Blue Duck Tavern
1201 24th Street, NW (www.blueducktavern.com)
Washington is an upmarket meat and potatoes town. Steakhouses in which to make deals and smoke cigars abound, but there's a growing number of more ethnic and challenging cuisines out there, as well as new spins on traditional American cuisine. Traditional cooking methods, seasonal produce from nearby Amish farms and a slow roasting wood-burning oven are attracting DC politicians and patricians in droves for the roasted venison, galantine of quail and sage-scented rabbit. Spiced pumpkin comes from New York's Hudson Valley, the sweet potato corn grits are from a mill in South Carolina and the Toigo Farm in Pennsylvania is responsible for roasted sunchokes, a smoky flavoured root vegetable once a staple of Native Americans. Mains cost US$20 to US$80.
678 Indiana Avenue, NW (www.leparadou.net)
This elegant French restaurant is the real deal. It's stylish, minimalist and romantic, with a ceiling of fibre-optic starry lights. Chef Yannick Cam's amuse bouche, such as the delicate ceviche of sea scallop with grapefruit segments, or the lobster purse with carrot and ginger sauce, are tiny works of art. The vast cellar has an extensive wine selection. The prix fixe dinner menu, with a choice of six or nine courses, costs from US$115 to US$150.
480 7th Street NW (www.jaleo.com)
Jaleo, with its wrap-around windows and colourful interior, is a bit of sunny Spain in the middle of Washington. It has an extensive tapas menu and is reputedly the only place in the US to sample dry-cured cuts from the rare Iberico blackfooted pig - the last of Europe's free-range pigs. These descendants of wild boars forage for acorns in the forests of western Spain. The meat has a rich, nutty flavour and soft texture and costs from US$7 to US$12 per plate. Jaleo's Sopa de Pescado, a traditional fisherman's seafood soup, is a favourite. Most dishes cost less than US$30.
1001 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW (www.tenpenh.com)
Philippines-born chef Cliff Wharton artfully prepares pan-Asian food among brightly coloured silks, teak chairs and a curved chestnut wine wall (below). The inventive menu visits several Asian cuisines, adapted for American tastes. For the best Asian-inspired food with a southern American flourish, try Chinese five-spice powder and pecan-encrusted halibut (US$18) or the American chocolate cake seasoned with Sichuan peppercorn. For the meat and potatoes brigade there's a grilled rib-eye steak with a side helping of kimchee. Mains cost from US$14 to US$28.
901 New York Avenue, NW (www.acadianarestaurant.com)
Acadiana (above) specialises in homey dishes from the swampy heart of Cajun country in Louisiana. Aunt Boo's fishcamp crawfish etouffee, a rich seafood stew in a tangy tomato puree, is a recipe from a relative of the Acadiana pastry chef. Also from the bayou come steamy turtle soup and buttermilk mashed potatoes. There's no Spanish moss in sight, but on a humid day dine on the terrace and cool down with a mint julep made with one of Acadiana's selection of aged rare bourbons. Main courses run from U$S20 to US$26.