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In the two years since launching this column, we have consumed an extraordinary amount of food and wine, all in the name of journalism. We don’t necesarily think that makes us experts, but for whatever it’s worth, we do have a fairly good handle on the District’s dining scene. In actuality, the reviews that run on these pages reflect only a fraction of our dining exploits. Each month we write up a new restaurant, but our list of personal favorites � the places we recommend to friends and go to celebrate our own special occasions � remains more or less constant. After more than 10 years of collective dining in the nation’s capital, that list goes something like this: 1. Best for a special occasion: Laboritorio del Galileo, Foggy Bottom/West End. The main dining room can be hit or miss, but a meal at the Laboritorio, chef Roberto Donna’s restaurant within a restaurant, is always extraordinary. The multicourse tasting menu changes nightly and starts at $110. Second place: Obelisk, Dupont Circle. 2. Best expense-account lunch: Vidalia, Dupont Circle. Fifteen dollars may seem like a lot to pay for fried chicken or shrimp and grits, but who cares when someone else is footing the bill? And it’s so much more fun than another dreary bowl of pasta. Vidalia’s decibal level is moderate even at peak hours, and the restaurant’s recently refurbished dining room is formal enough for a business lunch without being stuffy. Second place: Gerard’s Place, Downtown. 3. Best cheap lunch: Julia’s Empanadas, several locations. Man cannot live on fois gras and crabcakes alone. When the craving strikes for something quick and savory and insanely cheap, there’s no place like Julia’s. At $3.18 each, the empanadas are as good as we’ve tasted, even in South America. For a grand total of $6, add a cup of soup and a side salad. Second place: Breadline, Foggy Bottom/West End. 4. Most overrated: Lauriol Plaza, Adams Morgan. We won’t pretend that we’ve never bellied up to the bar at Lauriol Plaza for a frothy margarita or consumed our weight in tortilla chips during the restaurant’s off-hours. But come on, Washington, what does Lauriol offer that makes it worth the inevitable two-hour wait? We’d much rather take our business across the street to Regents Thai or Straits of Malay. Second place: Hotel Washington, Downtown. 5. Best spot for a first date: Pizzeria Paradiso, Dupont Circle and Georgetown. We prefer the Dupont Circle location, and we’re not just saying that because it’s where we went on our first date back in 1998. Well, not entirely. Pizzeria Paradiso is unpretentious but not lowbrow, and intimate but not too romantic. There’s always a wait, so get to know each other over drinks at 21P or Johnny’s Half Shell. Second place: Etrusco, Dupont Circle. 6. Best of the off-beat: “Aphrodisiac Bacon Dinners” at David Greggory, West End/Foggy Bottom. On the third Monday of every month, David Greggory hosts a dinner showcasing the artisan bacon of online retailer the Grateful Palate. For $75, the dinner includes five courses, each prepared with a different variety of bacon and paired with Australian wine. And, yes, that includes dessert. Just in case you haven’t gotten your fill of glorious cured pork product, every diner goes home with a pound of bacon. Second place: Cafe Atlantico Minibar, Chinatown. 7. Best off the beaten path: Mar de Plata, Logan Circle. Everyone needs a dinner spot to roll in and grab a table without a reservation � a place where you can hear your own conversation and feel confident you won’t run into a boss or an old boyfriend. If the food is reliable, even good, all the better. For us, that place is often Mar de Plata on 14th Street. The kitchen turns out solid Spanish tapas and there is never a crowd. Second place: Bacchus, Dupont Circle. 8. Best when the parents come to town: 15 Ria, Logan Circle. Maybe you have parents who appreciate culinary innovation and graciously pick up the tab at every meal. By all means, take them to Cashion’s or Michel Richard’s Citronelle. Our parents, however, have been known to raise their eyebrows at big city prices and to send back plates that look too frou-frou, asking for the “horizontal presentation.” So when our parents come for visits, we tend to look for dining spots that are a little more traditional and moderately priced, but still worthy of a special meal. 15 Ria, with down-home entrees like roast chicken and pork chops priced at less than $20, fits the bill. Second place: Ardeo, Cleveland Park. 9. Best of 2005: IndeBleu, Chinatown. OK, technically IndeBleu opened in late December 2004, but we’re willing to overlook that detail. A good meal should be a transporting experience and IndeBleu delivers. From the moment you climb the stairs to the restaurant’s posh dining rooms, there is a sense of stepping away from the ordinary. Chef Vikram Garg continues the mirage by turning out novel, Indian-inspired dishes. Second place: 21P, Dupont Circle. � Vanessa Blum is a senior reporter at Legal Times. Phillip Dub� is an attorney at D.C.’s Covington & Burling.

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