9 Food Trends That Will Define the DC Dining Scene in 2023


Welcome to Starrville

Stephen Starr. Photo courtesy of Starr Restaurant Group.

Stephen Starr is a one-man trend. A decade after turning Le Diplomate into a fashion machine, the Philly restaurateur is opening locally. El Presidente, his theatrical ode to Mexico City, recently debuted near Union Market. It will be followed by the nearby Pastis bistro spinoff in the Meatpacking District with New York restaurateur Keith McNally. Further on the horizon: a massive Italian market and osteria in the heart of Georgetown with renowned California chef Nancy Silverton and a glamorous classic American restaurant at the Willard InterContinental Hotel.

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There is a (new) French New Wave

Escargot at Le Bistro. Photo by @foodsinmyheart.

Washington is no stranger to French cuisine—the cuisine ruled the food scene here from the Kennedy era through the 1980s. This year, the wave of Gallic arrivals outnumbered Le Diplomate wannabes. We have a French-Canadian bar (Le Mont Royal), an elegant dining room by a French celebrity chef (L’Avant-Garde) and an all-day destination for morning pancakes and evening crab gratin (Petite Cerise). Even veteran Italian chef Roberto Donna got in on the action, opening Le Bistro in Vienna this summer.

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The lab-grown chicken is here

Photo by Ana Isabel Martinez.

Chef José Andrés’ Peruvian restaurant, China Chilcano, was among the first in the country to serve lab-grown chicken. Federal regulators approved the sale of cell-cultured Good Meat by California company Eat Just over the summer, sparking curiosity and controversy about its potential to become a more mainstream no-kill meat alternative. As for how it tastes? Like a chicken. . . a kind of.

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Service charges are rampant

restaurant service fee
Photo by Jeff Elkins

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It’s been a year since D.C. residents approved Initiative 82, the law that phased out the tipped minimum wage. Restaurants offset rising labor costs by charging mandatory service charges to checks. The problem? They are everywhere. (3 percent? 22 percent?) And their uses aren’t always transparent, causing a lot of confusion about tip expectations.

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New York exports take over

Levain’s Giant Cookies. Photo by Kate Previte.

First, it was bakeries: During the pandemic, a number of upscale shops born in Manhattan (Levain, Maman, Mah-Ze-Dahr) have sprung up in neighborhoods like Georgetown and Bethesda. This year, the invasion continued with Brooklyn ice cream hit Van Leeuwen opening three DC locations. Coming soon: more scoops at the Malai Indian spot just outside of Brooklyn, plus huge chips from Chip City and bagels from H&H.

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The dining halls are getting fantastic

The Square in Downtown DC. Photo courtesy of Square.

Where can you pair luxury A5 beef with a bottle of sake for $328? That would be Beloved BBQ, the steakhouse that anchors Love, Makoto, the all-Japanese food hall near Judiciary Square. It’s not the only new store worthy of a holiday table. In downtown D.C., there’s Square, overseen by Minibar Fellow Ruben Garcia. It’s home to Casa Teresa — Garcia’s first stand-alone restaurant — and longtime chef Ann Cashion’s oyster and crab stand. On the way: a sushi bar from former Nakazawa talent Masaaki Uchino.

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Everything is vibration

The selfie-ready setting at Urban Roast. Photo courtesy of Urban Roast.

You’ve probably heard it: “This place is all vibe.” Lately, many bars and restaurants seem obsessed with the vibe—the scene, the buzz, the energy, the feel. Whether the food and drinks are good or not is irrelevant. It’s all about that X-factor that makes people want to be in a place just to be there. Consider places that are a little noisy, a little expensive, and full of people taking selfies.

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The Suburbs Rock

Eli Byrd’s Falls Church Whimsical Dining Room. Photo courtesy of Ellie Bird.

This fall, New York Times has released its annual list of restaurants food writers are most excited about. The only suggestion for the Washington area? Eli Byrd in Falls Church. Some of the year’s brightest openings were over the DC border, including Joon and Jiwa Singapura in Tysons, Kirby Club in Fairfax, and Manifest Bread in Riverdale Park.

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Maximalism is in

An eye-catching cocktail at The Bazaar by José Andrés. Photo courtesy of The Bazaar.

Eating out is more spectacular than ever – thanks to the TikTok boom and the pent-up party energy following pandemic restrictions. Goodbye, white subway tiles. Hello, neon signs, disco balls and free artificial flowers! Cocktails are billowing with smoke, plates are stocked with table decorations, and even the bathrooms are social media ready.

This article appears in the December 2023 issue of Washingtonian.

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