Ashok Bajaj: Quick, name another owner who visits every establishment in his collection (soon to be 10), every day. With Rasika, the city’s chief of diplomats sets the gold standard for Indian restaurants not just in Washington, but for the country.
Amy Brandwein: For years, she cooked in the shadow of her mentor, the troubled but talented Roberto Donna of Galileo acclaim. Now, at the neighboring Centrolina and Piccolina in CityCenterDC, she has emerged as one of the Mid-Atlantic’s most visible chefs, and a community-minded entrepreneur whose pantry includes DC Urban Greens, a farm in Washington’s Wards 7 and 8.
Derek Brown: The president of Drink Company, he raised the bar for watering holes everywhere, foremost with the Columbia Room and his rotating pop-up bar, PUB. The author of the recent “Spirits, Sugar, Water, Bitters: How the Cocktail Conquered the World” knows his history, too.
Jeff Buben: His late Vidalia was the best Southern restaurant this market had ever seen. The long list of chefs who trained under him — Cathal Armstrong, Tom Cunanan, Naomi Gallego, Eric Ziebold — went on to helm some of the area’s most impressive dining destinations.
Erik Bruner-Yang: He got the city lining up for ramen outside tiny Toki Underground and went on to open such clever ideas as Maketto, Brothers and Sisters, and Spoken English — the District’s sole stand-up dining draw — in the Line hotel.
Lisa and Peter Chang: After ditching the Chinese Embassy, they struck out on their own with a string of restaurants in Peter’s name that spoiled us for dry-fried eggplant, scallion pancakes and homestyle Chinese cooking anywhere else. Their latest achievement, Mama Chang in Fairfax, showcases Lisa’s cooking and dishes from the family’s home province of Hubei.
Jackie Greenbaum: The former punk rocker’s Day-Glo personality is behind every affordable, off-the-beaten-path restaurant she has brought to life (the much-missed Jackie’s, El Chucho, Bar Charley, Little Coco’s) or resurrected (Quarry House Tavern). Most important to her is that they “ring true.” That they do.
Mark Furstenberg:He has had several lives in his 81 years — White House staffer and criminal justice consultant included — but for those of us who love the staff of life, the creator of Marvelous Market, Breadline and now Bread Furst is destined to be remembered for his baking.
The Nortons: Launched by Randy Norton more than three decades ago, the family-run Great American Restaurants excels at cooking American food and serving it with a generous side of cheer at 16 restaurants throughout (lucky) Northern Virginia.
The Obamas: No first couple ate out more, or explored the dining scene in greater depth, than Barack and Michelle. Frequent date nights at trendsetting restaurants might be followed by burgers with the veep or a head of state. And the first lady’s garden and exercise programs kept the citizenry thinking fresh and fit.
Patrick O’Connell: Thanks to the chef who has won just about every major restaurant award out there, notably a rare three stars from the Michelin Guide last year, there’s no more plush or entertaining place to eat in America’s countryside than the Inn at Little Washington. And to think the dream started in a garage.
Michel Richard: Gone but not forgotten, the outsize French talent overcame a childhood that Dickens could have penned to dazzle diners from coast to coast with food as whimsical as it was luscious. Even now, few American chefs’ ideas are more copied than his.
Andy Shallal: The artist-activist’s progressive chainlette of cafes will probably never be awarded a Bib Gourmand from Michelin. But the visionary behind Busboys and Poets knows how to create communities around tables better than most.
Fabio and Maria Trabocchi: First with Maestro in Tysons, then with Fiola, Fiola Mare and Sfoglina in Washington, the chef and host with the Midas touch set the standard for Italian cooking, haute and not. Del Mar at the Wharf revealed a chef equally at home with Spanish. As for service, no restaurateurs offer finer.
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