Local favorites and iconic food
You can’t leave Washington without trying at least one classic crab cake, the signature dish of both D.C. and Maryland, thanks to the nearby Chesapeake Bay. They’re a staple at the Old Ebbitt Grill, established in 1856. The grill says it’s the oldest saloon in D.C. and also claims to have the largest selection of oysters in the city. For farm-to-table meals at affordable prices, head to lively Founding Farmers, whose fried chicken salad and craft cocktails are to die for.
Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street in Shaw is a D.C. legend, with former presidents and celebrities dining there. Famous for their chili half-smokes, the restaurant offers a surprising number of vegetarian options. For more D.C.-insider flair, try. For politician-spotting, try the Monocle, a legendary seafood and steak restaurant on Capitol Hill. African American luminaries are among the aficionados of the Sunday jazz brunch at Georgia Brown’s downtown. It’s a celebration of South Carolina Low Country cuisine — peel-’n’-eat shrimp, Carolina gumbo, fried catfish and stone-milled grits — along with stone-cool jazz. You can make return trips to a buffet, and do as regulars do and have your entrée packaged to go.
Diplomats and immigrants from the world over have infused the city with tantalizing ethnic flavors. While there are a few ethnic-food neighborhoods — Chinatown, for one, at H and 7th streets, and Ethiopian (where diners can eat with their fingers from the same plate), along 9th and U streets — the thing about D.C.’s ethnic cuisine is that it is sprinkled throughout the city. You’ll find modern Israeli street food at Shouk in Mount Vernon Triangle, Mediterranean takeout at the Greek Deli in Dupont Circle, and elegant Indian eats at Rasika in Penn Quarter and the West End. Follow the informal “pupusa trail” through various neighborhoods (Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant and others) for that unbridled cheesy goodness stuffed into a corn tortilla, courtesy of El Salvador’s large population. Try the granddaddy of pupuserías (plus low-cost Mexican fare), El Tamarindo, on Florida Avenue. Ethiopian eateries can be found on 18th Street in Adams Morgan. Sample dishes from around the world at multiple Immigrant Food restaurants.
Ways to save: Look for happy hour food specials that fill you up. Buy from food trucks that line Franklin and Farragut squares downtown at lunchtime. Or visit Eastern Market on Capitol Hill for nicely priced bites. The recently developed Union Market near downtown has more than a dozen reasonably priced food options, including Puddin’, dishing up Southern comfort food, including a decadent brown-butter bourbon bread pudding, and Immigrant Food, with creative twists on favorites from around the world. Don’t ignore museum cafeterias for lunch. Many were slow to reopen after COVID, so check before visiting. Mitsitam Native Foods Café at the National Museum of the American Indian, has won multiple awards, and serves affordable, innovative Indigenous cuisine, including bison with caramelized strawberries and roasted green papaya tamarillo (a South American fruit).
See our story on Washington's new attractions for more options.
It’s a good idea to book ahead by phone or via OpenTable or Resy for many restaurants, particularly on Friday or Saturday nights, during the holiday season, the Cherry Blossom Festival, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.