As somebody who firmly believes that the food of a city can really shape that area’s identity, I like to explore local restaurants whenever I get the chance. So, when I got to DC last year, a truly international city, I was excited to try a smorgasbord of cuisines and flavors. I’ve compiled a growing and adapting list of restaurants I’ve loved in DC, which I’m excited to share. Here are a few of my favorites:
Immigrant Food is a great place when you want a hodgepodge of food all in one restaurant. The Chef is originally from Caracas, Venezuela, but has lived in the Caribbean, the MENA region, and South Asia. The restaurant reimagines the food of America’s migrations into fun, mostly nutritious, dishes meant to “reflect how we see America at its core: diverse, nourishing, and welcoming.” The restaurant tries to use their restaurant as a platform to advocate for and educate people about immigration in what’s beginning to be known as gastro-advocacy.
There are three locations though I’ve only been to White House one. There, I like the Pan de Guava Y Brie (French-Caribbean buns with guava and brie cheese) for Brunch and almost any of the fusion bowls for lunch and dinner. My favorites are Madam VP’s Heritage Bowl – a dish dedicated to Vice President Kamala Harris’s Indian and Jamaican roots – with coconut-curried chicken (which I replaced with the bean-shroom substitution), turmeric rice, baby spinach, plantains, chickpeas, and pineapples – and the Persian Plants and Peas – a fusion of Iranian flavors made with chicken (or a bean-shroom substitution), split peas, crackle rice, goji berries, kalamata olive dressing, and fresh mint.
“Madam VP’s Heritage Bowl” Photo Credit: The Sunday Roast News
Although I’m perfectly satisfied by idlis and dosas, I do on occasion enjoy a more contemporary spin on Indian food. Daru is placed in a hectic intersection in DC’s Trinidad/Gallaudet area, but has a nice, vibrant ambiance inside (I suggest eating inside so you don’t get killed by mosquitos). Daru has some of the best, and for lack of a better word, elevated dahl I’ve had here – the Black Daal Buratta is incredible. So is the Sunchoke Chaat with avocado, date, black salt, and marble potato, the Scallops Moilee with coconut, curry leaves, and gun powder masala, and the Striped Bass Paturi with turmeric, red chili, hung yogurt, makrut, and kale kichidhi. It’s not traditional, but it’s a highly interesting menu with complex and innovative dishes built from the classics.
“Black Daal Burrata” Photo Credit: @daru.dc Instagram
Hunkered in what used to be a former church and what is now the Line Hotel, this restaurant serves local and seasonal Mid-Atlantic dishes. Although I personally don’t like the temperature drops that come with the seasonal changes here, I do appreciate the menu updates. I come here for the rotating roster of comfort food with Chesapeake Bay ingredients. My favorite dishes have been the Cornbread (a staple), the Cast Iron Roasted Rockfish with turnips, Kyoto carrots, sweet potato, and benne miso, and the Chesapeake oysters.
“Ember Grilled Sweet Potato” Photo Credit: Maya Prakash
Before coming to DC, I had never tried Georgian food before. I must say, as someone who enjoys bread with cheese, I love it. For those unfamiliar with Georgian food, try a khachapuri. Tabla has several types, but I highly suggest the Ajaruli – a boat-shaped piece of bread with a cheese and egg blend mixed in front of you by the server. (I still dream about it). The Khinkali – soup dumplings – are also incredible (my favorite is filled with seasonal mushrooms) and there are lots of vegetables from the garden or grill to accompany your meal.
“Ajaruli Khachapuri” Photo Credit: Eater
It took me a while to find where this restaurant was. Maydan is hidden in a corridor next to Franklin Hall, La Colombe Coffee Roasters, and 305 Fitness. It isn’t signposted at all but is accessible through one ornately decorated door. It’s a bit difficult to get a reservation, but going immediately at 5 pm is your best bet when you don’t book a table.
From the A La Carte menu, I’d say the Halloumi is the must-get dish. It’s soaked in a wildflower honey and Egyptian dukkah mixture and is absolutely magical. I also get the Muhammara (with pomegranate molasses), the Omani shrimp (with tamarind sauce), and the Grilled Butterflied Branzino with red shatta, oranges, sumac, and cumin. Maydan also has some of the best Knafeh I’ve had in DC, which, for those that don’t know, is a traditional Middle Eastern dessert made with shredded phyllo dough, lots of cheese, rose syrup, and pistachio. It’s my favorite dessert and is nearly impossible for me to make, so getting it from restaurants is best.
“Knafeh” Photo Credit: Maya Prakash
The restaurant opened somewhat recently as a pop-up in response to the community’s needs through the beginning of the pandemic. Now, the team has grown as well as the restaurant which supports Latin American immigrant workers “through food and economic support and in providing our neighborhood with essential products.”
I love Muchas Gracias for any time of the day. For brunch, I order the Potato Kale Flautas made with Yukon potatoes, dinosaur kale, pickled onions, and chipotle crema (which can be made vegan) and Fried Plantains. For lunch and dinner, I get the shrimp aguachile made with Gulf of Mexico blue prawns, cucumber, chayote, serrano, mint, blueberries, avocado, pickled onions, and corn tostada, and the Baja Sunfish tacos that has a great mustard tartar sauce. The Flour Quesadillas with mushroom and cactus is also a fantastic choice.
“Baja Sunfish Tacos” Photo Credit: The GW Hatchet
Although I’m just a pescatarian, I do enjoy eating vegan most of the time. Luckily, DC has some great vegan restaurants, especially:
This restaurant is just two blocks away from SAIS on 17th St, so I go here a lot. It’s a casual vegan deli that’s great for a quick lunch. I get the Fried Artichoke Sandwich every time – nothing beats it! Other highlights are the King Trumpet Calamari, made with mushroom rings instead of squid, and the Philly Jackfruit sandwich, made with braised jackfruit, seared peppers, and cashew cheese cream.
“Vegan Calamari” Photo Credit: Washington City Paper
Fruitive is also a near-SAIS spot on Connecticut Avenue. I eat here once a week on the day that I run out of my meal-prepped lunches. I don’t like the bowls too much, so I mostly stick to the Southwest Quesadilla and the Early Riser Wrap. Their Cashew Garlic Cream and guacamole on top of the wrap and/or quesadilla is just beautiful.
“Early Riser Wrap” Photo Credit: Fruitive
Named after American Poet, Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy in the 1920s before gaining recognition as a poet, Busboys and Poets functions as a restaurant, bar, bookstore, and community gathering place. I like to go to weekly slam poetry nights and brunch at the 14th St location. However, be aware of the long lines for weekend brunch days. The DC staple is always busy and vibrant and for good reason – the food is comforting and consistently great. My go-to every time is the Vegan “Egg” Wrap with tofu, onion, mushroom, tomato, spinach, vegan sausage, vegan cheese, and a spinach tortilla at any time of the day. They also have a lot of gluten-free and non-vegan options for other restaurant-goers.
“Vegan ‘Egg’ Scramble” Photo Credit: @busboysandpoets Instagram
Chaia has two locations in DC, in Georgetown and Chinatown, and then one in Bethesda. The farm-to-table tacos idea produces an incredibly tasty menu and everything in the kitchen is made from scratch. I like the Braised Mushroom, Chipotle Sweet Potato, and Skillet Sweet Corn taco trio combination and the simple Mushroom Quesadilla. I also hear their cookies are very good – I can’t personally vouch for them yet, but they’re from Rise Bakery here in DC, which is a wildly popular gluten-free bakery.
“Taco Trio” Photo Credit: Thrillist
Technically, Foxtrot is not a restaurant. It’s more of an organic grocery store with to-go options. There are a few locations and, luckily for us, there is one in Dupont Circle. As a smoothie enthusiast, I think I’ve tried every smoothie in DC (not that there are a lot), and Foxtrot, by far, has the best. The Desert Detox, made with cactus pear, orange, pineapple, blood orange juice, agave, Irish sea moss, and burdock root blended with oat milk, is unlike anything I’ve tried before. And the Full Recovery – Belgian coca, banana, plant-based protein, sunflower butter, Four Sigmatic mushroom blend, and collagen peptides blended with oat milk – is also brilliant. They also have seasonal sips (including a Fruit Loop Matcha), breakfast sammies, breakfast tacos, toasts, and bowls that are vegan-friendly.
Foxtrot Storefront. Photo Credit: The Washingtonian
I go to Vegz in Adams Morgan when I want my comfort South Indian food, but I’m too lazy to cook anything. I also never make dosas or vadas for myself, so this is a great place for that quick fix. Their hoppers – a Sri Lankan dish made from rice flour and coconut milk that almost looks like a smaller dosa inverted to make a bowl- are great too. Vegz is entirely vegan or vegetarian (and has a lot of gluten-free options), so, for our vegan friends, almost the entire menu is available for you!
“Plain Dosa” Photo Credit: @vegzdc Instagram
Lastly, eating at this restaurant was one of my favorite experiences in DC. Elizabeth’s Gone Raw is a very expensive vegan-tasting menu that is meant for special occasions. But, if you can swing it, I thought the splurge was worth it. They serve vegan caviar, which was one of the best dishes I’ve ever had, and a set seasonal menu. I was amazed by the Deconstructed Yellow Beets Infused with Sea Buckthorn. Don’t let the fact that the menu is vegan fool you – each dish is as delicious and sophisticated as any other non-vegan tasting menu meal. You can do a wine pairing, but the chef’s tasting menu alone was memorable enough for me.
“Vegan Caviar” Photo Credit: Maya Prakash
We’re curious to hear what other SAIS students’ favorite spots are, so we’d love to hear from you! Let us know where you like to eat, and what you order there by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We might even feature it on our socials!