DC’s Winter Restaurant Week, WHICH STARTS ON MONDAY January 19TH and runs through January 25th (meaning you have 1 week to get those reservations in) is a mixed bag. We ran this guide before, and a lot of it is forever usable, since the rules remain the same.
Opine away: For the under-funded, it’s a great way to enjoy a meal at a nice restaurant without racking up credit debt. For the occasional restaurant-goer, it’s a good reason to get out of the house or change the routine. For others, the specter of the bi-annual Restaurant Week filling their favored restaurants with the teeming masses, dumbed-down menus and lessened quality sends them scurrying to those places not among the 200 participating in the promotion. If you decide to test the waters, a three-course lunch goes for $20.15 and three-course dinners run $35.15 (plus drinks, tip and tax). The best spots fill up fast, so make your reservations now.
How to plan
- Picking the right restaurant is critical – you can end up paying for a $35 Restaurant Week meal at a place serving $15 entrees, or walk into a place where the menu is littered with up-charges, turning your $35 meal into something much pricier.
- The best tool for Restaurant Week is Open Table. Start plugging in times and neighborhoods, see what’s open and book a meal or two. They have a dedicated page set up just for restaurant week.
- When planning for dinner, realize that Restaurant Week is a trying time for restaurants. Many of the kitchen and front-of-house staff are working doubles through the week, a lot of the diners are not experienced restaurant-goers. Some menus are limited and later in the week some items will be unavailable. Use the opportunity to try new things and make sure to keep your demands simple. Restaurant Week may not be the best time to pull a really large dinner party together, and it may not be the best opportunity to celebrate a special occasion.
What to watch out for
- Many restaurants use Restaurant Week as a chance to get new customers. That’s great, but be a smart consumer. In some cases you may end up at a restaurant whose menus cost the same as the deal offered, or you may find yourself eating a moderate meal in a hotel lobby.
- Given rising food costs and the crush of Restaurant Week, some restaurants end up serving reduced portion sizes. This is a shame, as quality, less-expensive ingredients are readily available and so many restaurants are able to put together great plates for their diners. Be advised that if a menu claims a lot of luxury ingredients, you should probably speak with your server about portion size.
- If you are TRULY on a budget — please keep an eye out on your drink orders (trust us, we’ve been there)
- ALSO! Places with smaller plates, even though loved and delicious, are not the way to go on Restaurant week, since you’ll pretty much end up with the same deal as you would year round (Zaytinya, Boqueria, Oyamel, Graffiato, etc)
The Best Bets
- Read our 2014 FOOD ROUND UP by some of our favorite food writers around town and bee-line for those. These people eat and drink for a living, they know what’s going on.
- See who won The Rammys. Go there.
- Check out Washingtonian magazine’s “100 Best Restaurants” and pick a few places that sound good to you. Then see if they are participating in restaurant week
- Check out Tom Sietsema’s latest dining guide in Washington Post, for the first time featuring 10 must-eat-restaurants in the city.
- KEEP YOUR DIETARY RESTRICTIONS IN MIND: Check out BYT’s GLUTEN-FREE GUIDE TO DC RESTAURANTS as well as our guide to some of the BEST VEGETARIAN DISHES AND SPOTS. Cross reference.
- BAD NEWS: Rose’s Luxury and Red Hen and the Partisan and Boss Shepherd’s or Little Serow and are NOT participating in this edition of restaurant week. (YOU SHOULD STILL GO TO THEM — in fact, maybe use the opportunity of EVERYONE being at Restaurant week restaurants to make your move now.) Neither are A LOT of 14th street spots (like Le Diplomate or Barcelona or Ghibellina or Etto or Doi Moi), probably because they’re so busy anyway. Once again — maybe this means they’ll be a LITTLE less busy.
- GOOD NEWS: a lot of BRAND new and STILL new-ish restaurants ARE, and it is a great time to do some sampling. May we recommend: Fiola Mare, China Chilcano, DBGB, Rural Society, Roofers Union, Toro Toro, Mama Rouge, Pinea, and more? (clicking on each of these links takes you to a full first look by BYT so you can see photos and get a feel for what you’re up for)
- BONUS GOOD NEWS: with a new batch of new restaurants some super buzzy/hard-to-get-reservations-at spots of recent Restaurant weeks past may become more accessible: take a gander at Iron Gate, DEL CAMPO , Arsenal @ Bluejacket, Casa Luca, Kapnos, NoPA Kitchen, Osteria Morini, Table and Thally?
- ALSO: quality is quality no matter what. In this case, it applies to: Rasika and Rasika West End, Mintwood Place, Fiola, Marcel’s, Brabo, Bibiana, Bombay Club, Vidalia, Brasserie Beck, Kaz Sushi Bistro, Birch and Barley and BlackSalt. All perennial BYT favorites, every single one of them.
- ALSO: this is a great opportunity to maybe go out of your beaten path for a min. Does trekking out to Water & Wall, RANGE, or Trummer’s on Main sound a touch overwhelming normally? Restaurant week is a good place to start your courtship with them.
Everything is booked, now what?
You’ve waited too long and all the cool places are booked, what now? Don’t worry:
- a. Lunch is the unsung pleasure of restaurant week — check out some bound to be booked dinner places mid-day. We love the Bourbon Steak lunch, as well as Central’s lunch
- b. Some restaurants offer extended restaurant week options. You can find this information on your favorite restaurant’s website, Open Table, or www.restaurantweekmetrodc.org
- c. Check out our BEST DC RESTAURANTS THAT DON’T TAKE RESERVATIONS list. USE IT.
Last words of wisdom:
- Check out the menus online first. Some places only offer a few options for each course which could be problematic if you have dietary restrictions or are a picky eater.
- Expect to spend roughly $60 on a dinner for one. That breaks down to a 3 course dinner ($35), 1 drink ($10), tax and tip ($15).
So, there’s that. feel free to ask us some questions in the comments-WE WILL answer and enjoy this week ahead: