Landing a table for four on a Friday night in Penn Quarter is no simple task. When you ask for a table at a celebrity chef’s latest culinary brainchild, whether nuevo Latino, Middle Eastern, or something in between, don’t be surprised by the hour-plus wait. Beyond the hostess stand, the attractive clientele and chic cuisine could easily send a first-timer head-first into a sea of self-doubt — how trendy do you have to be to eat out in this part of town, anyway?

Today, you’d have to be pretty trendy. Yet up until a couple decades ago, the District’s food and entertainment lovers were bringing their business elsewhere. Not because the restaurants or theaters weren’t up to snuff, but because there were barel any — and because there was no Penn Quarter to speak of. At all. Through the early ’90s, the blocks just north of Pennsylvania Avenue became a concrete wasteland after rush hour. But as developers saw growth potential in historic buildings and shuttered department stores, the area underwent an urban renaissance. Penn Quarter, as it is now called, has since become part of the Washington vernacular.

For food, Penn Quarter is the stomping ground of some of D.C.’s most famous chefs, including Spanish import José Andrés, whose six restaurants are all located in the roughly 30-square-block district. Jaleo, a Beltway Spanish tapas chain may be classic Andrés, but Zaytinya, his two-floored, soaring expo of Greek, Turkish and Lebanese small plates wins out. Oyamel, a Mexican equivalent, is also worth trying. And America Eats, a showcase of culinary Americana, opened July 4th to rave reviews. Depending on the occasion, try out the ground-floor tavern or the refined dining rooms upstairs. Even beyond the world of Andrés, the area offers everything from th District’s best Indian (Rasika) to sushi (Sei) to one of the best lobster rolls in town (Luke’s Lobster, recently opened by Luke Holden (MSB ’07)).

While for many, flavor comes first in the Penn Quarter, the area also has some enticing entertainment options. As a Georgetown student, you’re bound to head downtown at least once to Verizon Center for a men’s basketball game or a major concert. The National Portrait Gallery, the Shakespeare Theatre Company, the Crime and Punishment Museum, and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, which boasts edgy productions in its cavernous interior an student-friendly deals, are all cultural draws for Washingtonians.

Whenever you head down to Penn, don’t let the yuppie overload bring you down. Savor it. And maybe dress a little nicer than you would for your 9 a.m. discussion section.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *