Whether you’re a long-term resident or visiting Washington, DC for the first time, these are the absolute best foods you do not want to miss in Washington, DC!
In the 15+ years that I’ve lived in the Washington, DC area, the food scene has exploded. It’s a food-lover’s dream.
But there are only so many calories one can consume in a day (no matter how hard one might try), so where do you concentrate your gastronomic efforts?
You start with the list below! While DC has an exceptional variety of amazing restaurants and foods, the list below contains the best foods you do not want to miss in Washington, DC!
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1. Unbelievably good beef stew
Dish: Beef Bourguignon
Where: Le Diplomate
I’m not sure it’s fair to call beef bourguignon a simple “stew”. Especially not the beef bourguignon at Le Diplomate.
I love everything about this dish and everything about this restaurant.
When I learned Stephen Starr (the Philadelphia-based restauranteur) was opening a restaurant in Washington, DC, I was one of the first in line to sample its dishes. And Le Diplomate has never disappointed.
Le Diplomate is the first restaurant I take out-of-town guests. And I always (always!) get the beef bourguignon.
Savory, tender, exceptional. You cannot go wrong with this dish.
2. Heavenly cupcake
If you want a cupcake from Baked & Wired, you need to get there first thing in the morning. The shop opens at 8AM and the cupcakes go fast!
That’s because Washington, DC locals know that this is the go-to place for the absolute best cupcakes in town.
Dense, decadent, delicious. You can’t go wrong with any of the cupcakes from Baked & Wired!
3. Uniquely DC sausage
Dish: Original Half-Smoke
Where: Ben’s Chili Bowl
If you only eat out at one place in Washington, DC, make it Ben’s Chili Bowl at its U Street, NW location.
Ben’s Chili Bowl has been an integral part of the Washington, DC food scene since 1958.
Its claim to fame is the half-smoke (a pork and beef-blend sausage). Get it with chili, mustard, and onions.
And don’t forget to check out the fantastic murals on the west side of the building!
4. Exceptional seafood enchiladas
Dish: Seafood Enchiladas (Enchiladas de Mariscos)
Anyone who knows me knows that I like UVA basketball, traveling, and the seafood enchiladas at Lauriol Plaza.
Because of Lauriol Plaza’s popularity, it can sometimes have long wait times to be seated.
But, I’ll tell a little secret! Lauriol Plaza’s sister restaurant, Cactus Cantina, serves the exact same seafood enchiladas and hardly ever has a wait!
I now happily get my seafood enchilada fix without the wait at Cactus Cantina.
5. Life-changing crab cakes
Dish: Crab Cakes
Where: Great American Restaurants
You may *think* you’ve had good crab cakes before. But when you try the crab cakes from one of the Great American Restaurants, you’ll realize that no other crab cake can compare.
You’re going to have to cross the Potomac River to go into Virginia for these crab cakes. But they are well worth the trip!
You can get them at any of the Great American Restaurants. If you’re coming from DC, the Carlyle in Shirlington is probably your closest Great American Restaurant.
Alternatively, if you’re planning on doing some shopping at Tyson’s, you can get your crab cake fix at Coastal Flats (another Great American Restaurant).
6. Oysters that will make anyone an oyster-lover
Dish: Oysters on the Half-Shell
Where: Old Ebbitt Grill
Old Ebbitt is one of the most-frequently requested restaurants my relatives want to visit while they’re in town.
In addition to the great food, Old Ebbitt has spectacular ambiance. It has an old-world feel about it, which has attracted numerous politicians, actors, and singers to its doors (in addition to my family!).
Every year, Old Ebbitt hosts a party called “Oyster Riot” that features all-you-can-eat oysters and plenty of wine pairings.
Sample a few of the oysters yourself during the daily raw bar happy hour from 3-5PM.
7. Phenomenal salt air margarita
Dish: Oyamel Margarita
Where: Oyamel Cocina Mexicana
Washington, DC restaurant José Andrés is many wonderful things. Chef, philanthropist, and creator of the best margarita on the planet.
The Oyamel Margarita has something called “salt air”. It’s this phenomenal froth of saltiness that skims the top of the margarita.
But be warned, this margarita may ruin all other margaritas for you! It’s seriously that good.
8. Extraordinary chicken
Dish: Chicken Zarape
Prepare yourself for the best chicken dish of all time.
That’s exactly what you’re going to get when you order the chicken zarape at El Centro D.F.
The dish is the perfect blend of chicken, creamy rice, and bacon. When I’m craving chicken, it’s this dish that I want.
Also be on the lookout for El Centro D.F.’s annual sugar skull paint and sip event in October to celebrate Dia de Los Muertos. That’s my kind of paint and sip event!
9. Fancy pop tarts
Dish: Ted’s Tarts
Where: Ted’s Bulletin
As a devotee to all things sweet, the fancy pop tarts at Ted’s Bulletin hold a special place in my heart.
Forget all your ideas of what a pop tart has been. Instead think of the beauty of what it *could* be.
Flaky crust. Smooth, creamy filling. Delicate icing.
The pop tarts at Ted’s Bulletin are all that and more. My favorite is the brown sugar and cinnamon.
Go to Ted’s Bulletin for the delicious pop tarts. Stay for the boozy milkshakes. Yum.
10. Mouth-watering king crab legs
Dish: Steamed King Crab Legs
Where: The Wharf Fish Market
If you want fresh seafood in the DC area, then you need to go the fish market at The Wharf.
Long before The Wharf came along in all its glittering beauty, the fish market graced the shores of the Washington Channel.
It’s the oldest continuously operating open-air fish market in the United States. It’s been in operation since 1805!
For something to last that long, you know it’s got to be good.
My go-to at the fish market are the king crab legs at Salt Water Seafood.
But just be prepared for some sticker shock. These are *special* occasion eats. But definitely worth the occasional splurge.
11. One potato dish to rule them all
Dish: Patatas Bravas
Would this really be a list about the best foods you do not want to miss in Washington, DC if I didn’t mention José Andrés at least twice?
After you partake in the delicious Oyamel margarita, head across the street to José Andrés’ Jaleo.
Once there, you need to order the patatas bravas. Spectacular fried potatoes with a cream and marinara topping.
If you have friends with you, make them order their own portion of patatas bravas. Because you definitely won’t be sharing yours!
12. Incredible Middle Eastern
Dish: Shawarma Hommus (Hummus)
Where: Lebanese Taverna
You’ll want to head back over the Potomac River into Virginia for Lebanese Tavern’s delicious Middle Eastern cuisine.
They have multiple locations in Virginia, including one at National Airport that I make a point to stop at whenever I travel through National Airport.
I’m a big fan of their shawarma hommus. I usually get the chicken shawarma but the lamb shawarma also looks amazing.
I hope you have the chance to try and love some of these foods soon!