Verdict: A wonderful, small restaurant to hit up if you’re alone, with a large group of friends, or with your family. The waitstaff treats all diners here to a smile.
This restaurant with a green awning is the “last” sit-down restaurant on Capitol Hill’s Barracks Row. If you’re going south on 8th Street, Zest Bistro is past Matchbox, Cava, Molly Mallone’s, and The Ugly Mug — so you definitely have to keep walking to get there, and you should.
There aren’t many places that you can call and almost always have the General Manager pick up the phone. At Zest, co-owner and Capitol Hill resident Amanda Briggs will most likely answer your call with a cheerful “hello.” She and her husband, Stephen (co-owner), have lived on the Hill for eight years, something that might work in their favor a bit when it comes to running a neighborhood eatery.
“We always think of what we would want when we go out, and I think that helps us,” says Briggs. “We have a good grasp of who the population is.”
It seems to be working. When Zest opened last year it was not the place I would have chosen to go to on a regular basis (food wise), but now it is. I think a lot of it has to do with the new executive chef brought in a couple of months after opening. Don’t go here if you’re expecting flourish, fancy, and pomp, but just a delicious meal with wonderful service.
The restaurant is small-ish and has a nice dog-friendly patio as well. I always recommend the Spicy Ahi Tartare (which I would put up to challenge any top-tier restaurant in DC) and the Pork Tenderloin. The pork tenderloin just melts in your mouth, and the asparagus is salted perfectly.
Briggs tells me popular dishes right now include the Pork Belly Lollipops appetizer and the Lamb Sandwich, which she says is “beloved by all.” Chef Dot Steck has been running the kitchen since May 2010 and changes the menu about 3 times per year.
With more and more people checking out the ever-changing 8th Street, the “competition” is something that Briggs welcomes, and she actually doesn’t view the new restaurants as competition at all.
“We welcome them,” Briggs says. “If people don’t see us down here, that’s not good, and we don’t benefit. The more populated [Barrack's Row] is, with more options, the better it can be.”
I’m sure at some point we can start talking about oversaturation, but for now, I agree with Briggs 100 percent.
Make sure to check Zest out during its fantastic Happy Hour as well or on Tuesdays, when all bottles of wine are half price, all night. See you there!
Zest Bistro is located at 735 8th Street SE. The closest metro station is Eastern Market (Blue/Orange Lines). For more information, call 202-544-7171.