I lived in Washington, D.C. for three years in law school and naturally, I sought out the best, most authentic French dining I could find during my time residing there. A fascinating city for many reasons, I have been enamored with the row house charm of its wander-worthy neighborhoods from my first visits as a child. Georgetown is a veritable wonderland for exploring charming streets full of stunning, old homes that beckon you inside with their welcoming entryways that directly abut the sidewalk. Brick streets give way to secret gardens, geometric eaves, and shutters with the perfect patina.
Eastern Market is another neighborhood ripe for the wanderer where brick sidewalks and stunning displays of fauna spill out onto the sidewalk. Wild rosemary blooms along the side streets and colorfully painted brick homes stand all in a row.
There is a je ne sais quois about this city that blends the colonial with the European in a delicious mélange. I wasn’t surprised to find that a Parisian, Pierre Charles L’Enfant, designed the District’s layout. Similar to Baron Hausmann’s restructuring of the City of Lights, D.C.’s wide boulevards are reminiscent of the thinking behind the Boulevard Saint Germaine. Likewise, the city’s canals that empty into the Potomac and the bridges crossing the river evoke feelings of the Seine.
Not only does the city’s design conjure Parisian daydreams, there is a bounty of French cuisine to be enjoyed across its multiple neighborhoods that could just as easily be considered arrondisements. For the ultimate French dining in the District, I recommend the following eateries.
By far the most scene-worthy of the bunch, Stephen Starr’s Le Diplomate is a bustling, authentic brasserie serving up classic French fare in a lively setting. Located in charming Logan Circle, one of my favorite D.C. hoods, it’s the perfect place to grab a kir at the zinc bar or brunch while nibbling on a house-made baguette.
For steak frite there is simply no better destination than Bistro du Coin. Located in Dupont Circle, this bustling bistro is my go-to destination for simple French and Belgian fare. Vintage French posters line the walls and the moule frite is the perfectly decadent start to a red wine soaked evening with a group of friends.
For all its shopping options, Georgetown has a disproportionately small number of non-chain restaurants, although this is changing rapidly. Enter Bistro Francaise, the perfect place to pop in after a day of shopping for a mimosa and eggs benedict. This no-frills bistro has been around forever and is also an excellent late night stop.
Bistro Lepic is a total hidden gem located further toward Glover Park. By far the most authentically French dining experience I had in D.C. I was able to converse with the sommelier in French about the excellent wine menu. The French country inspired menu is inventive, modern, and classic all at once and the presentation is impeccable. Mixing seasonal and classic ingredients, it’s a must on my list.
Poste Brasserie is a lovely outdoor option for upscale French dining in a relaxed, yet elegant setting. Working from an open kitchen inside a former 19th-century post office, the brasserie menu is always evolving with a contemporary twist. The inner courtyard is home to a vegetable garden. Go for the fresh fare and stay for Penn Quarter’s best alfresco happy hour.