Cuisine in Washington DC

Washington, DC: A Culinary Capital

Always known for power lunches and elegant State dinners, Washington, DC is now beginning to turn heads as a diverse culinary capital. With a dizzying number of new eateries, celebrity chef hot spots, international gems, fresh farmers markets and budget-friendly food trucks at every corner, DC is a food lover’s playground. Read on to discover what the District is cookin’.

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DC Brews:

While there are always exciting things brewing in DC, now there is something exciting brewing with hops, barley, yeast and water: beer. Over the past five years, local brew masters have revived the DC brewery scene that hasn’t been tapped (literally) since the Christian Heurich Brewing Co., once DC’s largest brewery, closed in 1956. DC Brau was the first on the scene, opening its doors and its canned beers – The Public (Pale Ale), The Corruption (IPA) and The Citizen (Belgian Ale) – in 2011. Following their lead, Chocolate City Beer opened a few months later on 8th Street NE and has wet the whistles of thirsty Washingtonians. And if you’re looking for a hearty meal to accompany your lager, head over to one of three Capitol City Brewing Company locations, a DC staple since 1992.

Other breweries “hopping” on the brew train include Alexandria VA’s Port City Brewery and the up-and-coming Bluejacket, led by Greg Engert, DC’s beloved beverage connoisseur and beer director at the Neighborhood Restaurant Group.

Power Dining Spots

If you’re eager to mingle with the media, spot a Senator or rub elbows with a Representative, familiarize yourself with DC’s power dining spots.

Between the White House and the Capitol, Ristorante Tosca entertains its share of high-powered lobbyists, and it’s reportedly the historic location where former Sen. Tom Daschle urged then Sen. Barack Obama to run for president shortly after the 2006 election.

Also near the White House, the Willard InterContinental Washington is a political landmark, where Ulysses S. Grant popularized the term “lobbyist.” At the Willard’s Round Robin & Scotch Bar, Senator Henry Clay introduced Washington, DC to the mint julep. An amateur historian and political buff himself, Round Robin bartender Jim Hewes also serves up special cocktail menus throughout the year, including of “All the President’s Cocktails,” listing the libations of choice of all men who’ve held the highest office. And while may not have a seat in the Oval Office, you can dine among those that do across the street at The Oval Room, where Chef Tony Conte has earned a 2012 James Beard nomination for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic.

A must-see on any political dining tour is the Old Ebbitt Grill. Opened in 1856, the Ebbitt relocated several times before settling into its current home across the street from the White House on 15th Street in 1983. A legendary Oyster Bar, tasty crab cakes and lively happy hours make the Ebbitt a favorite meeting spot for downtown workers, White House staffers, visitors and theatre-goers.

On Capitol Hill, lively bars and restaurants welcome a continuous stream of notable political figures, staffers and interns. Capitol Hill’s “first table cloth restaurant,” The Monocle set the stage for the neighborhood’s power dining reputation when it opened in 1960 as the closest restaurant to the Senate side of the Capitol complex. JFK was an early fan, frequently requesting roast beef sandwiches to be delivered to the White House.

With its big food, bold flavors and an unparalleled rooftop view of the U.S. Capitol, it is no wonder that all of the movers and shakers flock to Charlie Palmer Steak, located on Constitution Avenue. Check out its innovative “wine cube” in the main dining room. It features over 3,500 American-made wines and over 600 selections. And with its move from Dupont Circle to the Hall of States building on North Capitol Street – also home to Fox News, MSNBC and C-Span, Johnny’s Half Shell is the go-to spot for talking TV heads and seafood lovers alike.

Near the K Street lobbying district, The Palm plays host to a continuous stream of deal-makers and politicos. Seldom do you visit without a political celebrity sighting. Since the DC institution opened in 1972, Tommy Jacomo has entertained every president since Nixon – and is anxiously awaiting Obama’s first visit.
Georgetown claims a legendary list of notables among its past and present residents—and a selection of restaurants and pubs that meets with their approval.

Diners at Billy Martin’s Tavern use a tableside map to find the favorite booths of legendary customers like Lyndon Johnson or Alger Hiss. As a bachelor Congressman and Senator, JFK liked to sit in the half-booth just inside the door, known as the “rumble seat.” He is rumored to have proposed to Jackie in booth #3.

Head west towards the Capitol and you’ll find Article One-American Grill & Lounge, a restaurant inside the newly renovated Hyatt Regency Washington. You’ll dine on American fare while catching the “who’s who” of the Hill mingling and catching up on the day’s events. Keep your eyes peeled for celebrity and politico sightings – Hillary Clinton, President Obama, Denzel Washington and Nancy Pelosi have all been guests of the hotel.

International Cuisine

Get a taste for the international flavor of DC in eclectic restaurants that serve cuisine from all over the globe.

African: DC is home to more Ethiopian restaurants than any city outside of Africa, and many of them – including popular spots Etete and Dukem – are clustered around 9th and U Street NW in what is commonly referred to as “Little Ethiopia.” Servers ladle stews, vegetables, meats and legumes around a 16-inch circular piece of bread, called injera. You’ll eat with your hands, using another piece of injera as a scoop. Some more famous dishes include Wat, a rich meat or legume stew seasoned with a blend of chili peppers and spices; Tibs, a sautéed, grilled or sometimes deep-fried cubed lamb or beef with onion, tomato, jalapeno pepper and rosemary; and Kitfo, ground, lean, seasoned beef served raw or cooked to order. (Foodie tip: if you find Ethiopian food intriguing and crave an introduction, sign up for DC Metro Food Tours‘ Little Ethiopia dining tour). While Ethiopian restaurants are the most common African eateries you’ll see in DC, the District is also home to Moroccan and West African restaurants.

Asian: Asian fare runs the gamut in DC, from fine dining restaurants like OYA and Asia Nine Restaurant & Lounge in Penn Quarter, Zentan Restaurant in Dupont Circle and Rasika in Penn Quarter to noodle shops and pho takeout places in Chinatown. Steve Ells of Chipotle fame opened his first ShopHouse: Southeast Asian Kitchen in Dupont Circle, offering quick-serve rice bowl combinations. A second location is due to open in Georgetown in summer 2012. There’s also excellent Asian food to be found in the northern Virginia suburbs, where large immigrant populations give rise to tasty, affordable eateries. But if you’re simply craving fresh sushi, zesty Pad Thai or flavorful curries, you’ll have plenty of options within walking distance of DC’s most popular attractions.

European: European cuisine abounds in all parts of DC, where diners can sample Italian, Greek, Spanish, French, German and other familiar favorites. DC’s French and Belgian influences are particularly evident on the fine dining scene, where acclaimed chefs like Michel Richard and Robert Wiedmaier delight and amaze diners with their high-end creations. Flavors of the Mediterranean shine through at casual tapas and mezze bars like Jaleo and Zaytinya and upscale eateries like Taberna del Alabardero and Komi. European influences don’t end on the plate, however. Choose from more than 50 Belgian beers on draft at Brasserie Beck, or head to Logan Circle’s ChurchKey for more than 555 artisan beer choices. Italian cuisine is the focus at many of DC staples, like Chef Amy Branderwein’s Casa Nonna in Dupont Circle, as well as the city’s newest hotspots, including Bibiana, whose restaurateur Ashok Bajaj is nominated for the 2012 James Beard Outstanding Restaurateur of the Year and Fiola, nominated by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington for “New Restaurant of the Year.”

South & Central American: Thanks to DC’s large South and Central American communities, the regions’ cooking traditions are well represented on the District’s menus. Diners frequently stop for pupusas and empanadas, or meat and vegetable-stuffed pastries, at casual storefronts in the Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights neighborhoods. Sip caipirinhas and mojitos as you take salsa lessons at the lively bars and clubs in the neighborhood. For high-end Nuevo Latino flavors, try stylish downtown eateries likeOyamel and Ceiba.

Farmers Markets

Sample fresh flavors of the season at one of DC’s lively farmers markets, where you’ll find endless amount of the freshest food, entertainment and atmosphere— a great alternative to traditional restaurant meals.

Follow in Michelle Obama’s footsteps and make your way to the FRESHFARM Market by the White House. It’s seasonal, and first debuted in fall of 2009. Mrs. Obama was on-hand at the market’s opening and has been a frequent customer ever since, buying fresh fruits and vegetables to display her commitment to healthy eating.

On weekends, Eastern Market on Capitol Hill is the place to go for produce, flowers, meats, and cheeses, along with arts and antiques. Built in 1873 and designed by architect Adolf Cluss, the renovated Eastern Market reopened in June 2009 after surviving a tragic 2007 fire that almost destroyed it. Now a National Historic Landmark and one of “America’s Best Public Markets” according to Frommer’s in 2011, Eastern Market is a favorite among locals and a must-see for visitors. Check out local artisans’ work at the flea market, and make sure to try the “bluebuck” (blueberry buckwheat) pancakes at Market Lunch.

farmers market

On Sundays, head to Dupont Circle for its popular FRESHFARM market, which also features cooking demonstrations by the city’s top chefs. On Thursdays from 3-7 p.m., the Penn Quarter neighborhood is filled with even more excitement as its seasonal market is in full force. Seafood lovers can sample the catch of the day or feast on fried oysters and crab cakes at the Maine Avenue fish market in Southwest, open daily.

When spring, summer and fall bring out the year’s richest harvest, DC’s market season reaches its peak, with markets in locations like Downtown, Georgetown and even on the National Mall. Log on to for a list of hours and locations.

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