It’s been a hot second since I’ve done a DC dinner club post—the last one I posted was published back in March, which was back when things had first shut down and restaurants were just pivoting to a takeout and delivery model. If you follow me over on Instagram, you know that during March, April, and May, takeout from my favorite DC restaurants was a really bright spot in an otherwise dark time. (My “dc takeout” Instagram Stories highlight is a good time capsule of many of the places I ordered from. Spoiler alert: there is a lot of Mexican food from Lauriol Plaza—more on that below!)
DC restaurants were given the green light to open for outdoor dining on May 29—I remember the date because it was such an exciting day, hah!—and since then, they’ve also been permitted to open up for indoor dining at reduced capacity. Given I love dining al fresco and it’s much less risky than dining indoors, I’ve stuck with eating outdoors.
Last summer, I really took going to a restaurant with friends, coworkers, and family for granted—this summer, meeting up with a close friend or two at a restaurant has quickly become the highlight of my entire week. Totally understand if you’re choosing to stick with delivery or takeout for now, but if you’re looking for some restaurant ideas in DC, I’ve got you covered below. I’ve been so impressed with the creativity of restaurants during these difficult times—turning parking lots into beautiful patios and getting tents to set up on the sidewalks to expand front patios. DC is really strict about masks and staying at your table, so I’ve never felt unsafe when dining on a patio here. I’m keeping my fingers crossed they’re all buying space heaters and blankets now so we can keep this good thing going into the fall and winter months!
LAURIOL PLAZA | DUPONT CIRCLE
Lauriol Plaza is one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in DC—and if you need proof of that, just let me remind you I waited two hours, partially in the rain, to get takeout from them on Cinco de Mayo. In addition to their permanent patio out front that’s been there for years, Lauriol Plaza turned their back parking lot into an oasis with a ton of additional outdoor seating. They hung string lights, beautiful flowers, and a lot of it is tented to shield patrons from the sun or rain.
I’ve been four or five times at this point and have so much fun whenever I go. I think they have the best chips and queso in town, and definitely do a pitcher of their margs! Fair warning, they are strong. I usually rotate between ordering a chicken quesadilla or chicken fajitas depending on how hungry I am or how many chips I fill up on ;). I’d definitely recommend a reservation, but they also save quite a few tables for walk-ins, and they make everyone sign in with a phone number upon arrival for contract tracing.
RESIDENTS CAFE | DUPONT CIRCLE
I first went to Residents Cafe back this winter—simpler times, hah!—but really enjoyed it. They have a great patio right on 18th Street that’s expanded because of COVID, and it’s really enjoyable in the evening because it doesn’t get direct sunlight and they have a European-vibes playlist going. While we felt fine when we went as there was no one sitting at the tables on either side of us, I do want to flag they’ve been in the news for not being the best at adhering to social distancing guidelines, so I’m not sure I’d recommend it now. (UGH, come on, we’re all in this together!) That being said, everything I’ve ever had at Residents tastes great—but it should come as no surprise to you the time I went this summer, I ordered the burger.
NINA MAY | LOGAN CIRCLE
Nina May had been on my restaurant “to eat” list for a long time—it’s in the same space where The Bird used to be. I went with my friend Jackie to celebrate her birthday and we sat on their rooftop, which was partially covered, but still open all the sides, so it was perfect for summer with all the passing storms we seem to be having lately. This was a great place to celebrate something as they brought us out complimentary champagne and dessert, which was so, SO nice. (We obviously tipped extra well!)
We split the chips + salsa trio and a summer tomato salad, and then I did the smash burger for my meal. I probably wouldn’t do the later again since Nina May doesn’t offer ketchup, which is kind of a pet peeve of mine; no place is too good for Heinz 57 if you ask me! Other than that, I’d definitely recommend Nina May and would love to go back for brunch.
MILLIE’S | SPRING VALLEY
During quarantine, my dinner club met once virtually, which was SO fun! We all got takeout from Anju and then Facetimed while we ate our meal. It almost felt like we were back in person.
Last month, in July, we felt ready to resume our in-person meetings on a patio and picked one of the best in town—Millie’s! Despite being a DC (and Nantucket!) fan favorite, I had never been before. I loved Millie’s and will definitely be back. They have such a spacious patio that we really weren’t close to any other patrons. We started with the queso, which I’d highly recommend, and then all got quesadillas. You can’t go wrong, though—all of their food looked so good! And, if you’re into ice cream, they have the cutest walk-up window where you can order a cone or a cup. I’d definitely recommend a reservation, especially if you’re aiming to go on a weekend, as this place is really popular.
(And before you go to Millie’s, definitely read this for a laugh!)
LULU’S WINEGARDEN | U STREET
OMG I am obsessed with Lulu’s Winegarden, it might be my new favorite spot in DC! This was our dinner club spot for August, and Julie and Taylor loved it so much, they convinced a friend to go back for brunch the next day.
We sat on their back patio and I truly felt like we had left DC and ended up in some tropical location. Their ordering system is completely contactless—you scan a QR code on your table and then place all your food and drink orders right in the Tab app it opens up. I actually really liked this because it was easy to order another round of drinks or more food without having to track down our server. I would also get a reservation here and seriously would recommend anything on the menu; we ordered half of it, and it was all so delicious.
KITSUEN | H STREET
Kitsuen invited me in for a complimentary brunch experience—but my honest review is that I would totally go back and enjoy it on my own dime. I went with my friend Jackie; they took our temperatures upon entry, and then we were escorted to their amazing back patio. While we were enjoying our bottomless mimosas, they had the best playlist going with a bunch of hip hop and rap favorites from our high school days. We loved the omurice and the fried chicken biscuits—so, so good and very generous portions of both. We were enjoying the atmosphere so much, we ended up staying close to two and a half hours, and probably could have stayed longer!
TTT | CLARENDON
I had been to the ground-level portion of TTT in Clarendon before (it’s where La Tasca used to be, right across from Whitlow’s), but I had never been to the rooftop. For some reason, I kept seeing pictures on Twitter of their beautiful rooftop and just had to go before summer ended. My sister and cousin live in Arlington, and so the three of us went one night. Not going to lie, the service was really slow, but we didn’t complain as we are trying to give lots of grace to restaurants during these difficult times. We did a pitcher of margs, the salsa tasting, guac, and chicken quesadillas. The food was all great, so it was worth the wait! I’d definitely go back—even if it’s just for the gram!
BAR CHARLEY | DUPONT CIRCLE
I went to Bar Charley for the first time years ago, but I actually hadn’t been back since I moved to Dupont Circle two years ago. While Bar Charley is not yet open again for indoor dining, like Lauriol Plaza next door, they’ve reconfigured their back parking lot into an absolutely stunning patio with colorful umbrellas, picnic tables, and string lights. You’re going to laugh, but I also got the burger at Bar Charley—but I swear when I’m not at restaurants, I eat other things ;). And, in my defense, Bar Charley is known for their burger.
I’ll definitely keep sharing where I’m eating out in DC (+ Arlington!) during these ~unprecedented times~. I will say, eating out at restaurants was one of the things I missed most during DC’s shelter-in-place and I am so glad restrictions now allow us to dine out. If there’s any place you’ve eaten lately and loved, let me know—I am always looking for good patios these days!