Michelin Stars 2021: Best Restaurants in Washington, D.C.

The pandemic might have shuttered more than 110,000 restaurants across the country, but Michelin is looking on the bright side. 

On April 22, the French-based restaurant rating company announced its star ratings for Washington, D.C.-area dining spots. It’s the first U.S. city to receive them since October 2019.

The top of the list looks similar to years past: The Inn at Little Washington, in Washington, Va., which uses dressed-up mannequins to fill seats with their current dining capacity of 50%, retained its three-star status.

Two two-star places also held their rank: Minibar, the modern counter spot from José Andrés, and Aaron Silverman’s Pineapple and Pearls, a modern American spot. Both are currently closed. “If the restaurant was temporarily closed for the pandemic, we did retain them,” said the chief inspector of Michelin’s North America team, who spoke on condition of anonymity, in a phone interview.

Traditionally the U.S. rankings have come out in the fall. “The entire calendar year of 2020 was devoted to the new selection, while respecting local and state dining guidelines,” said Michelin Guide international director Gwendal Poullennec in an e-mail. He maintains that during the pandemic, inspectors were “sensitive to each market in the U.S. and are in close contact with restaurants to stay informed on openings/closures, new menu changes, etc.” Inspectors began visiting “when it seemed appropriate based on the individual establishment and their circumstances,” added Poullennec.  

relates to Michelin Picks Best Restaurants in Washington Despite Pandemic Closures

Inn at Little Washington chef Patrick O’Connell.

Source: The Inn at Little Washington

“I’ve always trusted Michelin’s process and their support of our industry for almost a century,” said Inn at Little Washington chef-owner Patrick O’Connell, when asked about the viability of evaluating restaurants in the midst of a pandemic.

New to the list is the two-star Jônt, the ambitious tasting menu place from Ryan Ratino, whose menu is dotted with luxury dishes such as caviar with white asparagus and buttermilk, and Dungeness crab with truffle.

Michelin inspectors also added four new one-star restaurants, including Elcielo, which highlights the food of Colombia, and Rooster & Owl, with a globally influenced menu from chef-owner Yuan Tang, a former Uber driver. “New openings were successful and impressive despite the challenges of the past year,” Poullennec said. Among the one-stars that stayed on the list are Sushi Nakazawa in the Trump International Hotel. 

Inspectors did not change their criteria, he added, evaluating quality of products and technique, flavor combinations and consistency. But their dining experiences evolved, according to the chief inspector. “We did take advantage of outdoor dining and we bundled up when it was cold outside,” says the chief inspector.  “We had service with masks, and 90 minute meals.” 

One thing the inspectors are not paying attention to is race and gender.  There are no female chefs or Black chefs running any of the starred restaurant kitchens.

This year’s list has 23 starred spots, up from 18 in the 2020 guide.

relates to Michelin Picks Best Restaurants in Washington Despite Pandemic Closures

Elcielo received its first star for its Colombian cuisine.

Source: Elcielo DC

This increase occurred even though around 124 restaurants had closed in Washington as of March 19, with a loss of 28,900 jobs. The city was affected by the events of 2020 more than most others around the country: In addition to the hit of the pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests shut down large swaths of Washington, as did the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. Indoor dining in the city is currently capped at 25% capacity.

For the first time, the Michelin Guide has dispensed with its signature red volumes and moved to a digital-only app format. It also introduced a new category, a green star for restaurants with sustainable sourcing practices and environmentally-conscious operations. The inaugural one went to the Inn at Little Washington in recognition of its garden and other local produce providers.

On April 20, Michelin announced its value-dining destinations. Bib Gourmands are defined as “quality restaurants that have menu items that offer two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less,” a criterion that most people who eat out will find increasingly hard to meet. There are 40 spots this year, down from 44. 

Here is the full list of Washington’s Michelin-starred restaurants and Bib Gourmands. An asterisk (*) denotes a new entry.

Three Stars

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