There's no place like home, and I'm so proud to call DC my new one. The emerging food scene and old-time staples make for such tasty choices, it's hard to stay home and cook anymore.
Just visiting? Here are a few recommendations of DC's must-trys that you likely can't get anywhere else.
Ben's Chili Bowl (U & 13th Sts., NW - U Street Corridor)
You've probably seen this place featured on every travel and food show about DC. The reason? A must. While the food does live up to the hype, I find the scenery here the ultimate attraction. Everyone, from all walks of life show up for breakfast, lunch, dinner and super-late-night dining (even Jacques Chirac & Carla Bruni!), but even behind the counter provides an interesting show. It's a bit hard to navigate since a long and seemingly disorganized "line" gathers close to the door, but just hang out for the first open seat at the bar and be sure you only interact with the one server who takes your order.
Dukem (1114-1118 U St., NW @ 12th - U Street Corridor)
DC is THE place for Ethiopian food and the U Street Corridor is THE neighborhood. Dukem, I hear from Ethiopians and Ethiopian food fans alike is THE place to enjoy.
Brunch at Georgia Brown's (15th St., NW btwn I & K - Downtown)
Sunday brunch is a sell-out, but it's worth waiting at the bar if you don't have reservations. Their biscuit-battered French toast is worth every carb-count and calorie. Unfortunately regular meals throughout the week have been lacking the past year, but the people watching is still fun.
The Mansion on O
Minibar (405 8th St., NW @ D - Penn Quarter)
As soon as you know you'll be coming to DC, make a reservation at Minibar for a 25+ course molecular gastronomy experience. This exclusive restaurant within a restaurant seats only 6 (twice per evening), so while they may be full for your selected date/s, ask to be added onto the waitlist.
POV Rooftop Terrace at the W Hotel (15th & F Sts., NW - near White House)
Have a drink on the terrace, especially on a warm evening, and watch the sunset. While the cocktails and tapas are pricey (you are paying for the view after all), the cocktails are at least tasty. If you get hungry, go downstairs to J&G Steakhouse and order the amazing calamari and other dishes. If you don't like standing around, be sure to make a reservation. Sometimes, the servers are kind enough to let you sit at a reserved table before the party arrives, but before you realize it, you'll be standing or switching tables once again.
Plume or Quill at The Jefferson (16th & M Sts., NW - Dupont Circle)
DC has many hidden secrets that are fun to uncover, and so does The Jefferson Hotel. Dinner at Plume offers a feast for the eyes and the taste buds with its gorgeous decor at every angle you turn and its extensive wine list with over 1200 labels that Thomas Jefferson would enjoy accompanying the 4-star meal. A drink at Quill offers signature cocktails with herbal-infused alcohols to enjoy in different settings to fit your mood, whether a social chat at the eclectic lounge, a quiet one next to the fireplace in the Book Room, an outdoor one on its terrace, or a private one in one of their private rooms. (Photos courtesy of Travel Onion.)
Saints Paradise (601 M St., NW - Shaw)
This is THE quintessential place for soul food. Not the place to go if you have any dietary restrictions whatsoever, nor any OCD tendencies. It's a simple cafeteria with simply amazing food. It's open 7 days a week, it's cheap and it's crowded. Worth every minute you wait, and every calorie you taste. Fave dish: everything.
Top Spots in my Heart and Stomach
Busboys & Poets (Various locations, but my fave is on 14th St., NW & U St. NW, - U St. Corridor)
This place combines some of my deep loves: food, books and writing. Admittedly, it is more about the atmosphere than the food, and their comfortable sofas. Some day, I do hope to read my poetry there. Fave dish: Mekhleme (Iraqi corned beef hash)
Haad Thai (11th St., NW & New York Ave., NW - Downtown)
Excellent Thai food in DC, with an incredible price. While no spice (heat) to save their lives, the dishes are delicious. Faves: crispy salmon, honey-roasted duck.
Himalayan Heritage (18th St., NW & Kalorama, NW - Adams Morgan)
I am forever grateful to my food-fanatic friends, David & Max, for taking me to this nugget of a place to take advantage of DC's diversity and excellent taste. Max warned me before eating, "Prepare to live," and boy we did. MUST have dish: Malay Kofta.
Merzi (7th St., NW @ H - Penn Quarter)
Mostly coined as "Chipotle but Indian," this place combines most things I love in a restaurant: fresh food, quality ingredients, healthy and delicious, and affordable. Read my story about Merzi at Dining in DC.
Old Ebbitt Grill (White House)
Everyone is always surprised when the see the prices at this legendary eatery. It's proximity to the White House, it's old saloon atmosphere, delicious food and strong drinks are as inviting to local lobbyists as to tourists. One of my favorite must-dos while in DC.
Pizza Paradiso (Dupont Circle)
Crispy and airy crusts, deliciously light toppings and casual atmosphere.
Port of Piraeus (Downtown)
I love this place for good quality breakfast during the week and their lunch specials are excellent for when I need a Greek food fix. I reserve my Thursdays for their pastitsio.
Zaytinya (Penn Quarter)
I had to try this place once they announced Top Chef's Season 6 contestants. After tasting various mezzes, it was no wonder Mike Isabella (who has since left the restaurant to start his own) made it onto the show. I suppose it doesn't hurt that this is one of Jose Andres' restaurants, either. And I highly highly highly recommend the seasonal mushrooms dish. This place also hosts my favorite bartender, Hung. Happy hour deals are amazing, I once left full and happy for less than $25.
For Dress Up Dates or Corporate Cards
Marcel's (2401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW @ 24th - West End)
Impeccable combination of service and food, this is the #1 place I recommend when someone asks where to have a special dinner. The Boudin Blanc is not to be missed and take advantage of the complimentary town car service to (and from) the Kennedy Center for a great evening of dinner and a show.
Restaurant Eve (110 S. Pitt St. @ King, Alexandria)
After glowing recommendations, I decided to travel all the way to Alexandria, VA to try this place and it was not only worth the splurge, but the distance.
The DinerMarket Lunch
For my Fellow Insomniacs (Yumminess All Day & Night)
Capitol City Diner
Sleeping it Off
The Jefferson (16th & M Sts., NW - Dupont Circle)
If money were no object, I would live at The Jefferson. While every detail of the hotel takes inspiration from its namesake, the subtly elegant decor and personalized service make it difficult to leave after every visit. (Photos courtesy of Travel Onion.)
Hotel Palomar (2121 P St., NW - Dupont Circle)
I love Kimpton Hotels, and I'm so glad DC has many of them. But my favorite by far, with its great location, fantastic service and excellent food. The bar is not to be missed, especially if Joe is on duty.
Other Favorite Dishes and Pit Stops
Bourbon (Adams Morgan)
One of my foodie friends highly touts this as the home of the best cocktails in DC. High praise coming from him.
Cafe Atlantico (Penn Quarter)
I haven't tried this place yet, but it's highly touted by a dessert fiend friend that this place has THE best dessert, not just in DC, but ever
Marvin (U Street Corridor)
Minibar (at Cafe Atlantico)
Rasika (Penn Quarter)
The fried eggplant comes highly recommended.
Fun for game-playing, with the feeling like you're in someone's parents' basement.
Catering/Delivery (because sometimes you just want to stay in)
They may be based in Maryland, but they deliver throughout the district. Not only do they have great, healthy, natural food, but they use compostable materials for their plates, utensils and platters.