Kitchen confidential

Bonji Beard, a host at Cafe Atlantico and Minibar in Northwest Washington takes reservations for Minibar's highly coveted six seats. Minibar offers guests a creative 25-30 dish tasting menu.
Tom Sietsema
Thursday, October 14, 2010; 2:00 PM

To be considered an insider in a city that values power and access above all, the truly plugged-in Washingtonian should have President Obama's personal e-mail address, seats at the 50-yard line at FedEx Field and a spot for Junior at Sidwell Friends. (Bonus points if you've been to Camp David, huddled with Dan Snyder in his box or secured a space for Junior's sibling, too.)

Not so long ago, being savvy about food and restaurants didn't require much beyond knowing a couple of maitre d's and how to approve a bottle of wine. But that was before Tony Bourdain, "Top Chef" and legions of gourmet-food-truck entrepreneurs whetted the appetites of the masses. To be a well-rounded Washington insider now, you should have your GPS set for the best pizza (it's no longer 2 Amys), be able to tick off the area's half-price-wine nights and know where to get Korean barbecue at 3 a.m. Bonus points if you can identify Bonji Beard without the help of Google. (Spoiler alert on Page 33.)

Enter my 11th Annual Fall Dining Guide. This one isn't focused on best bets in tough times, which restaurant suits which mood, or my answers to readers' questions. Been there, done that. This time around, I'm spilling secrets and sharing inside tips on dozens of places you need to know about. And those tips are flagged by another sought-after Washington accessory: boldface type.

To make the cut this year, a restaurant didn't just have to be performing well; it had to be a place folks are talking about. That means you won't be reading about all of the area's better-known addresses or popular standbys for sushi, steak or pizza. Chances are, you already know about them. Chef changes excluded a handful of contenders from consideration, as did a noticeable dip in quality at some of the region's most popular (but no longer most praiseworthy) restaurants.

There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all dining guide, but I hope this cache of reviews helps you feel more in the know about the restaurant scene. And more tips are coming: Between you and me, there's a Spring Dining Guide rolling out May 15.

Browse the reviews that make up Tom Sietsema's Fall Dining Guide.

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