Where To Eat When You’re Visiting DC

A spot for every meal—and then some.
spread of lao dishes

photo credit: Nina Palazzolo

Welcome to our nation’s capital, a city of big monuments and even bigger culture. And our food scene is laced with every bit of that culture, whether it’s from down the block or halfway across the world. With so many choices, it can be overwhelming to decide where to eat after a day of exploring our free museums (seriously, y’all pay for that in your city?). Here are a few great places to check out when you’re in DC, even if you’re only here for a day.


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Mt. Vernon Triangle

$$$$Perfect For:Breakfast


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This Chinatown spot is open all day, but we like it for breakfast because it opens at 7am every day and is easy to get to, no matter how you’re getting around DC. The huge dining room fills up early with locals having a quiet coffee before work and tired parents with kids who don’t care about the hour. Get the crispy New Orleans-adjacent beignets and fluffy pancakes.

photo credit: Jai Williams

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 the decades.

Swing by this family-owned restaurant in Capitol Hill before you go catch up with your congressman or take a stroll by the reflecting pool. Expect nothing but the fundamentals: booths, bar seating, and wooden tables that can be rearranged to accommodate big groups. The straightforward menu is full of American breakfast classics, the best of which are the omelets and the french toast. Make sure you have some cash on hand, though—they don’t accept cards.

photo credit: Nina Palazzolo



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There are a few reasons to hit this all-day American restaurant and cafe in Navy Yard, like their homemade cold brew and buttery croissants. But it’s the scallion-pancake egg sandwich that will turn anyone (including tourists here for a couple days) into a regular. It comes with your choice of bacon, kimchi, or sausage, and is served with a spicy, tangy garlic-chili oil. It's a great spot to work while you eat if you’re in town on business, but is also a good choice for a family meal. Lounge on a green tweed couch if you're looking to kick back, or grab a more sturdy (but still comfortable) booth if you're there to grind.


Ben’s Chili Bowl put DC’s infamous half-smoke on the map. And while there are better sausages around town (especially the ones at Halfsmoke and DCity Smokehouse), you really should pay homage to the OG first. We force everyone who visits us to come here, 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 in half.

If you’re in Woodley Park, you’re probably heading to the zoo. Swing by Hot N Juicy Crawfish after the reptile house and split The Drool, a boil stuffed with classics like snow crab legs, shrimp, andouille sausage, potatoes, and corn. The space is big, so you can stroll in any time and grab a seat, even with a larger group.

This Asian fusion spot at the Wharf is perfect for a group lunch, thanks to the $49.99 per person chef’s sharing menu, which includes two appetizers, three entrees, and one side. Try the Bicol express, a hearty Filipino stew that’s stick-to-your-ribs good. The pork belly is crispy and juicy, and the broth is packed with spice.

DC’s Ethiopian food game is stronger than anywhere else in the country, so you definitely want to hit one of our local restaurants. Head to Chercher in Shaw during lunch for some of the city’s best—and it comes without a long wait. Get the shiro, a chickpea stew, and the vegan deluxe special that comes loaded with classics like collard greens, lentils, and beets. It’s great for sharing with a group, though we’ve been known to get through it on our own.


If you’re looking for the opportunity to see what DC was like a couple hundred years ago, head to 1789 in Georgetown. The restored Federalist-style building with slender hallways and doorways that even your shortest friend will have to duck through are reminiscent of a time long ago. While the space can feel a little tight, the portions here are huge—finishing the juicy, football-sized pork chop will require a Fred Flintstone appetite. If you’re looking for an upscale dinner that’s on the more affordable end, this is your place.

Sura serves up piping hot Thai street food in a laid-back basement space in Dupont Circle that’s great for a quiet, casual dinner with a couple of people. The menu changes regularly, but might include rice topped with rich spicy pork belly or tempura-style calamari. Don’t skip the lychee martini or the crème brûlée.

To get an understanding of just how good the food in DC truly is, go to Thip Khao. The Lao restaurant in Columbia Heights always has a line by the time they open their doors, and that’s because the dishes like the mee kathi are bursting with flavor. The place gets packed and 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.

The Monocle, which has been serving the city since the ’60s, lets you eavesdrop on lobbyists and various elected officials while eating some of the best steaks you’ll get in DC. Despite the congressional folks, you can usually just walk in and grab a seat, whether you’re hanging solo at the old-school bar or having a friend date in the dining room. And while you don’t need to dress to the nines, skip the sweats if you want to blend in with the Hill crowd.

José Andrés is the unofficial culinary king of DC, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t include one of his spots on this list. While the food at Jaleo can be inconsistent, it’s got a great buzz, with people crammed into every nook and cranny (including the outdoor patio in winter), covering their tables in tapas. You haven’t quite lived until you’ve watched someone in a parka and gloves eating coliflor salteada and pollo croquetas on a 30-degree day.


This Capitol Hill institution is a great place to grab a drink and imagine all the secrets these walls have heard. It looks like an old lodge, full of pictures of ancient men you’ll definitely recognize from their days at 1600 Pennsylvania. There are, of course, Hill staffers and lobbyists hanging around and acting important, but you’ll also find locals swinging by. If you’re 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 DC.

This Georgetown lounge is an excellent way to wrap a long day of shopping and meandering along the C&O Canal. The inventive cocktail menu includes drinks like the Bay of Bengal, served in a flowered tea cup, or the Sakura, which tastes like a vesper martini served in a sake glass. It’s open until 1am during the week and 2am on the weekends, and feels like a place where you’ll meet a mysterious stranger who is an international spy. Make this the last stop of the night when you’re ready to wind down.

The Green Zone is one of the best bars in DC, so it gets packed early. Head over around 4pm so you can grab a seat before the crowd arrives. Named after an area in Baghdad, this Middle Eastern bar serves a bunch of craft cocktails featuring ingredients from that part of the world, like the Women. Life. Freedom, a vodka-based drink with cardamom and rose. The bar does have strong political stances—one of the drinks is called the F*ck Trump punch—so do with that what you will.

Medina might be the only bar in DC that we dream about, thanks to their indoor bedouin tent and cocktails so pretty we almost don’t want to drink them. You’ll want to plan ahead for this one, because the best seats in the house are on cushy couches and those require reservations at least a couple weeks out. Once you’ve secured your spot, try the Medusa, made with mezcal and topped with a salty foam, and order some  chermoula, kefta hummus full of tiny meatballs, and endless pita bread to go with it.


Rose Ave Bakery is our go-to spot for, well, anything you get at a bakery or coffee shop. The Asian-owned cafe opens at 8am most days, if you want to swing by for a breakfast of crab rangoon tarts and ube iced coffee. Or come before 4pm for an after-zoo snack of black sesame donuts and matcha chocolate chip cookies. There’s plenty of space to sit and eat, though it does tend to get busy with the remote-work crowd during the week, so walk over to Rock Creek Park around the corner if you need a secondary option.

This gluten-free bakery has a big display case stacked with treats like banana bread, cupcakes, and lemon bars. It's impossible to leave the colorful Hill East rowhouse without a bag of treats—but get it to go because this bakery is so serious that the kitchen takes up three-quarters of the room and there are only a handful of seats. Make sure to grab their chai-spiced donut, coated in a sweet, spicy glaze that crumbles gently in your hand.

This Dupont Circle institution has a display case full of homemade brioche, flaky almond croissants, and apple tarts, and everything here tastes as good as it looks. There are limited seats, so your best bet is almost always to take your stuff to go. But if you can snag one, grab a sidewalk table and enjoy a pastry, coffee, and all the people hurriedly trying to catch the next red line train to Glenmont.

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