Restaurant recommendations for DC area for next weekend?
April 24, 2022 2:07 PM   Subscribe

What are some good places to eat in DC, particularly food that I could not get here in Los Angeles? Bonus: a dessert place to brag about.

The last comparable ask was from 2019 and I assume that the past few years changed quite a few things.

I'll be landing at DCA at 9PM on the 28th and checking into Washington Plaza Hotel, then flying home Sunday afternoon. A friend will be coming down from Baltimore to join me for a meal and maybe a museum on Fri; on Sat, his fiancee will join us for a meal/activity too. They're both sorta leaving it up to me. I am planning to see National Museum of the American Indian, African American Museum, Natural History Museum, Spy Museum, maybe some other things (an evening tour of monuments?). But one thing I am terrible at - in fact, it gives me actual anxiety about - is picking places to eat.

What I'd like to do is to take my friend to a Dessert Date on the first day, and treat him and his fiancee to lunch the following day. I'm on my own for dinners, which I prefer to be kind of late-ish (around 7-8PM).

I will be mostly relying on metro and walking, maybe some Lyft if I get desperate, and due to a leg disability, I struggle a lot with stairs or inclines. So I am a little limited on distance.


The first day, I am planning on trying the native foods cafe at the American Indian museum for lunch. I was also planning to see the Union Station food court, so if something is tasty there, please let me know.

I don't like chocolate. They do, of course; it's me who's the weirdo. So I'd like a dessert place that offers something FANTASTIC that isn't chocolatey. When I travel, I like to find the best bakery (savory or sweet) that I can, so I'd like to continue it here.

I am not really a red meat eater, but I like all types of cuisines.

Budget is $$.
posted by cuculine to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
As you've discovered, food on or near the National Mall is limited. But for the love of all that is holy, STAY AWAY from the Union Station Food Court. It's shabby, stinky, and boring.

PS: Some general mall-related information recently shared here. I believe the National Museum of African American History and Culture is still doing timed tickets only, so reserve in advance.
posted by nkknkk at 2:31 PM on April 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

Adding: for other DC Mefites with good sweet advice, the Washington Plaza is the one on Thomas Circle. Saved you a Google!
posted by nkknkk at 2:36 PM on April 24, 2022

El Sol is a great, small Mexican place just a few blocks from Thomas Circle, on 11th between M and N Streets NW. The owners just opened a more upscale seafood restaurant at 11th and M NW, Mariscos.
posted by marguerite at 2:56 PM on April 24, 2022

D Light Cafe!
posted by decathecting at 3:42 PM on April 24, 2022

My wife and I just got back from DC yesterday. We were blown away by Albi, which does Middle Eastern/Mediterranean, featuring a wood fire for grilling/charring. It was one of the best restaurant meals we have had in a very long time. Might be a little more expensice than you want, but so worth it.

We also enjoyed Boqueria Dupont, which is probably more in line with your price range. It's a tapas bar, with a pretty standard tapas menu, but the food quality was good.
posted by briank at 4:05 PM on April 24, 2022

Food you can’t find in Los Angeles is a tall order. But Ethiopian food might fill that niche. The DC metro area is home to 200,000 Ethiopian people and is the largest Ethiopian community outside of Ethiopia. There are also a variety of vegetarian options in Ethiopian cuisine. There are a ton of tasty places but if you’re indecisive, try Chercher in Shaw.
posted by donut_princess at 4:15 PM on April 24, 2022 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Well you’re very close to Rose Ave Bakery, which is one of my fav bakeries in DC. In fact, their pre-order is live now for easy pick up this coming weekend. This will save you time in line.
posted by inevitability at 4:17 PM on April 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

The Dabney is my favorite whenever I'm in DC. It's focused on foods from the Chesapeake Bay area in particular and the mid-Atlantic region in general. They switched to a prix fixe menu the past year or so, but if you sit at the bar you can still get individual plates. They usually have a great selection of local ciders and the sour cream ice cream is amazing (when they have it).

Blue Duck Tavern is another place that uses mostly local ingredients, but the sleek high-end hotel restaurant vibe may be a little too much.

Rasika is another longtime favorite and is justifiably famous, though the modern-ish Indian cuisine certainly isn't something you couldn't find in California.
posted by theory at 4:56 PM on April 24, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding Rose Ave. Bakery (their donuts are great), and I also highly recommend Nino's Bakery, which is my favorite bakery in DC (their website doesn't list their full menu; the everything croissants are a delicious savory option). Both of those are really close to your hotel.

A Baked Joint (Mt. Vernon Triangle) has excellent bread/toast and the best kouign amann I've tried in DC (the kouign amann is only available on weekends; get there early or order online in advance, since they sell out by the late morning). They also have great cupcakes (from their sister store Baked and Wired in Georgetown).

Yellow Cafe in Navy Yard (an offshoot of Albi, which another commenter mentioned up above) has amazing chocolate chip cookies and soft serve, and I'm also a big fan of their sfeeha and batata tots.

And I agree that Chercher, which is pretty close to your hotel, is a good option for Ethiopian food. Tortino is a very nice Italian restaurant near Thomas Circle as well.
posted by LNM at 5:18 PM on April 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is a really delicious, Italian-style pizza, and decidedly local to DC. You might or might not find an equivalent in LA, but it's definitely worth checking out if you're feeling up to pizza. In the DC area, pizza is definitely a challenge to find that's juuuuust right.

If you're feeling up to Indian food, I definitely recommend Indigo. Delicious, cozy, local eating.

Enjoy your trip, and welcome to the DC area! :)
posted by dubious_dude at 5:28 PM on April 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

I was also planning to see the Union Station food court

Just emphasizing what the first commenter said: This isn't some awesome modern food hall. It's like a food court at a mall. It is absolutely not a destination that should be on your list.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 7:39 PM on April 24, 2022

I was also planning to see the Union Station food court

Could there have been a mixup of similarly named places here? The Union Market food court actually IS nice and worth visiting.
posted by space snail at 7:44 PM on April 24, 2022 [10 favorites]

Yes, unless you enjoy chain food and the chatter of middle school tour groups, escape Union Station. If the 10-15 minute walk to Union Market is too far, two good casual places adjacent to Union Station are Butter Chicken Company (Indian) and Buffalo & Bergen (bagels and knishes). A few blocks further on H St NE are Cane (Jamaican) and Ethiopic.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:01 PM on April 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

There is also Ice Cream Jubilee or Baked and Wired if you are up for ice cream or cupcakes, respectively.
posted by oceano at 12:57 AM on April 25, 2022

here are the DC michelin restaurants. anything with the graphic of a table setting or bibendum licking his lips is recommended.

donut_princess, LA also has a sizable Ethiopian community with a bunch of restaurants.
posted by brujita at 6:02 AM on April 25, 2022

A few blocks further on H St NE are Cane (Jamaican)

Cane isn't Jamaican, it's Trinidadian. :-)
posted by decathecting at 7:12 AM on April 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Not too far from where you're staying is Un Je Ne Sais Quoi..., a lovely French bakery that specializes in the merveilleux, a confection of merengue and whipped cream you don't see much in the US. In the morning they also have croissants and the like, fresh out of the oven.
posted by carrienation at 7:35 AM on April 25, 2022

Best answer: Two cuisines that jump to mind when I think of things DC does well: Ethiopian and Peruvian chicken. The latter is more out in the suburbs, but there are a few great places in the Adams Morgan area. It's more of a casual hole-in-the-wall type thing, but it's soooooooo good. Think delicious tender chicken, black beans and rice, fried yucca dipped in tangy/creamy green sauce. Yum.

If you find yourself in the U St area, Ben's Chili Bowl is a classic DC establishment (get the chili cheese fries) and Amsterdam Felafelshop is a good and unique experience. These places are also very casual.

If you want a really nice and uniquely DC experience, I recommend any of Jose Andres' restaurants. Oyamel and Zaytinya are my favorites but you can't go wrong. Oyamel is Mexican, Zaytinya is pan-Mediterranean, both are tapas-style.
posted by lunasol at 10:58 AM on April 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Map of Tyler's current favorite eats including several in DC proper:

Union Market is fun, but I'd say it's probably not going to be terribly impressive to someone from L.A. If you feel like taking the red line out to Rockville, there is an Asian food hall that is a ton of fun. Not too far from the grave of F. Scott Fitzgerald if you're a fan.

DC also has a few great Afghan restaurants. Lapis is one of my go-to places to show off what DC dining has to offer. I have not been to Bistro Aracosia yet, but it's supposed to be great.

Comet Ping Pong Pizza in Chevy Chase is now infamous due to QAnon conspiracies and leaked emails. Their pizza is ok (I think they're skimpy with the toppings) but it's a short walk from the metro and even shorter walk from the Connecticut Ave bus in a pleasant neighborhood near the famous Politics and Prose bookstore and a phenomenal French bakery, Bread Furst. Little Red Fox is on the same block as Comet if you want to pick up a dessert or some local DC-made snacks to take home.

Henry's Soul Cafe (haven't been to the newer location on U yet) used to be one of my favorite lunch spots near the Hill. They're famous for their sweet potato pie if you feel like trying something non-chocolatey.

Good eats near the National Mall is tough. I actually really like the National Gallery's cafeteria and love the interior courtyard at the National Portrait Gallery (decent sandwiches last time I went but amazing atmosphere). When I went a few years ago the restaurant at the National Museum of African American History and Culture was fantastic. The cafeteria at the National Museum of the American Indian used to be excellent, but has really gone downhill in the past several years (just a heads up).
posted by forkisbetter at 3:22 PM on April 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding lunasol's recommendation to try out a Jose Andres restaurant. There are several clustered in Penn Quarter just north of the National Mall. Jaleo is the OG (tapas), Zaytinya for Mediterranean, Oyamel for Mexican...the winter before the Pandemonium I had a great dinner at the newer China Chilcano, which is an homage to the Asian-Peruvian cuisine that emerged from immigrant laborers who settled in Peru in the 1800s.
posted by drlith at 8:54 AM on April 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

If you haven't already, definitely line up reservations ASAP.

There's not too much in DC that I can think of that you can't get in LA. Maybe Chesapeake style seafood (crabcakes, oysters, and others), which I don't care for and can't recommend a specific place as a result. And maybe Soul Food but it's been long enough since I've had it in the area that I can't refer you to a specific place but Eater has some ideas.

The Ethiopian idea mentioned above is a good one - I like Latena. If you try it, be sure to get the signature tibs if you're willing to do a little red meat, but their chicken and vegetarian options are all solid.

If you don't have Afghan or Pakastani restaurants near you, they can be an amazing cuisines. Sakina is pretty good Pakastani and is famous for feeding the homeless. If you go for Afghan, look for pumpkin dumplings. Lapis is the only Afghan place I've been to in DC still in business at the moment and it's worth checking out. Kabob Restaurant DC is a different style of Afghan food (and the one that I adore the most) but I've not been there.

For fancy Indian, the Palak Chaat at Rasika is to die for but the restaurant in Penn Quarter itself is very noisy. I don't know about the West End one.

I'll third Jose Andres as the hometown celebrity chef. Other than Minibar, I'd rank all his stuff as very solid but not amazing (which is not an insult - it's good food at a reasonable price, but you probably won't be raving about it years later). I'd recommend China Chilcano or Poblano as the most unique and thus worth your time. His tapas and Mexican/Spanish places are solid but no better or more unique than what you have in LA. I've not tried his Mediterranean place.

Nthing that Union Market is what you're thinking of, not Union Station.

Busboys and Poets is a well beloved local chain and perfectly fine but not as exciting as some of the other options.
posted by Candleman at 3:02 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

For fancy Indian, the Palak Chaat at Rasika is to die for but the restaurant in Penn Quarter itself is very noisy. I don't know about the West End one.

I've been to Rasika West End many times, I didn't find it particularly noisy (and I would have noticed). They also have an outdoor seating area. And the palak chaat is amazing, but you will almost certainly need reservations. The DC office of the firm I work for is very near there, and I have sometimes had good luck with showing up right at opening and getting a seat at the bar or in the lounge for one or two people, but your preferred late dining might make that difficult.
posted by Preserver at 7:13 AM on April 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

We recently ate at Iron Gate Restaurant (sort of nearish your hotel) and it was really nice. Pricy and it's not uniquely-DC food, but the service and ambiance were top-notch for a special occasion with friends. If they have reservations available, might be a possibility for your lunch. They have a very nice outdoor heated patio.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:09 AM on April 28, 2022

Response by poster: Due to timing and travel shenanigans, I ate much less in DC than I wanted. And yes, as everyone pointed out, I did mean Union Market, which I did not have time to visit.

I can personally vouch for Rose Ave Bakery and Un Je Ne Sais Quoi; I returned to the latter several times, since their hours made them very handy to just walk over from my hotel for a treat.

We ate at Zaytinya, which was indeed lovely. Every single thing was delicious. I had a preference for the vegetable-based dishes, which were fantastic. I wished I had gotten all vegetables once I tried the mushrooms and asparagus.

I did want to go to Rasika, but settled for Indigo; very tasty!

I will be returning in a few months for the wedding, so I will hit up the other recommendations here. Thanks to everyone!
posted by cuculine at 8:52 PM on May 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

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