Lia Cafe, 3103 Mount Pleasant St. NW; 202-328-0052, liacafebrazil.com. (Columbia Heights)
Belgium: Et Voila!
Part French, part Belgian, mostly butter, Et Voila’s menu is steered by Claudio Pirollo, the former personal chef to the Irish Ambassador. Golden French fries and well-seasoned mussels lure people to the Siberia of D.C. (the Palisades), while savory crepes and baked snails keep them coming back. Though it’s always packed, the 48-seat dining room is filled with the hum of pleasant conversation rather than sports chants.
Et Voila!, 5120 MacArthur Blvd. NW; 202-237- 2300, etvoiladc.com.
As chef Jose Andres’ love letter to Mediterranean mezze, Zaytinya features a selection of traditional Turkish, Lebanese and mostly Greek small plates. Dishes range from simple hommus to spiced veal sweetbreads flavored with cumin and sumac. The restaurant is spacious, well-lit and designed with soothing colors like Santorini-inspired blue.
Zaytinya, 701 Ninth St. NW; 202-638-0800, zaytinya.com. (Gallery Place)
Mexican: Tacos El Chilango
Juan Antonio, the owner of Tacos el Chilango, dips into the family recipe book for dishes like his al pastor taco: pork shoulder marinated in a homemade adobo sauce, onions and pineapple juice and then cooked over a low heat to re-create the rotating trompo grills popular throughout Mexico. The 15-seat restaurant is a tight squeeze, but it beats trying to cram into a food truck, which is where Antonio got his start.
Tacos El Chilango, 1119 V St. NW; 202-986-3030, tacoselchilango.com. (U Street)
This 24/7 Korean BBQ joint hits high notes with galbijim (beef short ribs) and bibimbap (of which it offers six varieties). Lines are usually out the door, so bring some reading material. We suggest anything but Sports Illustrated.
Yechon, 4121 Hummer Road, Annondale; 703-914-4646.