The latest batch of restaurants from Washington, D.C.’s top chefs prove that bigger isn’t always better.
Credit: Scott Suchman Courtesy of Burger, Tap & Shake

Burger, Tap & Shake: It may be the laid-back kid sister to District Commons, but Jeff Tunks’s second Washington Circle restaurant is no slouch. The industrial-chic burger joint offers eight varieties—including a chin-drippingly juicy patty crafted from natural aged chuck and brisket—plus a house-made ice cream milk shake with a healthy dose of bourbon. 2200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202/587-6258; dinner for two $25.

Little Serow: If you can find this turquoise-hued spot (hidden in an unmarked basement in Dupont Circle), the reward is a family-style meal of Isaan dishes from Thailand’s north-eastern border with Laos, served with a communal basket of herbs and raw veggies. Chef Johnny Monis draws raves for his hand-minced catfish with sawtooth coriander and crispy shallots. 1511 17th St. NW; no phone; dinner for two $90.

Meatballs: James Beard Award–winning chef Michel Richard makes his first, much-anticipated foray into casual dining at this 40-seat spot in the Penn Quarter. Meatballs are served atop polenta, pasta, or salad, or in a hoagie roll. The beef grinder, in a garlicky baguette with marinara and mozzarella, is a standout. 624 E St. NW; 202/393-1083; dinner for two $22.

Seasonal Pantry: It’s hard to believe that a 240-square-foot restaurant can turn out such an accomplished four-course tasting menu. Three nights a week, Daniel O’Brien—a culinary MacGyver of sorts—pushes together two wooden tables for a 10-seat supper club, showcasing dishes such as celery custard with sea urchin, oyster, and lemon jelly. 13141/2 Ninth St. NW; 202/713-9866; dinner for two $146.

Toki Underground: Blink and you might miss this top-floor ramen house overlooking the H Street corridor. Inside you’ll find 25 snug bar seats and funky design touches (graffiti-covered walls; colorful plastic dolls in shadow boxes), but 27-year-old Taipei-trained chef Erik Yang is dead serious about his ramen. Our favorite is the classic bowl, with tonkotsu (pork-bone) broth, barbecued pork loin, pickled ginger, and a silky slow-poached egg. 1234 H St. NE; 202/388-3086; dinner for two $30.