The Smithsonian Restaurants, Ranked

Let’s face it, museum food isn’t great.
The Smithsonian Restaurants, Ranked image

photo credit: Dolcezza

Let’s face it, museum food isn’t great. That’s okay though because you’re being fed in other ways, right? In this city, you’re almost always better off grabbing a hot dog from one of the endless food trucks outside, but if you do find yourself waiting in line with the droves of tourists on Constitution Ave. and questioning your life choices, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a definitive ranking of the Smithsonian’s best (and worst) cafeterias and cafes.

photo credit: Josh Weilepp/NMAAHC

Soul Food

Penn Quarter

$$$$Perfect For:LunchWalk-Ins
Earn 3x points with your sapphire card

There’s no debate here: Your safest bet for good food, and a good time, is at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. When the museum first opened, the Sweet Home Café was a popular attraction for both tourists and locals, and while the initial hype has died down, you can still score a solid meal for under $30—especially if you stick with the fried chicken and collard greens.

While the food at Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe is decent (not bad, not great), the vibes in the dining space are immaculate. Like the American Indian Museum, the cafe honors Indigenous design elements, like the 20-foot totem pole carved by a Tlingit artist as the centerpiece. If you’re looking to switch up your WFH routine, the cafe is much less crowded than most coffee shops in the city and the wifi is fast and free. Grab a wooden seat near the windows, where sunlight flows in from the courtyard next door.

Courtyard Cafe might not win any gourmet food awards, but the views are one of a kind. Cradle an Americano while filling up on sunlight in the courtyard of The National Portrait Gallery (not a Smithsonian museum, but a local favorite). Inside, there are trees and a glass ceiling made for those who prefer their time with Mother Nature to be indoors.

The Dolcezza monopoly runs deep in the nation’s capital so it’s not entirely surprising that they have a cafe at the Hirshhorn Museum. But don’t expect the same quality food or drinks at the museum location, even though the prices here are considerably higher. The hot chocolate is probably the best thing on the menu, and that’s because it’s hot chocolate.


If you ever want to relive your college dining hall experience, eat at the American History Museum’s restaurant. America’s Table Cafe feels like a fever dream. And like every college dining hall there’s food that makes your stomach crawl (suspicious looking gumbo) and food you’ll gravitate toward (because chicken tenders and fries are almost always a safe bet). It all pairs nicely with the washed out red, white, and blue walls that give the space a real retro, take me home feel.

By noon the Atrium Cafe in the Museum of Natural History is packed with crowds of jostling tourists and curious kids. It can be a seriously overstimulating space as you wait in line to grab a tray drenched in what you can only hope is water. The best thing on the menu is the moderately seasoned salmon—but we wouldn't recommend it because you can get much better food around the city for $40, and you won't have to eat it in a plastic chair.

We have to be honest: There is no conceivable reason why you would wait in what can be a 45-minute line at the Air and Space Museum's Mars Cafe for food that will probably run out by the time you get to the cashier. And if it doesn't, after eating it, you'll wish it had.

Chase Sapphire Card Ad

Suggested Reading

spread of lao dishes

Where To Eat When You’re Visiting DC

A spot for every meal—and then some.

Where To Eat Near The Kennedy Center image

Because who doesn’t love dinner and a show?

spread of puerto rican dishes and drinks

Between the ballpark and the Yards, there are a lot of great places to eat and drink in Navy Yard. Here are our favorites.

Where To Eat & Drink Near Capital One Arena image

You can totally rock the red in these spots.

Infatuation Logo


2024 © The Infatuation Inc. All Rights Reserved.
The views and opinions expressed on The Infatuation’s site and other platforms are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of (or endorsement by) JPMorgan Chase. The Infatuation and its affiliates assume no responsibility or liability for the content of this site, or any errors or omissions. The Information contained in this site is provided on an "as is" basis with no guarantees of completeness, accuracy, usefulness or timeliness.


Get it on Google PlayDownload on the App Store