Secret Service agents, tourists, business types -- they all seem to find their way to downtown Washington’s grand Victorian-style saloon, conveniently located near the White House and dressed in dark wood, gleaming brass, antique gas chandeliers and enough green velvet to suggest a forest. A member of the Clyde’s restaurant empire, the Old Ebbitt Grill is a great convenience: open for at least two meals a day, big enough to accommodate any size group and offering an American menu that takes into account plain and fancy tastes. And the service is as friendly as it gets. But I’d be willing to sacrifice some of the variety and smiles for food that had more charm. The once-great hamburgers aren’t so great anymore, and they come with fries that smack of a factory. At the height of summer, crumbled feta and fresh basil do their best to revive a salad dominated by large, pink, cottony slices of tomato. Breakfast offers decent beef hash and stiff pancakes; lunch yields good fish and chips with creamy coleslaw, but also thin, overcooked liver with onions. So why bother? Because no restaurant in the city has a better raw bar than this one. Oyster lovers can always count on pristine bivalves in lots of varieties, plus something crisp and refreshing to knock them back with.
675 15th St. NW (near F Street). 202-347-4801. Open: for breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday; for dinner daily; for brunch Saturday and Sunday. All major credit cards. Entree prices: $6.95 to $20.95.