Chef Mike Isabella Shares His Fifteen ‘Can’t Miss’ Food Experiences In Washington, D.C.

Welcome to EAT THIS CITY, your weekly tour of the best restaurants in one of our favorite cities, as chosen by top chefs. This week, we visit the nation’s capital. Washington, D.C. is home to more educational and exciting tours than one traveler could hope to experience in a lifetime. Segway, trolley, bike, and pedestrian expeditions, ghost hunting trips, photo safaris, and monuments by moonlight; you’ll be hard-pressed to decide what you’ll see on your trip, and how to take it all in.

What about choosing restaurants? For that conversation, we’ve brought along an expert.


If you’re a serious food fan, Chef Mike Isabella needs no intro. The restaurateur owns the renowned Graffiato, Kapnos, Kapnos Taverna, and Kapnos Kouzina, Mexican cantina Pepita, and G, an Italian sandwich shop that transforms into a full-service Italian restaurant by night.

Enough restaurants for you? Hold tight, we’re not finished. He also co-owns Japanese noodle bar Yona and French Mediterranean restaurant Requin. Next year will see the opening of Isabella Eatery in Fairfax, Virginia. In a word: damn.

Isabella’s drive, passion, and commitment to excellence hasn’t gone unnoticed in the industry. Last year, the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington nominated Chef Isabella for Restaurateur of the Year. Food & Wine magazine hailed him as The People’s Best New Chef Mid-Atlantic in 2012, the same year that he published Mike Isabella’s Crazy Good Italian. Haven’t been to D.C. recently? You probably still recognize Chef Isabella from season six of Top Chef, Top Chef Duels, and Top Chef All-Stars, on which he was runner-up.

Before we start running through Chef Isabella’s picks in “the district,” let’s drool over some of his food:

Now that your appetite has been whet, let’s see Chef Isabella’s fifteen favorite food experiences in D.C.!



I’m a big fan of Pupatella in Arlington, Virginia. It’s a tucked away, hole-in-the-wall, roadside place that turns out just about the best Neapolitan pies in the area. This is a real hidden gem.


Espita Mezcaleria

Obviously I’m partial to Pepita, my Mexican cantina in Arlington, but when I’m in the city proper, I head to Espita Mezcaleria. This is a brand new spot in the Shaw neighborhood, and in addition to good food, they have the biggest Mezcal selection in town.



The Source

My buddy Scott Drewno makes the best dumplings I’ve ever had at The Source.



Taco Bamba

Victor Albisu nails the Mexican Street Food scene at Taco Bamba. Taco is in the name, but you gotta check out the tortas, tamales and pozole.


Buttercream Bakeshop

Tiffany MacIsaac was in charge of pastry for one of the city’s biggest restaurant groups for a while, and she made their restaurants destinations for dessert. She left last year to open her own place, and now Buttercream Bakeshop is one of my favorite stops in the city.



Eric Ziebold is known for his work at The French Laundry, Per Se and Cityzen. I’m not going to say anything more impressive than that resume. Kinship is his first solo place and it lives up to all the hype. I recommend ordering the whole turbot for the table and doing your best to share.




Danny Lee’s Mandu in Mount Vernon Square is both a great Korean restaurant and a great bar. His secret weapon is his mom – the mastermind behind Mandu’s perfect Korean fried chicken.



Sticky Fingers

Sticky Fingers, a vegan bakery and café in Columbia Heights, was in competition with Buttercream Bakeshop for my favorite sweets spot, but this vegetarian category gave me a nice way to sneak both in. We have lots of vegetarians and vegans in D.C., and no one makes better dairy free cakes and pastries than Doron Petersan.



Seasons, in the Georgetown Four Seasons, has a great brunch buffet, heavy on the chef stations. Yeah, my favorite brunch spot is a buffet. Deal with it.



Southwest Waterfront Fish Market

Technically I think I’m supposed to send you someplace to get a half smoke here, but Washington, D.C. is located firmly in blue crab country. If you want an authentically Washingtonian experience, hit up the Southwest waterfront fish market, grab a table, order a mixed dozen and get picking.



Thai X-ing

Thai X-ing is a cult classic restaurant in D.C. There are two locations now, but if you make a reservation at the original Florida Avenue restaurant, you will still have the pleasure of dining out of chef Taw Vigsittaboot row house.


Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken

I’m all about the crème brulee donut at Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken. Don’t tell my trainer.



Shake Shack

Shake Shack. Not exactly an unknown pick, I know, but give me a frozen custard shake and a Shackburger after a long night out and I’ll be right back on my feet.




Nick Stefanelli’s Masseria may be a new restaurant, but it’s got everything you want in a classic date spot: sexy drinks and sexy food in a sexy space.



Sixth Engine

Sixth Engine is Kyle Bailey’s second stop in D.C., and he is proving that Birch & Barley, which was excellent under his care for six years, was no fluke.

Thank you, Chef Mike Isabella, for taking us on a culinary tour of D.C.!


Stay tuned for more EAT THIS CITY — where each week we’ll feature a premier chef in a different city sharing their insider eating tips! Missed a week? Check out New Orleans, Cleveland, Miami, SeattleLas Vegas, San Francisco, Sydney, Portland, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, New Orleans, Providence, Memphis, Orange County, Boston, and Detroit.

See you next week!