Feeding egos often takes priority over appetites in the nation’s capital. If there isn’t an expense-account steak lunch to look forward to, chances are Capitol Hill politicos are chowing down on convenient deli grub. Yet in recent years, an impressive restaurant scene has also sprouted up in D.C. We asked 16 chefs leading the charge of these modern, inventive kitchens where they like to sate hunger cravings when they’re off the clock—and it’s far from the Mall-strolling tourists. Whether it’s a forgotten French stalwart, an unexpected hot pot in the leafy suburbs, or hole-in-the-wall kebabs, here is where they go to get the city’s best affordable grub.

Mike Friedman

Chef/owner at The Red Hen


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Mykonos Grill (121 Congressional Ln, Rockville, MD; 301-770-5999, mykonosgrill.com)

Friedman says: “This no-frills Greek spot has been here as long as I can remember. Everyone who works there is Greek, and most people sitting down to eat are Greek, too. I could hang out all afternoon drinking Assyrtiko and sifting through their menu of mezze, devouring tzatziki, imam bayildi, and biftekakia. If I’m in the mood, I’ll finish with a beautifully fresh whole-grilled branzino. Flaky and steaming, it just needs a  squeeze of lemon to make me feel like I’m back in Santorini.” (Photo: Mykonos Grill)

David Guas

Chef/owner at Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery, and Arlington


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Pupatella (5104 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA; 571-312-7230, pupatella.com)

Guas says: “I generally do not finish pizza, but this is prepared in the most authentic Neapolitan manner; it is good to the very last crumb with its crusty, smoky flavor. Chef Enzo Algarme is a native of Italy and he is a master at his craft. The restaurant’s old-school approach is so charming—Enzo even rings a bell when each pizza is done. In addition to the pizza, there’s also great arancini, filled with eggplant and mozzarella that oozes out with the first bite.” (Photo: Scott Suchman, Yelp)

Haidar Karoum

Executive chef/partner at Proof, Estadio, and doi moi


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Hot N Juicy Crawfish (2651 Connecticut Ave NW; 202-299-9448, hotnjuicycrawfish.com)

Karoum says: “This place is very unassuming, tucked away by the zoo and bare bones on the inside. They serve crawfish and shrimp, steamed in bags with different herbs and spices. I always get the shrimp—fresh, head-on Gulf shrimp—and I like mine pretty spicy. You order them by the half-pound and they just split the bags open for you at your table and you peel and eat. I’ve learned you can’t go past medium spice because it’s just too hot; it’ll affect the rest of your day.” (Photo: Yelp)

Marjorie Meek-Bradley

Executive chef at Ripple and Roofers Union


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Donburi (2438 18th St NW, 202-629-1047)

Meek-Bradley says: “Donburi is my go-to in Adams Morgan. I love the salmon sashimi donburi with an add-on of the fried prawns. It really hits the spot after a long night of service at Roofers Union.” (Photo: Zagat)

Jeff Black

Partner at Black Restaurant Group (BlackSalt Fish Market & Restaurant, Pearl Dive Oyster Palace)


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Max’s Kosher Café (2319 University Blvd W, Wheaton, MD; 301-949-6297, theshalomgroup.com)

Black says: “I’m a fan of the shawarma, which was recommended to me by a Palestinian friend. It’s the best in the city.” (Photo: Scott Suchman, Urbanspoon)

Fabio Trabocchi

Chef/owner at Fiola, Casa Luca, and Fiola Mare


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Ristorante Posto (1515 14th St NW; 202-332-8613, postodc.com)

Trabocchi says: “Sundays are for the family, and this is my go-to spot for Sunday Supper with my wife, Maria, and my two kids, Aliche and Luca. Posto is a hidden gem along the uber-trendy 14th Street dining corridor. They have great Neapolitan-style pizza, and we usually order the Margherita as a starter to share. Pasta offerings change all the time, but you can never go wrong with whatever ragu is available. I order the fish of the day.” (Photo: Trip Advisor)

Kyle Bailey

Executive chef at Birch & Barley and the Arsenal at Bluejacket


Favorite under-the-radar spot: El Pollo Sabrosa (33153 Mt Pleasant St NW, 202-299-0374)

Bailey says: “It’s a great hole in the wall with amazing Latin food. You want to get the pupusas revueltas, with cheese and pork.(Photo: Foodspotting)

Rose Previte

Chef/owner at Compass Rose


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Fast Gourmet (1400 W St; 202-448-9217, fast-gourmet.com)

Previte says: “Fast Gourmet is an awesome sandwich place situated in a Valero gas station. Looking at it from the outside you would never expect to get amazing food inside. But Fast Gourmet’s Cuban sandwich is one of my favorite things to kill my daily calorie count with. The pork is juicy, the pickles crisp, the cheese flavorful.” (Photo: This Is Gonna Be Good)

Scott Drewno

Executive chef at The Source by Wolfgang Puck


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Uncle Liu’s Hot Pot (2974 Gallows Road, Falls Church, VA; 703-560-6868)

Drewno says: “I visit this place pretty often, due to its proximity to the Great Wall market, where I pick up Asian ingredients. I happen to like the lunch buffet; can’t be beat at $9. The chive dumplings are fantastic, as is the Kung Pao chicken. The specialty, quite obviously, is the hot pot. I love the spicy pig broth variety. It’s amazing.” (Photo: Pinterest)

Mike Isabella

Chef/owner at G, Graffiato, and Kapnos


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Mandu (453 K Street NW; 202-289-6899, mandudc.com)

Isabella says: “Danny Lee and his mom, Yesoon, make authentic, flavorful Korean food with fun textures and bold flavors. My two favorite dishes are dwejee bulgogi (spice marinated pork) and dduk bok gi (thick rice cakes simmered in gochujang with beef, mushrooms, onions, and scallions). I also frequent the bar late night, and the K Street location will have a monthly late-night pop-up called Anju, featuring guest chefs making Korean snacks meant to be enjoyed while drinking. I can’t wait.” (Photo: Greg Powers, Yelp)

Frederik de Pue

Executive chef/owner at Table and Menu MBK


Favorite under-the-radar spot: La Limena (765 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD; 301-424-8066)

de Pue says: “It has great, honest Peruvian food. I love their anticucho and roasted chicken. It’s just a basic-to-the-bone restaurant with simple service and great food.” (Photo: Juan Carlos Briceno, Foodspotting)

Doron Petersan

Owner of Sticky Fingers Sweets & Eats


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Thai Tanic (1326-A 14th Street, NW; 202-588-1795, thaitanic.us)

Petersan says: “Most anything on their menu can be made vegetarian or vegan, and they don’t ever skimp on flavor or heat. The tom kha gai is loaded with fresh vegetables and it’s a coconut-milk lover’s dream. But if it’s heat you want, try the Panang Tofu.” (Photo: Thai Tanic)

Nathan Anda

Chef/founder at Red Apron Butchery


Favorite under-the-radar spot: MGM Roast Beef (1905 Brentwood Road NE; 202-248-0389, mgmroastbeef.com)

Anda says: “I get the top round sandwich with fries. They roast everything in house. If they’re out of the roast beef, I get the brisket. If they’re out of the brisket, I get the ham. They have great roasted proteins.” (Photo: Foodspotting)

Cedric Maupillier

Executive chef at Mintwood Place


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Et Voila! (5120 Macarthur Blvd NW; 202-237-2300, etvoiladc.com)

Maupillier says: “It has the best, authentic café flavor in D.C. I like the Chicon au Gratin, beef tartare, rabbit braised in beer sauce, and, for dessert, always an Ile Flottante.” (Photo: Et Voila!)

Victor Albisu

Chef/owner at Del Campo and Taco Bamba


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Bistro Francais (3124 M Street; 202-338-3830, bistrofrancaisdc.com)

Albisu says: “It’s a D.C. institution, and I’ve been going there since I was a teenager. They have the best eggs Benedict in the city, and it is available at all hours of the day and night. The food tastes just as good at three in the afternoon as it does at three in the morning.” (Photo: Greg Powers, Foodspotting)

Robert Wiedmaier

Chef/owner at RW Restaurant Group (Marcel’s, Wildwood Kitchen)


Favorite-under-the-radar spot: Moby Dick House of Kabob (7027 Wisconsin Ave, Bethesda, MD; 301-654-1838, mobysonline.com)

Wiedmaier says: “Moby Dick’s, as many call it, flies way under the radar, but to those who aren’t deterred by the exterior, this is a hidden gem. I love their simply grilled chicken that they marinate in their house sauce. The chicken is so tender and always done just right with authentic Middle Eastern flavors. They have some of the best pitas in town, which they serve fresh out of the oven. My staple is the chicken wrapped in pita bread with all the toppings: lettuce, feta cheese, and creamy yogurt-cucumber sauce. It’s simple, but it always hits the spot. The best part is that you can grab it to go, and they’re open late.” (Photo: Scott Suchman, Yelp)