Where To Get Dinner On A Weeknight When You Actually Want To Be Around PeopleBecause sometimes humans don't suck.
You’ve been working from home, alone in your apartment for the last five days. There’s been no human contact except for that one time your fingers grazed the Uber Eats delivery guy during hand off. It’s time for you to step outside. Fortunately, we know a few spots.
At Thip Khao, not only will you see other people, you'll practically be sharing your meal with them. The cozy wooden tables at this lively Lao restaurant in Columbia Heights are packed close together—which works well if the only person you've eaten with this week is your boss over the last-minute Zoom that should've been an email. The restaurant is something of a cult classic, a haunt for just about any occasions and that's because the food here is obsessively good, like the mee kathi, a noodle soup we can’t stop dreaming about made with a rich red coconut curry, peanuts, cabbage, bean sprout, mint and cilantro.
When you show up at Chercher on Monday night, you’ll join the crowd awkwardly standing around the door waiting 20 minutes for a table. This Ethiopian spot in Shaw doesn’t take reservations, though it gets really busy here on weeknights, but they have service down to a science. Chercher sits on the second floor of a rowhouse with tattered tables haphazardly crammed together to accommodate as many people as possible. Get the $20 vegan deluxe special, served with lentils, chickpeas, and collards, that comes with enough food to be shared with three people.
There are at least 20 places to eat in Union Market, so it makes sense why there are always people around. But the wooden bar at Yasmine's, a fast-casual Lebanese restaurant, will give you the best balance of seeing the masses and eating good food. Their shish taouk, a simple, but classic wrap is made with charred chicken, french fries, pickles, and garlic. It's superb and it travels well if you decide mid-meal that you miss your solitude.
Anju is always booked and busy, which means you’ll always be surrounded by people at this contemporary Korean restaurant in Dupont Circle. Snagging a reservation can be hard, but they take walk-ins if you’re open to eating at the bar, which you should consider since this is the first time you've put on pants all week. The rustic space is surrounded by wooden beams, and garden-inspired wallpaper. Their Korean fried chicken, glazed in a spicy gochujang and barbeque sauce, is the most popular dish on the menu—but it's not our favorite. And that’s because the jjamppong, a thick noodle soup made with a rich, spicy seafood broth and roasted clams, will have you slurping at the table without shame.
Regardless of the night, Jaleo is packed. It's a fact that José Andrés always draws a crowd (seriously, we could replace this with any of his restaurants) but at Jaleo, more so than the others, you'll find people who have been visiting the restaurant since it opened in the 90s. Like many transplants, Andrés has adopted DC as a second home, and you'll find a lot of them leaning against the yellow, orange, and red wall art. The Spanish food at the Penn Quarter restaurant isn't very good, but if you're there, get the coliflor salteada, sauteed cauliflowers with dates and olives, and the croquetas de pollo.
The chicken wings are in contention for the best in the city and the drinks are some of the strongest, so Stan’s is popping every night, well into the evening hours (it closes at 10:30 pm Monday-Tuesday and 1:30am Wednesday-Saturday). The downtown American spot is so crowded that most days after 5pm, you can’t buy a seat at the small bar, which is the best place to be if you’re looking for a little human interaction. If you just want to look at other people, though, without engaging too much, grab one of the half-leather booth tables, preferably tucked in the back of the basement restaurant. The afterwork crowd is heavy here, and the later into the night you get, the more “rowdy” the crowd becomes, so go early if you want a more laid back dinner.
This isn’t a roll-out-of-bed-and-into-the-restaurant kind of spot (a.k.a please change out of your pajamas). Rasika’s got fine dining down pat, with the dimmed lights, flickering candles, and hushed chatter. But the Indian place in Penn Quarter is as popular with the business crowd as it is with the date folks, so it’s constantly full. Which makes sense because the food here smells delicious and it tastes just as good. If you’re hungry and indecisive, the chef’s six-course tasting menu is the way to go. It’ll run you $88 with meat and $72 without, but comes with a lot of food, including four main dishes and desserts. Otherwise, pair the palak chaat, a crispy spinach dish topped with a sweet date chutney, with your favorite entree.
Ambar is just the right amount of busy—you know there will be people, but if you time it right, you’ll be sitting on opposite sides of the restaurant. And it is the least annoying small plates meal you’ll have since the Capitol Hill spot serves up bottomless bites for every meal. That means your $49.99 Balkan dinner can just be twenty plates of cheese pie (flaky and loaded with melty cheese) while your friend samples the whole menu (also very good), and everyone leaves with a smile. No sharing. No narrowing down menu options. Just bliss. The restaurant has a bunch of seating options, from the patio to the rooftop and two floors (and bars) in between, but we’re partial to the second-floor tables that jut out over the host stand below.