Where To Grab Dinner If You Want To Avoid Tourists

Where To Grab Dinner If You Want To Avoid Tourists image

photo credit: Reema Desai

We love the fact that DC is a tourist destination, but we could do without the long lines and unbearable wait times. Like ducking Muriel’s many traffic cameras, it pays to know how and when to avoid (tourist) traps. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite neighborhood restaurants, places where you can ditch the gaggling gawks of newcomers for locals—and lobbyists, probably.


photo credit: Nina Palazzolo


Cathedral Heights

$$$$Perfect For:Casual Weeknight DinnerClassic EstablishmentWalk-InsOutdoor/Patio Situation
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While the tourists are down the hill in Georgetown, the real Wisconsin Avenue hot spot is Cactus Cantina. This Tex-Mex restaurant, which is a couple of blocks from the National Cathedral, has served DC residents for over 30-years—meaning there are people who have celebrated both their first drink and their first child here. The restaurant is huge and can seat around 300 people comfortably, so it works well for a casual catch up or group gathering. The food itself is just okay, though.

Be forewarned that although visitors don’t come to Trattoria Alberto, congressional staffers do (but avoiding them is a different guide for a different day). The restaurant is a staple for those on the Hill looking for Italian food done right, think spaghetti and marinara, chicken parmesan, and a crème brûlée that’s almost worth sitting through long-winded conversations about congressional procedure. The best seats in the house are on the patio, but the restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so come early.

When you walk into Mama Ayesha, a Palestinian restaurant in Adams Morgan, chances are you’ll find neighbors having their weekly standing dinner or playing cards on one of the square wooden tables out back. The tiny restaurant, which you can walk the length of in under 60 seconds, has been a staple in the community since 1960. And the coral cushioned seats and wooden panels adorned with carefully crafted light fixtures are reflections of that. Stick to the basics on the menu. The hummus, charred kebabs, and dessert are all great, but the kibbeh, fattoush, and lamb shanks could be better.

Habesha Market and Carry-Out is the Ethiopian spot tourists haven’t heard of yet, which is quite the find in a city known for its Ethiopian food. That said, the Shaw restaurant is well-known and beloved by locals, so don’t spill the beans. With $11 vegetarian platters teeming with lentils and collards, the restaurant is a great spot for feeding the whole family or a big group. The cherry on top is that they’re open from 8:30am-11pm on weekdays and until midnight on weekends, making it possible to indulge your craving for doro wat at almost any time of day.

There's nothing particularly memorable about Annie's Paramount Steakhouse—aside from the bright multicolored balloons hanging around the restaurant's patio—but the laidback neighborhood vibe is probably what keeps the tourists away. The family-owned steakhouse has been around since the '40s, making it one of the cities oldest restaurants. Regulars here, mostly locals that have lived in Dupont for as long as they can remember, have their orders down pat because once you find what you love (for us that’s the ribeye steak in cajun spice rub and the key lime pie), you stick to it. Bring your family or a group of friends for a casual weeknight get-together while munching on steak you're definitely not going to share.

La Tejana, a Tex-Mex restaurant in Mt. Pleasant, is a go-to neighborhood staple for a quick and delicious breakfast. Thankfully, the tourists haven’t caught on… yet. The growingly popular carry-out spot serves breakfast taco that you should order in batches of two or three. Each one is made with some variation of eggs, queso, potatoes, or refried beans on house-made flour tortillas. The food here is seriously good and the staff, who quickly learn your name and order, is even better.

While the tourists are eating at the Wharf location, Hank’s Oyster Bar in Dupont is reserved for Washingtonians. The seafood restaurant is divided into two sections. At the front bar, you’ll find crowds of people coming off the heels of work, dining in for Happy Hour where drinks and bites start at $5. Back in the main dining room there are awkward family gatherings and third dates sitting around wooden tables and chairs. The oysters here are, of course, delicious (order a ½ dozen with a few varieties until you settle on your favorite), but the steamed mussels soaked in herb butter is the dish you’ll find yourself coming back for weeks later.

The best way to avoid the selfie sticks and matching tee shirts of out-of-towners is to head to restaurants that they have a hard time even accidentally stumbling on, and Brookland’s Finest is that place. Tucked on the corner of a residential Brookland street, the American spot is part sports bar, part neighborhood tavern. Families and couples are grabbing dinner in the dining room, while regulars post up at the bar catching whatever sporting event is on TV. On nice days, folks are out on the patio and the bar windows open up for outdoor bar seating, too.

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