Friends ask me nearly every day, “Where should I eat in Washington DC?” (I’ve become a resource since I’ve been writing about restaurants for the last 15 years). But there are so many great places, it’s hard to recommend one or two. Whether you’re visiting for a day or live here, one way to experience a quintessential Washington DC Area restaurant is to try foods that are well represented here: Peruvian, Salvadoran, Ethiopian, Vietnamese and MidAtlantic seafood (although in many cases, the best examples are found in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs). If you’ve never sampled these cuisines, the Nation’s Capital is a great place to try them. To get tips on where, check my trusted source: Eater DC.
These local restaurants offer you authentic cuisine using their country’s/region’s seasonings and cooking styles.
The other issue is what part of town works best for you? Each neighborhood as its own flavor and flavors! If you have time for only one, consider a trip to Georgetown, as it’s one of DC’s oldest and most well-known neighborhoods. Located on the banks of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, visitors and locals alike are captivated by the charming cobblestone streets and Federal style architecture. Some of the best views in Georgetown are from the Washington Harbor overlooking the Potomac River. From here you can take a nice little boat ride and can see the monuments from a unique perspective. Then dine at one of the many restaurants.
My favorite is Fiola Mare (in Washington Harbor) known for its stellar service and unparalleled Italian seafood. But around Georgetown you can’t go wrong with Bodega, Filomena, La Canale and the historic 1789 Restaurant near the Georgetown University Campus. If you’re looking after your health, a superb place is Seasons inside the Four Seasons Hotel with a new menu developed by The Blender Girl. Mindful eating never tasted so divine.
Closer to the Convention Center is the high-energy neighborhood of Penn Quarter and Chinatown, near the Verizon Center where concerts and professional sporting events are held. There are tons of great restaurants in the area (although the best Chinese restaurants in the DC Area are in Rockville, Maryland).
In Penn Quarter, I love Zatinya, Graffiato, Daikaya, Oyamel and Rasika. These are all owned by Washington-centric chefs (e.g. Jose Andres and Mike Isabella) who have contributed a lot to the culture of the city. I also never tire of Nandos Peri Peri’s chicken. As it’s open until 7 pm, maybe you can stop in the National Portrait Gallery before or after your meal.
Close to the White House is The Hamilton which has live music, and it’s a short walk to the National Mall from there for some sunset monument viewing. Also the W Hotel’s rooftop bar POV (feature image) is a must-see experience. Great views and great food. If you want to dine like our forefathers, check out the iconic Occidental Bar & Grill and the Hay Adams Hotel’s Off the Record Bar. These are Washington DC landmarks, and great places to spy DC politicos and journalists having a drink. The Mayflower Hotel is another famous spot, and The Edgar Restaurant (named for the FBI’s J Edgar Hoover who was a daily patron) is a fun place for breakfast or cocktails. If you want to learn about the scintillating history of Washington’s historic bar scene, try downloading a Detour Walking Tour.
The U Street Corridor probably has the area’s buzziest and busiest restaurants. So many places serve first class meals in style, but they all celebrate the heritage of this multicultural neighborhood. Once known as Black Broadway, so many important leaders of color have lived and worked here. As for restaurant standouts, I like Barcelona Wine Bar, Etto, Le Diplomat, Busboys and Poets, TaKorean, Etete and Oohh’s & Aahh’s. This is where the original Ben’s Chili Bowl is located.
In nearby Dupont Circle, you’ll find some fabulous shops, bookstores and a park where lots of people gather. Some favorite restaurants in this vibrant neighborhood include Agora, Tabard Inn, Iron Gate, Panas and Obelisk. The Jefferson Hotel’s Plume Restaurant is an elegant award winner, and there’s also a beloved FRESHFARM Farmers Market every Sunday morning.
Dupont Circle’s Farmers Market is a great place to sample local food, and it’s open year-round.
Eastern Market’s Flea Market on Capitol Hill is a blast on the weekends. Inside the market are dozens of vendors selling fresh, local food. A few blocks from the US Capitol, Library of Congress, Supreme Court and Folger Shakespeare Library, there are tons of worthwhile restaurants here; they’re predominantly located on 8th Street in Barracks Row. It’s a happening place!
Around Capitol Hill, try Ted’s Bulletin for brunch; Cava for superior Greek cuisine; or Good Stuff Eatery and We the Pizza for a quick bite if you’re on the go. When you have time to wait (and I do mean wait though it’s worth it!), consider a meal at Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurant of 2015: Rose’s Luxury.
In good weather, find your way to the Waterfront in Yards Park near Nationals Stadium. Our favorite brewery/restaurant is here, Blue Jacket, where they produce superior craft brews that you can only try when you dine in the restaurant. The food’s great too.
I hope this helps you find restaurants and eating experiences that make your trip to DC memorable. Let me know what I missed!
Freelance writer and photographer specializing in vivid, deeply reported stories about food, travel and family.