Eat like the Maestro in DC
Updated: Jul 2, 2022
Car Talk, my very favorite old NPR show, took calls from all over the country, and whenever Tom and Ray got a call from DC, Tom always asked "Are you a lawyer or a politician?" Indeed, DC has a well-heeled professional class and is teeming with government and other business, and is also a center of spectacular diversity owing both to its status as a major American metropolis and also the center of the US government. These circumstances merge to make the city one of the most exciting, internationally-focused, and unique food cities in the country.
Neither before nor since I landed in DC for a quick 36 hour layover (on flight 1776, no less!) have I visited the city. During my great east coast road trip, I had three days and nights to explore. You can bet I got into some serious culinary adventuring! So, let's begin our next installment of the "Eat like the Maestro" series!
It's your first night in the nation's capital. Focus on international cuisine in DC––the center of American politics attracts fantastic food from all corners of the globe. Anju is a wonderful contribution to the east Asian food scene in the city in a lovely neighborhood near Dupont Circle. Elevated Korean bar food is the game here, and James Beard Award-nominated chef Angel Barreto churns out fantastic, re-invented classics alongside elevated original creations. Don't miss their pan-fried pork mandu (dumplings) and bring a friend to share a larger dish like their Korean-inspired whole branzino. Wash it down with their Korean-inspired gin and tonic before taking a sunset stroll around the Mall.
Before your first day exploring the monuments of the National Mall, stop in for coffee and a snack to boost your energy levels. Never settle for chains––there might be a Panera across the street from the Mall, but there's also family-owned Timgad Café tucked into the basement of the Ronald Reagan Building complex. A cold brew and a dark chocolate and almond biscotti enjoyed on their patio eavesdropping on lunch meetings of the movers and shakers of Washington should perk you right up for a day exploring and museum-hopping.
It's likely you know someone in DC, so snag a beer with them to refresh after touring the city's countless sights. Valor Brewpub, just across from the Marine Corps HQ in Barracks Row, produces excellent beer in-house paired with snacks. A crisp beer should slake any thirst that might arise from all the day's walking, and seeing an old friend is an additional breath of fresh air.
Happy hour is an entire culture in DC––the ambitious, overworked denizens who inhabit the halls of power need a tipple after work to take the edge off. Seek out an early dinner at a spot with killer happy hour offerings, like Daru, a neighborhood modern Indian restaurant with some of the most exciting happy hour bites in the city. The chicken tikka masala tacos are a must, as is their za'atar spiced naan. But if you're here for happy hour, get some discounted cocktails, like their Flower Bomb, made with calvados and various floral flourishes, and let the liquor help you forget that a happy hour cocktail costs $10 these days. Need more food? Dig into their exciting selection of modern Indian creations. Finish things early and put your feet up––you have more exploring to do tomorrow!
If you're like me, the glitzy power broker hotels are too dear, and you'll end up parking your carcasses somewhere across the river in northern Virginia. You're in luck, though, because some of the most exciting food in the area can be found in pockets of these Virginia 'burbs. Just twenty minutes from the heart of DC is a thriving central Asian community, and Afghan Bistro is the culinary epicenter. For an inexpensive lunch, drop in and enjoy a sampling of Afghani dips and spreads with the complimentary bread, and don't miss their traditional beef mantu dumplings smothered in carrot and chickpea kurma. The joy of Afghan culture is evident in every interaction with the congenial staff and bite of the spectacular food.
I'm giving you a bit of agency for the next dinner on your visit! DC has so much to offer––do you go for something more exotic, like sampling a thriving Ethiopian food scene at a place like Zenebec? Do you go for the unique menu design and creative prix fixe options at Rooster & Owl? Or, do you go for the amazing Levantine cuisine of one of Eater's 11 Best New Restaurants in America, Albi (review forthcoming!)? Whatever your choice you're sure to find something wonderful and right up your alley in the nation's fifth largest metropolitan area. But in the meantime, here's a little preview of Albi!
The Hearth Table tasting menu at Albi is the next post for the blog, coming this week! Following that, a look, back-to-back, at two of the finest restaurants in the country, where I happened to dine on back-to-back nights toward the end of the trip. Until then, enjoy a wonderful weekend!