When it came to top culinary talent, Washington, DC lagged behind dining meccas like New York, San Francisco, LA and Chicago. My how things have changed. No longer second-class, today this political power center is a culinary powerhouse too, boasting an enviable lineup of superstar chefs and rising young talent.

Photo by Jing via Flickr Creative Commons

French Connection

Lauded French chef Michel Richard was one of DC’s first big name chefs. Just down the street from the Capitol, his sleek but welcoming bistro Central (1001 Pennsylvania Ave NW) turns out both refined plates and elevated comfort foods, like fried chicken with foie gras batter.

"Gambas al Ajillo at Jaleo" by MrTinDC via Flickr Creative Commons

International Acclaim

Another world-renowned James Beard Award winner, Spanish chef José Andrés has called DC home for two decades since training at El Bulli under the legendary Ferran Adrià. His Penn Quarter mini empire began with tapas pioneer Jaleo (480 7th St NW) and now includes 12-seat molecular gastronomy specialist minibar (855 E St NW); the spacious, see and be seen Mediterranean mezze spot Zaytinya (701 9th St NW); and Oyamel (401 7th St NW), a colorful contemporary Mexican restaurant.

"Cashion's Eat Place" by Alicia Griffin via Flickr Creative Commons

Farm to Table

Less of a media presence but no less accomplished is chef Ann Cashion. Her cool, casual Adams Morgan bistro, Cashion’s Eat Place (1819 Columbia Rd NW), helped introduce farm-to-table cooking to DC via inventive New American dishes and has been a fixture on local best-of lists since inception in 1995.

"26a Seventeenth Street NW WDC" by Elvert Barnes via Flickr Creative Commons

Local Stars

Lately it seems the city’s best restaurants have grown out of local products. Flooring critics with a sumptuous Mediterranean tasting menu served in cozy Dupont Circle digs, is Arlington, Virginia native Johnny Monis’s Komi (1509 17th St NW). His second haunt, Little Serow (1511 17th St NW), resides right next door delivering vastly different offerings—the incendiary, bursting-with-flavor cuisine of northern Thailand—with no less success.

Another homegrown talent is Maryland native Aaron Silverman. Known for hearty, high-concept fare (boneless, pickle-brined fried chicken thighs, for example) Rose’s Luxury (717 8th St SE) opened to rave reviews and was promptly named Best New Restaurant in America by Bon Appétit.

"Tuna Tartare" by Mandy Jansen via Flickr Creative Commons

Top Chef Worthy

Further afield, in Frederick, Maryland, you’ll find Top Chef finalist and native Bryan Voltaggio’s Volt (228 North Market St. Frederick, MD 21701), a comfy-but-elegant tribute to all things local and seasonal set in a historic 19th-century mansion.

"Menu" by Yosoynuts via Flickr Creative Commons

Casual Gourmet

Another Top Chef alum, the ever-controversial Spike Mendelsohn’s Good Stuff Eatery (303 Pennsylvania Ave. SE) serves up burgers and handspun shakes on Capitol Hill. A full family operation, they have recently opened outposts in Chicago and Philadelphia, but were born in DC.