Bests Map

Click on the image to go to our Google Map that locates all of the critics' picks for best restaurants in DC.

Back in January, we had the crazy idea of taking the list of all of the bars and restaurants that were keeping extended hours for the President’s Inaugural weekend and putting them up on a Google Map.  Visitors and locals alike could find the nearest place to grab nachos and a beer at 4 in the morning.  It was a big hit, garnering mentions by the Washington Post, NBC4 and several other news outlets.

With the announcement of Tom Sietsema’s annual Fall Dining Guide in the Washington Post last month, we found ourselves comparing it to similar lists like Tim Carman’s 50 Best Restaurants list in the Washington City Paper and Washingtonian magazine’s annual 100 Best Restaurants list.  We were eager to see which restaurants were universally celebrated and which ones were personal favorites for each critic.  As we were looking at the lists side by side, inspiration struck.

Wouldn’t it be helpful if all of these lists were available in one place?  We could check out everything that Tom, Tim and Todd (Kliman at Washingtonian) had to say about an establishment all at once.

And then we went to that nerdy map-loving place we frequently do.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to put all of their favorites into one map, so people could find the critics’ favorites in their neighborhood?

So we put in some quality time and put together our “Best Restaurants in Washington” map.  It features all of the restaurants covered in each of the three lists mentioned above, as well as the places that received the top 40 Food category scores in Zagat’s 2009/2010 DC guide.

If an establishment shows up on more than one list, it’s represented by a fork-and-knife symbol.  If it’s unique to Carman’s list, it’ll have a blue tag.  Washingtonian-only places get a red tag.  Sietsema’s singular favorites are tagged in green.  And Zagat outliers get a purple tag.  Click on a restaurant’s tag to find all of the lists they appear on – complete with links to the specific reviews from each.

We thought about including the highest-rated restaurants on UrbanSpoon, but we rejected the idea when we saw that the list seemed a bit…skewed.

Take a look at the map – use it to find a favorite nearby or to see how the critics’ picks are distributed throughout the region.

And if you’ve got suggestions on other lists whose picks we might add to the map, please let us know.  We intend to update the map when the lists are updated (ie, when Washingtonian’s Top 100 Restaurants of 2010 is released).


<<UPDATE 11/9/09 4:59 PM – A reader pointed out the absence of Northern Virginia Magazine’s Top 50 from this map.  We will definitely be adding them, but we’re waiting until their list goes up on their website (it’s currently only available in the newest print edition).  Rather than putting up their 2008 list, we figured we’d wait and compare apples to apples.>>

Richard obamaBright and early yesterday (1:04 AM, to be exact), the Washington Post’s “Reliable Source” published a piece examining the Obamas’ restaurant choices and ascribing political import to those decisions.  To bolster the argument, they went to three truly reliable sources: Washington City Paper restaurant critic Tim Carman, freelance food writer Amanda McClement (Metrocurean), and Don Rockwell (of the eponymous message board).

Although we have the utmost respect for all three, we here at Capital Spice couldn’t help but scratch our heads at the conclusion that the article came to: “a pattern of deliberate and politically aware choices.”  That may be a bit of a stretch.

The fact of the matter is that the Reliable Source’s premise is based on a rather selective reading of the record.  Sure, the Obamas have hit a couple of DC landmarks and a few places known for their commitment to local and/or seasonal ingredients, but there are a few glaring omissions and a couple of clunkers that make it hard to say that Obama is doing anything more calculated than any other food-lover in Washington.  A closer look at the evidence:

  • Sure, Ben’s Chili Bowl is an icon in the DC dining scene.  But that’s just it: Ben’s Chili Bowl is an icon.  Anthony Bourdain stopped there.  Samantha Brown stopped there.  Our friends from California who were just in for a visit stopped there (at our suggestion).  Add to that the fact that they just celebrated their 50th anniversary, and you’ve got a restaurant that transcends politics.
  • Equinox – It’s possible to read this one the way Carman did in the Reliable Source piece – as “a nod to one of the deans of DC cooking” – but it’s just as likely that this one was chosen for its decade (another anniversary) of quality cooking and its proximity to the White House.  Equinox is one of the closest upscale restaurants to the Obamas’ residence, and it has been a go-to spot for Administration celebrities for years.  No one cheered Tom Ridge or Condoleezza Rice for their political acumen when they dined here.
  • CitronelleArguably the most well-known fine dining restaurant in the city, Citronelle is on most foodies’ to-try list.  Once again, this doesn’t come across as a calculated destination as much as a highly-recommended fixture on the DC dining scene.  If the Obamas are going to be dining out regularly, it’s probably only a matter of time before they cross off the rest of the Washingtonian 100 Best Restaurants list.
  • Damn Fine Looking BurgerRay’s Hell BurgerSeriously?  This was a calculated move to make sure people didn’t make too big a deal over the Citronelle dinner?  Say it ain’t so!  Can’t two bros just decide to take a quick road trip to check out the place that their staffers tell them has the best burgers in the area?  Maybe this was a ‘man of the people’ stunt…but we’d rather believe it wasn’t.
  • Five GuysAnother local burger; another bit of lofty significance?  Do you really think they hit Five Guys because it’s the ‘forerunner for the fresh fast food concept,’ or could it be that they’re now trying to avoid playing favorites in the oh-so-contentious DC burger wars?  If someone had argued the latter point as playing politics with lunch, we’d have been far more likely to buy in.

But what about some of the Obamas’ choices that don’t fit this theory?  A few of those – not to mention some of their glaring omissions – after the jump. (more…)

hook-and-ladderGenerally speaking, alcoholic beverages and putting out fires are a bad combination when attempted simultaneously.  But volunteer firefighter Rich Fleischer’s Hook & Ladder Brewing Company has found a much safer way to blend the two.  Based in Silver Spring, the craft brewer and his team (including his brother and business partner, Matt) are turning out kegs and cases of beers with names like Backdraft Brown, Ember Amber and Lighter while supporting burn treatment facilities in the areas where their beers are sold.

I had the opportunity to sample all of the above beers, as well as the Hook & Ladder Golden Lager, at our local Harris Teeter while shopping for Super Bowl supplies earlier this year.  Although I may not be able to tell you the difference between cascade hops and two-row malt, I can certainly tell you that these craft brews made an impression.  And when I heard about their “Penny in Every Pint” program, I was sold.  Since then, I’ve picked up a six pack of the Backdraft Brown on several occasions, and it’s been a hit every time.

Descriptions of the Hook & Ladder brews, where to find them, and how they give back after the jump. (more…)

There’s a new British-influenced gastropub that people are talking about.  They offer traditional dishes alongside some new twists.  Their chef comes from a well-known local favorite.  And their list of beers is appropriately deep.

Gotta be CommonWealth, right?  Not if you’re the Washington Post.  While those of us who live and work in the city that lends its name to the paper have been checking out Jamie Leeds’ new establishment in Columbia Heights, Tom Sietsema felt compelled to head out to Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia, Maryland.

Though the occasional review of an off-the-beaten-path winner or a destination worth a trip is commendable, The Post seems to have abandoned DC diners in favor of their suburban subscribers.  Whether written by Sietsema or a stand-in, their most recent Sunday magazine reviews tell the tale.