These days people don’t just come to DC for its history, but they also travel to our nation’s capital to enjoy its rich food scene. The number of restaurants to try can be quite overwhelming — it could take you two weeks to try all the restaurants on 14th street — and
Spoon wants to help. Here is a list of the top 40 bites to try in DC before you die (in no particular order).
1. Kitfo at Ethiopic
Definitely not something you would find everywhere, Ethiopian cuisine has made its home in DC with a strong following from locals, and for good reason. From the different stews offered to the spongy injera bread that you will no doubt be scarfing down, Ethiopic highlights the best of what Ethiopia has to offer.
It is in essence the Ethiopian take on the French bistro classic with added spices. You have the option of having it prepared cooked or raw, but if you want to get the real experience of kitfo take the plunge and get it raw. If you enjoy beef tartare while dining at a classy bistro, you need to order the kitfo.
2. Taiwanese Fried Chicken at Maketto
Maketto is the hipster capital of DC. Recently opened by Toki Underground’s Erik Bruner-Yang, Maketto focusses on the southeast Asian cuisine specifically from the regions of Taiwan and Cambodia. A truly original concept, Maketto is a restaurant/coffee shop/retail store all rolled into one.
You can literally grab a bite here and browse around for a new pair of kicks while sipping on a latte. The Taiwanese Fried Chicken is a standout menu item that everyone orders. Crisp and juicy dressed in a sweet umami vinaigrette, the chicken is served family style and is a great dish to share amongst friends.
3. Create Your Own Pizza at &pizza
On my pizza I would like roasted garlic purée, mushroom truffle, basil spinach pesto, quattro formaggi, caramelized onions, local mushrooms, 39 day aged pepperoni, roasted peppers, fig marsala… the list at &pizza can go on and on, with one topping sounding better than the next.The genius DC concept has taken the district by storm, serving up everyone’s favorite new drunchies/munchies.
For an unbeatable $10, you get one of the best oblong pies in the city with unlimited gourmet toppings served in a hip af atmosphere. With over ten locations across DC (including both airports! Who said airport food sucks?) you can get your fix anywhere you go.
4. Kimchi Ramen at Toki Underground
The name Toki Underground is a bit misleading considering that it’s actually located on the second floor of the building. The only way to locate this ramen bar is an inconspicuous logo on a door that leads to a couple of stairs.
Decorated from the floor to ceiling in Japanese caricatures, you’ll definitely want to snap a couple of pics for your Instagram account. The Kimchi Ramen is truly unique in that it combines traditional Japanese technique but reinvents the broth with a heavy dose of flavor from Korea. Guaranteed, this is definitely not your fifty-cent ramen.
5. Everything at Union Market
Union Market is DC’s one-stop spot for all things foodie. From oozing grilled cheeses to warm pockets of bao and gooey bread pudding, it’s impossible to leave this local marketplace in a serious food coma. If you’re in DC, make sure to head over to Union Market for the famous Korean inspired tacos or Red Apron’s stand for anything chorizo.
6. Margherita Pizza at 2 Amy’s
If you are looking for classic Neapolitan pizza, then the margherita pizza at 2 Amy’s should be your first stop. The restaurant serves thin-crust pizza with a light coat of homemade tomato sauce and fresh bufala mozzarella. 2 Amy’s also has D.O.C status, which means that the store legally only uses permitted ingredients and methods of preparation necessary to produce authentic Neapolitan pizza. You legally can’t be gibbed, so eat up.
7. Falafel Sandwich with all the Fixin’s at Amsterdam Falafelshop
A genius concept stolen from Holland, Amsterdam Falafelshop makes the best falafel in DC, satisfying drunchies and munchies alike. With a 22 option salad bar featuring pickled vegetables, grilled eggplant, Israeli salad as well as homemade sauces like Garlic Mayo and Curried Ketchup, it’s the best meal you can get for under $8.
8. Cakecups at Baked and Wired
Washingtonians know that Baked and Wired is better than Georgetown Cupcakes, and for good reason. The cupcakes here are called cakecups, because they are individual cakes wrapped in parchment and topped off with a swirl of rich frosting. The Dirty Chai regularly sells out on the weekend, featuring vanilla cake blended with chai spices and topped with espresso buttercream frosting. The cupcakes are big enough to share, but who are you kidding?
9. Half-Smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl
When you think DC you think history, and Ben’s Chili Bowl is every bit a part of the city’s history as the White House. An iconic eatery and pivotal during the 1968 riots after Dr. King’s assassination, it has become a historic landmark that both tourists and locals have grown to love.
There is only one thing you need to order here and that’s the half-smoke. A sausage made of both pork and beef, topped with the house chili and a touch of mustard, it is simple and delicious. If you come in during the off hours you might even be able to nab the booth that Obama sat in and feel super presidential.
10. Brat Burger at Birch and Barley
While one may check out Birch and Barely for its beer menu of 555 varieties, he or she may stay for one of DC’s best new burgers: the Brat burger. Chef Kyle Bailey has made a German-American style burger completely from bratwurst. The inch-thick brat pattie is layered in a beer-braised sauerkraut, which adds an extra punch of flavor to the dish.
11. Sticky Buns at Blue Duck Tavern
Blue Duck Tavern is where us locals go to feel bougie. Brunch books up quickly, so if you’re looking to set a date, make sure it’s in advance. When you’re seated and comfortably sipping on a cappuccino or bubbly mimosa, make sure you order sticky buns to start.
There’s nothing more satisfying than watching your sticky buns emerge from the restaurant’s open kitchen, steaming and melting with sugary pecan goodness as they make their way to your table. Once you recover from their tantalizing spell, ask your waiter for the famous short rib hash and iconic apple pie. You’ll be dreaming of your next bougie brunch before you even pay the bill.
12. Italian Hoagie at Bub and Pop’s
There are few places left in DC where the owner still stands behind the counter and remembers your order, but Bub and Pop’s is one of them. Creating gourmet sandwiches, potato chips and dipping spreads from scratch, this little joint has won countless awards for the best hoagies in DC.
Make sure to try the Bub’s Italian Hoagie which comes with Genoa Salami, Prosciutto, Capicola, Pepperoni, Aged Provolone, Arugula, Roma Tomatoes, house-made hoagie relish, Mayo, Bub’s Vinaigrette, and shavings of Pecorino Romano.
13. Tacos at Chaia
This little taco pop up shop has been gaining immense popularity with its photogenic clover sprouts and homemade corn tortillas. Thank goodness it’s opening a permanent location in the near future for all of DC has been chasing it, farmer’s market to farmer’s market, during busy lunch hour. Chaia’s tacos are entirely gluten-free and vegetarian, with vegan options, and all the ingredients are sourced locally.
14. Chocolate Onyx at Co Co. Sala
Everyone enjoys music, late night socializing and chocolate, so when all three meet in perfect harmony at Co Co. Sala’s chocolate lounge in Metro Center, it becomes a destination every night of the week. Stop by for some flirting over house-crafted chocolate cocktails and don’t leave without scooping your spoon into rich chocolate mousse.
15. Khachapuri at Compass Rose
Compass Rose is a quaint eatery that features an eclectic menu that takes its inspiration from every continent. You would think that such a wide range of menu items would not be cohesive in a single restaurant, but somehow it just works.
Take a second to sound out that dish. Alright, now that you got it onto the more important details on how delicious this dish is. A Georgian dish, khachapuri looks like a pizza boat of sorts filled with the decadent ingredients of cheese, butter and a runny egg. Need I say more? Simply listing ingredients would be enough to get anyone to try this dish.
16. Shio Ramen at Daikaya Ramen Shop
Daikaya is actually split into two sections, the upper level is an izakaya serving small bites of Japan while the ground floor is a ramen bar that looks like it came imported from Japan. With imported noodles from Sapporo, Japan the broth in the Shio Ramen is the simplest and will have you experience every nuance that took over 16 hours to prepare.
The noodles have an amazing mouthfeel that makes slurping all the more satisfying. Communal seating is the name of the game here, but if you can grab a seat at the bar it would definitely give you greater respect for ramen chefs and their willingness to uphold quality control. They literally taste test each and every bowl sent out.
17. The Breakfast Club at DGS Delicatessen
Elevating your grandma’s Jewish food to gourmet cuisine, DGS has one of the best brunch deals in the city. For $27, you get a choice of either an appetizer or desert (pro tip: split up your group so you share both) an entree, and an unlimited selection of bloody marys, mimosas, and screwdrivers. One of those entrees is the the Breakfast Club, a colossal burger with in house made corned beef, a fried Egg, potato latke, Swiss cheese and hollandaise sauce on a poppy bun.
18. Valrhona Chocolate Amargo at Dolcezza
The rich, dark chocolate flavor really shines through in the Valrhona Chocolate Amargo. Everything about this flavor is amazing, but if you are looking for a less rich option then definitely choose the Strachiatella, which will transport you to the streets of Florence.
19. Chicken and Waffles at Founding Farmers
Having pioneered the farm to table concept before it was hip, Founding Farmers serves the best elevated comfort food in DC, making it impossible to go without a reservation. The chicken and waffles is considered authentic even by true Southerners, and will feed you for your next three meals onwards.
Served with Mac n Cheese, a side of your choice and plenty of Buttermilk Ranch sauce this meal will make you feel like you’re back home eating your Grandma’s food instantaneously.
20. The Luther at GBD
This is the dish your doctor warned you about. You will crave salad for a week after eating this artery clogging monster that is a fried Brioche doughnut glazed in maple-chicken jus, with buttered pecans, a slab of Bacon and a fried boneless chicken thigh. GBD also serves some of the District’s best doughnuts, such as the nutella crunch w/ toasted hazelnuts. Open late, it’s a great place to go soak up all that alcohol in your stomach.
21. Jumbo Slice at Jumbo Slice Pizza
A night out isn’t complete without gobbling down a slice, or two, or eight of greasy late-night pizza. Something about being a little tipsy and wobbly from dancing, or drinking, the night away turns pizza into a delicacy, but at Jumbo Slice, pizza is a delicacy. DC iconically massive pizza is made freshly until dawn and delivered to your eager hands warm, oozing with cheese, on two paper plates. This pizza means business.
The best part? Curl up in bed at the end of the night knowing you only inhaled one slice of pizza, forget that one slice is about half a medium pizza pie.
22. Mascarpone Stuffed Dates at Komi
This past year Komi was selected as the number one restaurant by Washingtonian Magazine. Having consistently been placed on their annual must-eats list, Komi has proven that it is a juggernaut in the DC food scene to be reckoned with. They serve Mediterranean food with a modern twist. The decor is simple, but the food is honestly the only reason you would want to come here anyway.
Although their tasting menu has been known to change, a mainstay that you will always get a taste of is the mascarpone stuffed dates. Roasted and stuffed, it is then finished with a beautiful sheen of olive oil. It’s a bit expensive so be ready to eat ramen for a couple weeks afterwards.
23. Burger Americain at Le Diplomate
A photo posted by Le Diplomate (@lediplomatedc) on Mar 7, 2015 at 6:04am PST
When ordering the Burger Americain from Le Diplomate, the waitress described it as a Big Mac but better. She was right. The burger is topped with pickles, onions, American cheese and a sauce similar to Thousand Island dressing, and it rests in between two, house-made brioche buns. The dish also serves a hefty portion of authentic, parisian-style french fries. The best part is the price: the burger only costs $17, making it one of the more affordable dishes on the menu for college students.
24. Tasting Menu at miniBar
When you think molecular gastronomy, you think food of the future. Everything about dining at miniBar screams next generation. With only twelve seats offered each night, the dining experience is very intimate in that the chefs prepare the food right in front of you literally an arm’s-length away.
You never know what to expect here because the menu is ever-changing. Just expect a futuristic experience filled with a bunch of smoke and mirrors as well as a hefty price tag when dining at miniBar. You’ll definitely want to eat here once you are making mad skrill and are ready to splurge on a night of sumptuous eating. This experience will legitimately blow your mind and give you new meaning to what food can be and possibly might be.
25. Oysters at Old Ebbitt Grill
A historic landmark in the nation’s capital, Old Ebbitt Grill has been around since 1856. It’s impressive that a restaurant has been able to last that long, considering the high mortality rate in the restaurant biz. You have to come here and just take it all in.
From the turn of the century speakeasy decor to the simple American food, there’s no reason not to come here. Oysters are the thing to get. They always have a nice selection and you can bet it’s fresh. A spritz of lemon and some horseradish is all you really need to take that crisp saline oyster to the next level.
26. Bottarga at Pizzeria Paradiso
Serving up authentically Italian oven fired, thin crust pizza, Pizza Paradiso also boasts one of the district’s most impressive beer selection. The Bottarga is a standout on the menu, topped with in house tomato sauce, minced garlic, parsley, parmesan, egg, and Bottarga — a Mediterranean delicacy of salted, cured fish roe, giving the pie a kick of Umami flavor.
27. Palak Chaat at Rasika
The Palak Chaat (fried spinach) at Rasika is simple yet addicting. The crispy spinach is served with sweet yogurt and a date chutney, which helps the dish to balance its sweet and savory flavors. This is a side dish one should be sure not to glaze over.
28. Kingston at SUNdeVICH
Anything in between two pieces of bread is always a sign of a good time. At SUNdeVICH, they have made all sandwich lovers’ dreams come true. Each of their sandwiches are named after a city in the world and from that they are able to create one of a kind bites that transport you to another place.
The Kingston is one of the most popular ones and will transport you to the beaches of Jamaica. A sandwich stuffed with spicious jerk chicken, tropical pineapple salsa, a fresh slaw and garlicky aioli spells trouble for anyone yearning for their tastebuds to get a major kick of flavor. So go grab yourself a Kingston, man (imagine that in a Jamaican accent).
29. Pumpkin Curry at Thai X-ing
Thai food isn’t just pad thai and papaya green salad because if that’s all you know you’re missing out on so many other options. Hidden in the basement of a DC townhouse, Thai X-ing serves diners family style with the intent of sharing a meal together. You make a reservation for so-and-so number of people and depending on the size of your party the chef will make a number of dishes for you.
Although the menu is ultimately decided by what is fresh and seasonal, the pumpkin curry is their signature dish and is always served as a part of your meal. As expected of any curry, there is a nice burn from the chilis used in the red curry, but the sweetness from the pumpkin and coconut milk aid in creating a cooling effect that balances the entire dish. You never know what you’ll get here but be ready to bring a group of hungry friends and share an amazing meal together.
30. Ice Cream at Thomas Sweet
There’s not much better than a slowly melting cone of creamy homemade ice cream on a hot humid DC summer day. President Obama agrees, which is why he found his favorite ice cream spot off Wisconsin Avenue at Thomas Sweet.
T-Sweet’s, a local nickname, offers freshly prepared fudge, chocolates, and of course a chalkboard filled with ice cream and frozen yogurt flavors. Sample away until you find your flavor and prepare yourself for a hefty serving of DC’s most iconic ice cream.
31. Crispy Brussels Afelia at Zaytinya
A photo posted by Zaytinya (@zaytinyadc) on Mar 25, 2015 at 9:35am PDT
Arguably Jose Andres’s best restaurant, Zaytinya is a modern twist on Mediterranean tapas. Creating the dish that made everyone fall in love with Brussels Sprouts, the green balls here are roasted until crispy then topped with coriander seed, barberries, and garlic yogurt. The menu is extensive and innovative, a place where you want to bring all your friends so you can try everything. Crispy flatbread accompanies the meal, letting you soak up all those delectable sauces.
32. Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes at Eastern Market
A photo posted by Johanna (@notesfromamessykitchen) on May 4, 2014 at 9:30am PDT
Open since 1873, Eastern Market is a DC institution and weekend morning destination. Washingtonians line up for their famous blueberry buckwheat pancakes at the market lunch stand, and you should too. The market lunch stand also serves homey Southern food, such as cheesy grits, a BLT with a fried green tomato, and a selection of seafood like crab cakes and fried fish.
33. Burgers at Good Stuff Eatery
This food porn worthy burger shack serves up juicy high quality burgers oozing with toppings of your choice. Load up on mushrooms, cheese, bacon or play it slim with lettuce and tomato, maybe a drizzle of mayo for some fun. Don’t forget the shakes and fries. This joint is famous for their thick toasted marshmallow milkshake that brings you right back to summertime bonfires. Even in the dead of a DC winter.
34. Pork Sausage & Lychee Salad at Rose’s Luxury
If you don’t mind the inevitable wait, then Rose’s Luxury is the place to be. It won the best new restaurant title by Bon Apetit last year and has gained meteoric popularity. The dishes can’t really be classified into a specific cuisine and varies depending on the season. Dishes like spicy strawberry sauce spaghetti and pickle brined fried chicken are popular when available.
The dish that is always on the menu is the lychee salad. A combination of garlicky pork sausage, whipped coconut cream and sweet lychee, it doesn’t sound particularly great at first, but once you try it, you’ll forget any notion of doubt you had of this dish.
35. Pop Tarts at Ted’s Bulletin
Ted’s pop tarts bring all the staffers to the hill and they’re like, “it’s better than yours.” This café restaurant is famous throughout the district for their irresistible homemade pop tarts decorated with colorful sprinkles. Ted’s Bulletin also offers great brunches, coffee and other nibbles for hungry DC locals.
36. Steamed Maryland Crabs at Maine Ave Fish Market
Maine Ave Fish Market is the oldest open air fish market in the United States. That’s right NYC, it’s older than your beloved Fulton Fish Market; DC’s one upped you there. You can literally go up to the vendors, pick the seafood you want and have it prepared on the spot. The selection ranges from Chesapeake Bay oysters to succulent Maryland Blue Crab.
Depending on what you choose to buy you can have your seafood raw, fried or steamed; just know that it’s super fresh. You’ve got to grab a couple of crabs and have it steamed and seasoned with Old Bay. It is sweet and salty with that hint of brininess from the sea. Protip from the locals: order female crabs so you can get the added bonus of indescribable crab roe.
Outside of DC
37. Galbi at Kogiya
If you’ve enjoyed the recent fad of Korean tacos, you need to go and try the original concept in Korean BBQ. Do not think about American BBQ where smoke and time are the secret ingredients, it’s all about the marinade and a nice sear the Korean way.
Sure you can try the bulgogi that everyone will order, but you also need to order the beef galbi. They are beef short ribs that have been marinated in an assortment of secret ingredients that brings out the savoriness of the beef while adding a kick of sweet and umami to bring it full circle. All the meat is prepared in front of you on a hot grill, so you won’t have to worry about your food getting cold.
Bring an empty stomach when coming here because you will be nomming on all you can eat meat and banchan (aka Korean side dishes of pickled veggies and more).
38. Peking Duck at Peking Gourmet Inn
Stereotypical Chinese takeout is greasy and you probably feel a little guilty having eaten it afterwards. It’s alright, we’ve all been there. Peking Gourmet Inn is Chinese food, but you will only be craving for more once you’ve tried their namesake dish, the Peking Duck.With walls lined with photographs of politicians and celebrities, you know it’s got to be good with the number of powerful people that have dined here throughout the years.
Prepared tableside, the crispy golden duck skin glistens as the experienced waiter skillfully slices the meat. Once ready, diners prepare a roll using the house-made pancake, duck and garnishes. It is the dish that every table will undoubtedly order and for good reason.
39. Bún Bò Huế at Phung Hoang in Eden Center
You can be vanilla by playing it safe and buy a couple of bánh mì sandwiches and eat a bowl of phở, but if you want to get a real feel for Eden Center, go and try the bún bò Huế. Although it’s not located in the heart of the DC, it’s definitely worth it to explore the road less traveled. Eden Center is basically little Vietnam and bún bò Huế will hit your tastebuds on every level.
Think of it as the wild younger brother of phở, it combines rice noodles and a spicy lemongrass broth topped with slices of beef and even pig’s feet. This is a steaming bowl of noodles fit for any foodie.
40. Pollo a la Brasa at El Pollo Rico
While El Pollo Rico sits on the other side of the Potomac, the Pollo a la Brasa (aka Peruvian Chicken) makes the trip worth it. The rotisserie chicken holds a whole aroma of spices in its skin and is cooked to perfection so that the chicken tenderly falls of the bone. Each chicken is served with a chimichurri sauce and a mustard, allowing for an extra bit of flavor.