The First Timer’s Guide To Eating & Drinking In DC guide image


The First Timer’s Guide To Eating & Drinking In DC

All the best places to eat and drink your first time in DC.

Welcome to our nation’s capital, a city of big monuments and bigger culture. The food here reflects every bit of that. With so many choices, it can be overwhelming to decide what you should be doing on your first trip to town (and no, your middle school field trip doesn’t count). Whether you’re here to hang out at our free museums (Seriously, the rest of y’all pay for that?), check out the center of our government, or simply enjoy some Go-Go music, ya still gotta eat. Here are a few great places to check out if it’s your first time in DC, even if you’re only here for a day.


photo credit: Reema Desai

Ben's Chili Bowl review image

Ben's Chili Bowl


1213 U St NW, Washington
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If you know anything about DC dining, you’ve heard of Ben’s Chili Bowl and the infamous half-smoke. While we prefer the half-smokes at Halfsmoke and DCity Smokehouse, you really should pay homage to the OG half-smoke gawd first. We force everyone who visits us to try the American spot, because it’s just as much a historical landmark as it is a restaurant. Grab the original chili half-smoke with all the fixins and ask them to split it.

The oldest Black-owned American restaurant in the city requires some planning if you want to taste their famous hot cakes, served with butter, cinnamon, and powdered sugar.  After more than 70 years serving the city, the Shaw spot only opens Friday through Sunday from 9am-2pm. That makes it perfect if you’re in town for the weekend, but block out a couple hours for your meal because things take time here. But as they say, good things come to those who wait, and it’s worth it to try dishes like the cajun fried catfish that have been perfected over almost a century in business.

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Getting your José Andrés fix is a must when you come to DC. With so many choices, it can be hard to know which direction to go in, but his 2023 addition, a Spanish spot called The Bazaar, is where you’ll get his best food and most fantastical setting (it’s inside the Waldorf Astoria at the Old Post Office Building in Penn Quarter). We’re talking indoor cherry blossoms, a glass ceiling stories above the second floor dining room, and a bridge structure overhead that feels like a train might ride by at any moment. Don't skip the spanish octopus, which combines octopus, fried potatoes, and chorizo and tastes as good as it sounds.

DC is not a standout pizza town, but 2Amys is one of the best. The main dining room, which is always bustling, is bright and white, and on sunny days light spills through the huge window facing Macomb St. The open kitchen lets you see the wood-fired pizza oven in all its glory and the staff skillfully making personalized Neapolitan pies. There’s a patio in the back, a tiny bar area, and an upstairs with a sprawling space good for splitting bottles of wine with your friends. Stick with the old “K.I.S.S.” adage and just get a 2Amys or margherita pizza with pepperoni. And don’t skip the homemade limoncello.

This Capitol Hill institution is a great place to grab a drink, munch on bar food, and imagine all the secrets these walls have heard. It looks like an old lodge, full of stuffed animals (real ones, not the cuddly kind) and pictures of ancient dudes you’ll definitely recognize from their days at 1600 Pennsylvania. There are, of course, Hill staffers and lobbyists and whatnot hanging around and acting more important than they are. But you’ll also find locals swinging by the neighborhood bar. If you are lucky enough to come through with an old head, they’re likely to have a Hawk ‘n’ Dove story that will make you understand how rooted the restaurant is—not just on the Hill—but to the people who make up the fabric of the city.

photo credit: Michelle Goldchain

Ethiopic review image




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With one of the largest Ethiopian communities in the country, the city is blessed with some seriously good Ethiopian food. Ethiopic is a great place to start. Take your pick of big communal tables if you’re visiting with friends or grab one of the smaller, more secluded tables if you have something intimate going on. Just know the H St. spot gets packed on the weekends, so you’ll need to plan ahead (you should be straight on weeknights). Either way, get the vegetarian platter with the fried fish.

Assuming you’re in town all day, you’re going to need to eat breakfast, so get some takeout tacos at La Tejana. You can stand at the counter along the window or enjoy the Mt. Pleasant sidewalk seating if it’s warm. Otherwise, plan to keep it moving. There are only five taco options on the menu, which they rightly recommend you order in batches of two or three. Each soft taco is made with some variation of eggs, queso, potatoes, or refried beans on flour tortillas made in-house. When everything is assembled, you're left with an effortlessly good meal.

To get an understanding of just how good the food in DC truly is, go to Thip Khao. The Lao restaurant in Columbia Heights is one of the best restaurants in the city, which is why there’s a line by the time they open their doors. Every dish here is bursting with flavor. The mee kathi, a noodle soup made with a rich red coconut curry topped with peanuts, cabbage, bean sprout, mint and cilantro, gives you crunch and spice. The place gets packed and the tables are close together, so be prepared to get cozy with your neighbor. It just gives you a good excuse to check out what they’re eating for dinner the next time you come back, which will probably be sooner rather than later.

DC’s largest immigrant population hails from El Salvador, and that means there are lots of fantastic places to get pupusas and other Salvadoran classics. El Tamarindo in Adams Morgan is DC’s oldest Salvadoran spot—which is fitting since most trips to DC include a little bit of history—and serves up fast, flavorful food. The menu is a mix of Salvadoran and Mexican, so along with pupusas, sweet plantains, and tamales, there are tacos, burritos, and fajitas. It’s a casual spot that will get busy with both visitors and locals, and you can get all-day Happy Hour at the bar.

photo credit: Reema Desai

Cane review image


No one in DC does Trinidadian food better than Cane. The first thing you see when you walk into the Trinidadian restaurant on H St. is a painting of President Obama, mouth wide open, eating doubles. And the doubles at Cane taste as good as the ones in the painting look, both overflowing with spices and chickpeas. The menu pays homage to Afro-Indian food and includes heavy hitters like oxtail and snapper escovitch. But if you’re going to try anything, get the jerk wings, which are smoked for three hours after sitting in a 24-hour marinade made with scotch bonnet, cumin and paprika.

You’ll have to plan ahead to experience Albi’s Sofra tasting menu, but the pita bread alone is a reason to make the effort to score a reservation. There’s a literal buzz that flows through the Navy Yard restaurant as diners chat about the latest Middle Eastern course. The bookshelf near the chef’s table is lined with antique teapots and The Gaza Kitchen cookbook. Tables in the main dining room sit atop bold, patterned rugs while candles and thin fluorescents light the room. The $125 tasting menu, which varies a bit each night, showcases the best Albi has to offer and is the way to go here, but there are also a la carte options.

When you come to the nation’s capital, it’s worth rubbing elbows with the people who make our government work (or not). The Monocle, which has been serving the city since the ‘60s, lets you eavesdrop on lobbyists and gush over congresspeople while eating some of the best steaks you’ll get in DC. The yellow and green building sits damn near on Capitol grounds, which makes it a great place for lunch or dinner after you’ve taken a tour or checked in with your senators. It’s a fun mix of old and new—there are throwback cash registers sitting next to a tablet playing smooth jazz. And while you don’t need to dress to the nines, skip the sweats if you want to blend in with the Hill crowd.

After spending the day exploring Georgetown, go to George’s for  some of the best shawarma in the city, which explains why there’s always a line to the door. Don’t worry, the service is fast and the Georgetown spot is larger than it looks. There’s a downstairs counter where the Mediterranean food is served and an upstairs seating area if you’re too impatient to take your food to go. The lamb and chicken shawarma served with fresh pickled radishes, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Both are worth every penny (in this case around $10).

No trip to DC is complete without heading over to Chinatown. After you take your obligatory photo under the entryway (yes, we’re judging, but also we get it), head over to Tony Cheng’s. This spot has graced H St. long before Walgreens put all the Chinese markets out of business. There are two restaurants here, but head upstairs to sample the solid Chinese menu. It’s the closest you’ll get to Chinese fine-dining in this part of town, and the mirrored columns, gold accents, and sturdy, burgundy chairs give the place a regal (though dated) feel.

People fell in love with Rose’s Luxury the moment it hit the scene in 2013, and the American restaurant still delivers. The Capitol Hill spot doesn't quite serve a tasting menu, but for $95 per person, you’ll get to choose a bunch of dishes based on how many folks are sitting at your table (4 plates for 2 people, 6 for 4, and so on). Don’t skip the pork and lychee salad, which is mindblowing. It’s sweet and salty and spicy and crunchy and soft, so basically any (good) flavor or text you can imagine.

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