When I visited home in Utah for Christmas, I spoke to a family member who was trying to get me to move back.
“You don’t want to live in D.C.,” he said. “It’s all a bunch of men in the same suits.”
I patiently (not patiently) explained to him that D.C. is not just the Capitol and National Mall. I tried to put into words what the rest of the city is like. Neighborhoods built and rebuilt, torn down, rebuilt again; art and go-go music scenes rooted deep in D.C.’s history; blossoms papering the city in the spring; Chocolate City; communities raised and nurtured through trivia nights and group events; mumbo sauce; distinct neighborhoods where when you move from one to the next, you can almost feel yourself crossing an invisible threshold. And the constant we can all count on: D.C.’s restaurant scene.
Kathy Hollinger, RAMW president and CEO, says roughly 92% of restaurants in D.C. are locally owned and operated. Many of these restaurants have been passed from generation to generation, creating and sustaining our community in a way other cities can’t quite rival. While D.C. is a city of transience, the restaurants have offered community to many of us, and created homes for many others. From January 17 to January 23, Restaurant Week is back and local spots are ready to welcome diners for the New Year in whatever way they’re comfortable.
“We want to bring people out, support small businesses but partake in a promotion where it not only meets small businesses where they are, but also diners in terms of their comfort level,” Hollinger says.
Restaurants have faced myriad challenges in the past couple of years, pivoting left and then pivoting right to keep up with Covid protocols, shutdowns and staff shortages. We hoped, as so many of us have lamented, this season wouldn’t be as bad.
“We expected a surge, but not a disruption,” Hollinger says. “People were looking forward, particularly small business restaurants, to bringing people back together again given what was lost last winter holiday.”
We can make sure this winter isn’t lost, too. With options to meet both diners and restaurants where they are, participating restaurants offer to-go dinner meals, winterized patios and curbside pickup.
“People were always wanting to preserve the ability to create really special moments,” Hollinger says. “And probably more than ever now, how they create those experiences can be in their home, can be in their backyard, it can be sending a meal to someone. And that is really the spirit we want to reinforce.”
Hollinger says Restaurant Week can be what you want it to be. A way to gather, a way to support or even simply an addition to your weekly meal plan. She recommends checking out the new restaurants added to the list and trying something new or out of your comfort zone. The way to start building more community is to keep expanding on what you already know.
“What I find incredibly inspiring and very humbling is the spirit I feel during Restaurant Week,” Hollinger says. “There is such a willingness and so much heart to support restaurants in this region. We are really fortunate we have that diner community.”
Hollinger says representatives from other cities around the country will ask her for how to achieve the same camaraderie D.C. has. And while she’s happy to provide advice, some part of it is just inexplicable — a bond created by great thought leaders and restaurant owners. D.C. is unique in that its city blocks are not anchored by chain restaurants — there is something new and surprising at every turn. Residents stepped up to the plate to create the “real D.C.,” all the places that surround the politics which define the city.
Roughly 200 restaurants are participating this year, at a slight price increase — RAMW’s first price increase since 2015. Lunch and brunch are $25 per person and dinners are $40 per person. If it’s a really fancy meal, you can expect $55 per person. Special group rates are also available. The price raise has been a long time coming, and this year called for it even more so due to pandemic-related pressures and losses, supply chain issues and rising food costs. Despite the price change, Hollinger knows diners will rally.
“I’m grateful and proud to be part of such a tight-knit community,” Hollinger says. “The real D.C. The D.C. that doesn’t come and go.”
To both the regulars and the people who haven’t experienced the restaurants of the “real D.C.,” consider this your invitation to Restaurant Week. Let’s make it a great one.