light and a light, open seating plan — ideal for those of us who quickly go stir-crazy in our own apartments.
Thanks to delicious coffee and even better food (also by Erik Bruner-Yang), you also won’t go hungry. Small plates at the Maketto restaurant are perfect to snack on while you’re working away, or you could always grab a bakery item from the all-day cafe. And if you’re staying for dinner, enjoy a larger portion of Cambodian and Taiwanese-inspired cooking, and walk it off by browsing the retail section of the space.
If your work benefits from people-watching, then you simply must find your way to The Grill at the Wharf. Prime hours, from a budgetary perspective, are doubtless from 3 to 6pm on weekdays, when you can take advantage of a bougie happy hour that includes a phenomenal burger (and a mountain of herbed fries) for $15, and a killer martini for $11. If you’d like something a bit less alcohol-forward (you are working, after all), the Grill Punch is also a crowd pleaser for a reasonable $8.
While the interior of the Grill is absolutely beautiful, the bountiful outdoor seating options make for an excellent work environment. You can take advantage of Wharf-wide free wifi, and lay your computer down on a white tablecloth and pitter-patter the hours away. Attentive (but not pushy) servers are happy to keep your water (and booze) glass filled, and there’s no shortage of delicious small and large bites to keep hunger at bay. And if ever you need a break from your screen, you can either look out over the Potomac, which is always a sight for sore eyes, or take in the many scenes from the Wharf at large.