Thanks again for all your tips and suggestions. I thought I'd report on what we ended up doing and the general hits (and the few misses)!
We arrived Thursday morning and were downtown by early afternoon. We wandered into a farmer's market type thing near the White House and I got a beet salad there for a snack. Lots more walking on the Mall, past monuments, etc and we made it to Oyamel for a 5:45 reservation. WOW it was crazy in there! They were doing Restaurant Week but we didn't want a full meal so we ordered a la carte: tableside guac (obvs), mole fries (soggy, sad), ceviche (excellent, fresh flavours) and tacos (fish - yummy, pork and beef - small but good) and excellent cocktails. I liked the buzz of the place but it did feel a bit rushed. Overall a good first meal for weary travellers after 3 hours of DC walking! Later that night after we checked out the monuments at sunset, we stopped at Tangy Sweet for fro yo for me, and then The Passenger for drinks. My husband LOVED the beer selection but it being DC beer week when we were there they were sold out of a few things he wanted to try. It wasn't too busy when we arrived (9:30?) but by the time we left it was quite crowded and the poor bartenders were slammed making rounds of cosmos for a bunch of groups of girls, which was pretty fun.
Friday we split up and I saw the Phillips Collection in the morning then we met for lunch at Central Michel Richard. I loved the room, the open kitchen especially, and the service was good. I had a gazpacho to start that was really nice and light, and I had the most excellent ahi tuna and watermelon salad - quite a generous dish but very fresh flavours. Husband had the lamb burger and fries (at my urging as those seemed to be the most recommend items there) and enjoyed it - the portion wasn't too big and it was moist and tasty. Later that day we tried to go to Fiola (at about 4:30pm?) for drinks and snacks but they were only opening for dinner service for Restaurant Week. A shame because we would have spent money, but their loss I guess...
We had dinner reservations at 8pm at Birch and Barley and I wanted to check out Pearl Dive or BlackJack for drinks first. Pearl Dive was wayyyy to busy with what looked to be an after-work type crowd so we went upstairs to BlackJack for a drink. It was busy too and loud, it felt like a Friday night at a bar at 10pm not 7pm! But I liked the look of the room and looooved the $5 prosecco! From there we headed to Churchkey to have a drink before our dinner. WOW that might have been the busiest bar I've ever seen in my life! It was actually a very efficient, courteous, non-douchey crowd, and the excellent beer selection made it worth the hassle. Dinner at Birch and Barley was, top to bottom, amazing. Our server was very (almost too) professional and knowledgable, the RW menu offered enough variety and choice that it didn't feel like a compromise and the beer pairings were perfect for my husband. I'm so glad we got that recommendation because everything about B&B was exactly what we like in restaurants here - great uses of quality local ingredients and a fun, modern space with a cool crowd.
Saturday we had a bunch of touristy plans early in the morning but I made it to Eastern Market by late morning. I have to say coming from Toronto where we have the St Lawrence Market and Montreal Jean Talon Market, Eastern Market felt... small? Maybe I missed some of it but there didn't seem to be that many interesting vendors. I did get Peregrine Espresso which was delightful but the line at Market Lunch was too long so I tailed it back because I wanted to check out the Mitsitsam Cafe in the Museum of the American Indian. Oh my goodness I LOVED this cafe! Free wi-fi, amazing fresh vegetarian selections - I did the combo platter of four side dishes, which wasn't cheap, but let me taste a bunch of things. It was hilarious to watch some confused families try to find hot dogs and chips amongst the authentic indigenous fare, but I really loved this spot.
Our last evening we had a pub crawl type evening planned. Started with drinks at Bar Pilar, which, although pretty, was weird - the bartender drank at least three shots worth of hard booze right in front of us. I had a nice cocktail there and I liked the music but that was just a bit weird. Then we walked to Dickson, which I LOVED. Just like Terroir wine bar in NYC it was cool, casual, stripped down but amazing wines. I just wish our server had been a bit more attentive. We had olives there but our plan was to head to Etete for our meal. We got lucky and grabbed one of the last deuces they had. We ordered the vegetarian platter and the marinated lamb, but here's the "miss" part of the story - the lamb came on top of the injera with the various veggies on the side and while eating it I noticed a piece of metal in the stew. A small triangle with a sharp-ish end that if I had eaten it could have done some damage. We called our server over and she almost started crying and grabbed the owner, who was very apologetic. They only made us pay for my husband's beer, so it was fine in the end, but it was a bit unsettling. We ended the night at Dodge City which was the closest we came to a hipster type experience in DC. The back patio was nice there but we were pretty beat and it was getting loud, so we headed home.
Our last morning we had planned to go to The Standard but it was raining. We decided to try anyway and arrived right for noon (we had read online about crazy lines so wanted to get there early). We stood around outside, there were servers inside but they didn't really seem interested in us. Eventually they opened the gates and started clearing out the kegs from the night before and wiping tables etc. We timidly tried to see if they were open and got some pretty flippant "yeah, we're opening now" type responses, but eventually we sat ourselves inside and managed to order from the bar. It's too bad the servers were pretty helpful to the parties that started to arrive on the patio but were really neglectful of us, but the food was AMAZING. We had the mexican corn, hush puppies (WOW), onion rings (meh) and brisket (delicious). It was perfect for our somewhat hungover selves and kept us stuffed long into our travels home.
The only regret I have is that we didn't get to try Fiola and that we didn't have more recommendations for bars near U street for our bar crawl night. Otherwise, I think we packed a lot of varied and representative DC food experiences into 3 days, and all with your help!
Thanks DC CH!