Restaurant Nora, the eponymous restaurant of chef/owner Nora Pouillon in Washington, D.C., was America's first certified organic restaurant.[1]

Restaurant Nora
Restaurant Nora, Washington DC.jpg
Restaurant information
Head chefNora Pouillon
Food typeLocal/organic
CityWashington, D.C.
CountryUnited States

Opening and early yearsEdit

In 1979, self-taught chef Nora Pouillon opened Restaurant Nora on the corner of Florida Avenue and 21st in the DuPont Circle neighborhood.[1] Journalist Sally Quinn and her late husband, Washington Post executive editor, Ben Bradlee were early patrons and financial backers of the restaurant. Quinn offered a piece of advice: “Don’t mention anything about being healthy and natural. That sounds so unappetizing. That sounds like hippie food.” Pouillon ignored it, making her organic ingredients the focus of the restaurant.[2]

The early reviews for Nora's were mixed, with Robert Shoffner of the Washingtonian less than enthusiastic about Pouillon's food.[3][4] In 1980, The Washington Post's Phyllis Richman noted that "the cooking has matured," calling Nora's "a sophisticated return to old-fashioned home cooking, with dishes from here and there but ingredients only from impeccable sources that raise their meats without chemicals."[5]

By the early 1990s, Nora's became a destination for D.C’s media and political elite, particularly in the administration of President Bill Clinton.[4] In 1996, Chef Nora was named U.S.A. Chef of the Year by the American Tasting Institute, and she published a cookbook, Cooking with Nora : seasonal menus from Restaurant Nora : healthy, light, balanced, and simple food with organic ingredients.[6]

Organic certificationEdit

In the mid-90s, Chef Nora began to investigate how Restaurant Nora could become an organic certified restaurant and learned that no certification process existed. She decided to set about creating those standards.[1] She worked for two years with Oregon Tilth, a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to supporting and advocating organic food and farming. The Oregon Tilth Certified Organic Program was established in 1982 and is an Accredited Certifying Agent for the USDA’s National Organic Program.[7] The resulting standard required that 95 percent of the food used, as a certified restaurant, must be obtained from USDA certified organic sources. “This meant obtaining proof of organic certification from all our suppliers,” she says. Chef Nora complied with the lengthy requirements, and in 1999 Nora's became the first certified organic restaurant in the country.[7] For many restaurants across the country, achieving and maintaining proof that 95 percent of suppliers are organic is a costly and time-consuming process. As Chef Nora explained to Organic Connections Magazine about becoming certified: “People don’t always understand how complicated and time consuming it is,” Pouillon explains. “Almost everything has to be organic down to the spices and coffee. It’s a lot of work to find certified organic farmers and track down certification papers from 35-plus purveyors every year. This process has to be done each year because the certificates have to be renewed each year.”[8]

Later years and closureEdit

By the early 2000s, the restaurant was a fixture in Washington's dining scene, being named among Washingtonian magazine's "Very Best Restaurants."[9] In 2016, Nora's was one of the approximately 100 restaurants reviewed in the first Michelin Guide for Washington, D.C.[1]

Restaurant Nora closed in June 2017, upon Chef Nora's retirement.[10] She was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the James Beard Foundation, celebrating her career at the restaurant.[11]

In October 2018, D.C. restaurateur Ashok Bajaj bought the Restaurant Nora property for just more than $4 million.[12]

Notable patrons and eventsEdit

Restaurant Nora has held lunches, dinners and events for dignitaries, congressional members and White House administrations, and was a favorite of Hillary Clinton.[13] In 1993, President Bill Clinton held his first inaugural party at the restaurant.[14] Many of Clinton's cabinet members and staff ate at Nora's in the 90s, and Vice President Al Gore and Tipper Gore celebrated her 45th birthday at the restaurant.[4]

President Jimmy Carter also ate at Nora’s, and so did Nancy Reagan. Asked about her Presidential patrons in The Washington Post, Pouillon said: “Neither of the Bush presidents ever set foot in Nora’s, but Laura Bush came, along with her two daughters,” Pouillon announces proudly. “Good food, it seems, is also bipartisan.”[2]

In January 2010, President Barack Obama held a surprise birthday party for First Lady Michelle Obama at the restaurant.[15][16]


  1. ^ a b c d Judkis, Maura (October 18, 2016). "Organic pioneer Nora Pouillon plans to retire, sell her eponymous restaurant". Washington Post.
  2. ^ a b Reese, Jennifer (April 21, 2015). "The story behind the woman who helped make healthy eating cool". Washington Post.
  3. ^ Mundy, Liza (April 9, 2015). "Nora Pouillon's Memoir Reminds Us How Rotten DC Food Used to Be". Washingtonian Magazine.
  4. ^ a b c Sugarman, Carole (September 22, 1993). "Nora's Moment". Washington Post.
  5. ^ Richman, Phyllis (September 21, 1980). "Dining 1980". Washington Post Magazine.
  6. ^ Slung, Michele (March 10, 1996). "Book Report". Washington Post.
  7. ^ a b "Organic Certification, Organic Farming -Oregon Tilth". Oregon Tilth.
  8. ^ Soref, Anna (June 30, 2012). "Nora Pouillon: A Pioneer's Odyssey to Organic". Organic Connections Magazine (July–August 2012). pp. 4–7.
  9. ^ Head, Thomas (September 7, 2006). "Restaurant Nora: Nora Pouillon's all-organic fine dining room". Washingtonian Magazine.
  10. ^ Carman, Tim (April 20, 2017). "The closure of Restaurant Nora, a trailblazer in natural cuisine, will reduce the number of certified organic restaurants by 14 percent". Washington Post.
  11. ^ Koenig, Debbie (May 1, 2017). "Nora Pouillon: 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner". James Beard Foundation.
  12. ^ "Restaurant Nora building sells to D.C. restaurateur". Washington Business Journal. WTOP. October 12, 2018.
  13. ^ "The home of organic dining". TheHill. Retrieved 2013-12-05.
  14. ^ Hodgson, Moira (April 10, 2015). "Horrified by Wonder Bread". Wall Street Journal.
  15. ^ Akers, Mary Ann (January 17, 2010). "Michelle Obama's surprise birthday bash at Restaurant Nora". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2017-07-20.
  16. ^ Belenky, Alexander (2010-01-17). "Michelle Obama's Birthday Surprise Party At Restaurant Nora (PHOTOS)". Retrieved 2013-12-05.

External linksEdit