Washington, DC, was chosen to be the capital of the United States because it occupies a position between the northern and southern states. Also, at the time it was founded, it was seen as a bridge to the western territories, which were in the process of expanding. So while Washington, DC, is a long, long way from being the geographical center of the United States nowadays, it remains a kind of cultural crossroads.
The result of that is that you can get just about anything you want to eat in Washington, DC. From the best street food in the city to the high-end restaurants where powerbrokers make deals over glasses of wine and an exquisite tasting menu, just about every culinary tradition is represented in the nation's capital.
Drop off your bags at a Bounce luggage storage in DC, and you can treat yourself to more than one amazing meal. Whether you want to try amazing Southern BBQ, fried chicken, blueberry buckwheat pancakes, or more exotic fare like a pork and lychee salad, you'll find it all here. And don't worry if you have special dietary requirements. The best vegetarian restaurants in Washington, DC, ensure you'll never feel left out if you don't eat meat, and there are plenty of gluten-free and raw food options available here too.
So what are you waiting for? Try some of these delectable dishes as you eat your way through the city.
Washington, DC, Food: Fried Chicken
A trip to Washington, DC, would not be complete without trying some of the best fried chicken in the country. While there are many different places that claim to serve up the best bird, one place that consistently gets rave reviews is Duke's Grocery.
This unassuming Dupont Circle spot serves up Southern-style cooking with a twist. The buttermilk fried chicken is juicy and flavorful, and the team behind Duke's Grocery knows how to fry chicken properly so that it remains crispy even when it's drenched in one of their delicious sauces. The menu also offers plenty of other Southern classics like shrimp and grits, pimento cheese, and sweet tea if you want to explore further.
Washington, DC, Food: U.S. Senate Bean Soup
There are many different versions of this American classic, but the Senate Bean Soup served in the United States Senate cafeteria is perhaps the most famous. The recipe for this dish has been passed down through generations of senators and has remained largely unchanged since it was first served in the early 1900s.
The soup is made with navy beans, ham, onion, and celery, and it has a thick, creamy texture that will warm you up on even the coldest of days. There's also a version named after Sen. Fred Dubois, which includes mashed potatoes.
If you want to try this legendary dish for yourself, you can head to the Senate cafeteria or one of the many restaurants around town that serve it. Just don't expect to find out what the secret ingredient is – that's a closely guarded secret!
Washington, DC, Food Food: Lychee Salad
Rose's Luxury is an iconic American restaurant in Washington, DC, that is known for its creative approach to modern cuisine. Perhaps the signature dish is the pork and lychee salad, which perfectly combines sweet, sour, and savory flavors.
The dish comprises slices of roasted pork loin, lychees, Thai basil, mint, cashews, and a chili-lime vinaigrette. It's the perfect balance of flavors and textures and will leave you wanting more.
Of course, this is just one of the many amazing dishes on offer at Rose's Luxury. If you're feeling adventurous, you can also try the octopus or the sweetbreads. But whatever you do, make sure you save room for dessert at one of the most iconic Washington, DC, restaurants.
Washington, DC, Food Food: Half-smoke Sausage
No trip to Washington, DC, would be complete without trying a half-smoke sausage. This local specialty is a cross between a hot dog and a smoked sausage, and it's typically served with chili, cheese, onions, and mustard. A half-smoke is a combination of pork sausage and beef sausage, and the iconic snap when you bite through the casing is what lets you know you have an authentic Washington half-smoke on your hands.
If you want to try the best half-smokes in town, head to Ben's Chili Bowl. This iconic restaurant has been serving up delicious half-smokes since 1958, and it's still one of the most popular spots in town.
Washington, DC, Food: Burgers
There aren't many cities on earth where hamburgers aren't available, but this local restaurant takes things to another level. Burger joints in DC offer a range of creative burgers named after different cities around the world. Try the Kingston, a delicious sandwich stuffed with Jamaican jerk chicken, or the Tokyo, a burger topped with soy-glazed mushrooms, wasabi mayonnaise, and pickled ginger.
Of course, there are plenty of other burgers to choose from, and you can also opt for a chicken sandwich or veggie burger if you're not in the mood for beef. No matter what you order, make sure you save room for one of the delicious shakes. The salted caramel shake is a must-try.
Washington, DC, Food: Kitfo
It may surprise you to learn that Washington has the biggest Ethiopian population outside of Africa. That makes the nation's capital the best place in the United States to try Ethiopian food.
One of the most popular Ethiopian dishes is kitfo, which is minced beef seasoned with chili pepper, cardamom, and other spices. It's typically served with injera, a spongy flatbread that is used to scoop up the meat.
If you want to try kitfo for yourself, head to one of the many Ethiopian restaurants in Washington, DC. Just be warned – it's very easy to overeat when there's so much delicious food available!
Washington, DC, Food: Chesapeake Blue Crabs
DC is located on the Chesapeake Bay, so it's no surprise that blue crabs are a local specialty. These delicious crustaceans are usually steamed and served with Old Bay seasoning, making for a perfect summertime meal.
Crabs are just one of the many seafood options available in Washington, DC. If you're looking for something a little lighter, you can try the Maryland-style crab cakes. Or, if you're feeling adventurous, why not try some grilled eel? No matter what you order, you're sure to enjoy fresh, delicious seafood in America's capital city.
Washington, DC, Food: 40-layer Lasagna
You may not associate lasagna with Washington, DC, but this local Italian restaurant has become famous for its 40-layer version of the dish. The lasagna at L'Ardente is made with 40 thin layers of pasta, and it's served with a creamy red sauce made from locally sourced ingredients.
If lasagna doesn't get your mouth watering, plenty of other delicious dishes are available here. why not try a pizza from their gold-plated pizza oven? And don't forget about dessert. The tiramisu is out of this world!
Washington, DC, Food: Oysters
Oysters are another local specialty in Washington, DC, and they can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Raw oysters are popular, but if you're not a fan of raw seafood, you can try them fried, baked, or grilled.
No matter how you like your oysters, make sure you wash them down with a refreshing beer. Washington, DC, is home to many craft breweries, so you'll have no trouble finding a delicious local beer to enjoy.
Washington, DC, Food: Avocado toast
While most people have heard of avocado toast, it's a popular snack or light meal in DC. The recipe is simple. Grab some toast, grab an avocado, and you're done. Not quite, but the dish's simplicity is definitely one of its redeeming features.
Most restaurants serving this DC favorite don't just stop with the two basic ingredients. The toast is dressed up with everything from eggs to international spices to vegetables like tomatoes and onions. Head to Toastique, a gourmet toast and juice bar, to really kick your avocado toast up a notch. It's located in The Wharf DC, so there's lots to do by the waterfront here after you finish your toast.
Washington, DC, Food: Saganaki
Saganaki is a Greek dish made from fried cheese. It's typically served with lemon and a side of pita bread, and it makes for a delicious appetizer or main course.
If you're looking for a hearty meal, order the saganaki as a main course. It typically comes with a choice of two sides, so you can fill up on Greek salad, fries, or rice. This is a great option for vegetarians in DC who want to eat Greek food and for anyone wanting a break from their carnivorous ways.
Washington, DC, Food: Avgolemono Soup
There's only one place to go for this unusual Greek dish: The Greek Deli. This unassuming deli serves up some of the best avgolemono soup in town, and it's well worth seeking out if you're a fan of this creamy, lemony soup. If you haven't had it before, there's no time like the present. Don't miss the opportunity to try this Greek dish that has become a staple of Washington, DC, cuisine.
The Greek Deli is located in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of Washington, DC, and it's open for lunch and dinner. Be sure to bring cash, as they don't accept credit cards.
Washington, DC, Food: Bahn Mi
Bahn mi is a Vietnamese sandwich made with pickled vegetables, fresh herbs, and either pork, chicken, or tofu. It's typically served on a baguette, and it makes for a delicious and filling lunch.
There are many great places to get bahn mi in Washington DC, but one of the best is Bánh Mì DC. This small shop specializes in bahn mi, and they offer a variety of different options to choose from.
Whether you're a fan of pork, chicken, or tofu, you're sure to find a bahn mi that you'll love at Bánh Mì DC. So what are you waiting for? Head on over and try one today!
Washington, DC, Food: Mumbo Sauce
Mumbo sauce is a sweet and tangy sauce that is often used as a dipping sauce for chicken wings. It's made with a combination of vinegar, sugar, and spices, and it has a unique flavor that you won't find anywhere else.
If you're looking for something different to try, order some chicken wings with mumbo sauce the next time you're in Washington, DC. You can find them on the menu at many of the city's restaurants and bars.
The food culture of Washington, DC, is all over the place. Maybe that's fitting for a city that was designed from the very outset to be a place where different cultural groups meet. You can eat your way around the world in just a few square blocks around the National Mall and have lunch in a great Ethiopian restaurant, followed by Greek cuisine for dinner and Korean food for breakfast the next morning. And although DC isn't ordinarily a cheap city, there are so many DC restaurants competing with each other, so it's not too difficult to find more affordable dishes no matter what you like to eat.
Whether you're looking for crab cakes slathered in sweet chili sauce, a rich chocolate mousse, or a jerk chicken burger complete with tropical pineapple salsa, you'll find it all here. And don't worry about overindulging. As tempting as it can be to pig out here, there are so many great hikes near Washington, DC, that you can always find a way to burn off those excess calories.
Drop off your bags at a Washington, DC, luggage storage, and you'll be able to fully explore all the incredible restaurants that call the city home. By the time you leave, your taste buds will have been on a tour around the world!