Most people visit the United States capital city for the dramatic monuments and iconic historical sites. Don’t get me wrong, they’re well worth the trip. But what you may not know is that, thankfully, the city also boasts numerous terrific restaurants, cafes and bars to keep you fueled up for all that sightseeing. Closest to the National Mall and many of the major sites, you’re prone to find places geared towards tourists. It’s one hundred percent worth the short metro ride or walk to find some of the city’s best grub — if you know where to look.
Not far from the National Mall is DC’s Chinatown. Ironically, Chinese food doesn’t make our top picks for the neighborhood. Much of the neighborhood’s Asian population moved out of central DC in the past few decades and today, DC’s Chinatown is a busy shopping and commercial area. There are, however, plenty of good places to eat.
This DC staple serves up delicious Mediterranean mezze in an airy, modern space. Mezze means you’ll get to try lots of things (thank goodness), but be sure to try the lamb. Get the spit-roasted lamb gyro if you’re there for lunch.
Stop in at this neighborhood eatery specializing in house-cured meats for one of their delicious sandwiches and a cold Get the pastrami poblano sandwich and house-made pickle jar, and maybe play a round or two of corn-hole.
14th Street Corridor
Head northwest and you’ll hit the 14th Street Corridor (14th St NW from around M street northwards) – one of DC’s culinary hotspots. This neighborhood has changed rapidly over the past five years, and now hosts some of the city’s best restaurants and bars.
Let yourself be transported to the streets of Paris at this bustling bistro in the heart of the 14th Street Corridor. Get the pastry basket and sit outside, weather permitting.
This eclectic, hip eatery tucked into a converted row house is a true DC gem. Taste street food highlights of the world based on the owner’s favorites from her around-the-globe travels. Get the khachapuri — a Georgian bread stuffed with cheese and egg — and their cocktails are never a bad choice.
You’ll find this colorful, casual taqueria just off 14th on T street. Get the fish taco and, if they have it as their rotating special, the battered squash blossom (although to be honest, all the special tacos I’ve tried have been fantastic).
A little to the east in Shaw – another rapidly changing neighborhood – you’ll find quaint, colorful row houses, an emerging hipster vibe and lots of good things to eat.
This unassuming Indian & Middle Eastern spot was my very first “go-to” restaurant in DC. Even when I moved out of Shaw, I’d have it delivered more often than I care to admit. Their outdoor deck is the perfect place to enjoy a spring evening and tons of good food. Get the chicken karahi.
Head north until you hit U Street (technically one street, but the name is often used to refer to the neighborhood as a whole). This area is one of the city’s nightlife hotspots and definitely worth checking out after dark.
This cozy, chic Japanese spot is one of my absolute favorite places in DC. The menu changes up a lot but, if they have it, get the grilled sea bass — one of the best fish dishes I’ve had.
Tucked away in an unassuming row house, Thai X-ing is a huge favorite among locals and a must-try for any visitors. Its cozy, eclectic charm and incredibly delicious prix fixe Thai menu make up some of my happiest food-related memories in DC. Not that you have a say, but get excited for the pumpkin curry. Book well in advance! (They now also have a second location with a bar not far away at 2020 9th St NW).
Further north is Columbia Heights, one of DC’s most diverse neighborhoods and home of some of the city’s best “hole-in-the-wall” restaurants.
A compact but sunny spot dishing up generous portions of delicious Cuban food and cocktails. Get the lechon asado (Cuban-style roast pork) with sweet plantains.
If you happen to be in the area on a Saturday between April and December, swing by the Mt. Pleasant Farmers’ Market for a delicious “bao” (Vietnamese steamed bun sandwich). They only serve three kinds, all worth trying: might as well get one each of the pork, duck and portobello (each with delicious onion jelly and greens).
Head south to Dupont, one of DC’s best-known, historic neighborhoods and a food and drink hotspot.
A good spot for a casual brew and a quick lunch. The pan-Asian food menu is worth trying but the real reason to stop in is the huge range of teas — and staff to guide you through the choices if you, like me, are ever struck with indecision. Get the salmon bento box, an iced chai and, if your sweet tooth calls, the salted oatmeal cookies. (If Dupont isn’t convenient, there are actually two other locations around DC — one in Penn Quarter, another in Lafayette Park).
Don’t be fooled by the name (like I was, when I showed up with a produce list and shopping bag…): Duke’s is a terrific little restaurant tucked into a converted row house offering “A Taste of East London.” The menu changes daily but you can count on a selection of delicious “sarnies” (sandwiches) and plates. Might as well get into the spirit and have a Pimm’s while you’re there.
A little further afield, Southeast DC is home to some great spots and worth the trip.
This charming New American eatery in a converted townhouse offers a rotating menu of creative tapas and family-style plates. With no reservations (except for large parties), expect to wait, but it’s more than worth it!
Delicious beers brewed and served in a bright, “industrial-chic” converted warehouse, with plenty of good pub food by its side. Just blocks from Nationals Park, Bluejacket is a primo post-ballgame destination. Whatever beer you choose, you can’t go wrong with the fresh-baked everything pretzels.
H Street Corridor
If you find yourself around the H Street Corridor (H street between first and around fifteenth streets NE) – a very convenient neighborhood from Union Station – you’ll be in good culinary hands. The neighborhood boasts tons of good restaurants and bars and a less commercialized vibe than some of the city. It’s also a popular nightlife destination so stick around after dinner and check out the bar scene.
This tiny Taiwanese-style ramen joint is hugely popular among locals (and for good reason). You may have to wait but they’ll call you when your table is ready, so feel free to head to the bar downstairs and have a drink while you wait. Get the TaiPei Curry Chicken ramen.