I crowdsourced my readers and friends who live in DC for their favorite restaurants in Washington DC and man, did they direct me to some amazing restaurants with compelling stories! I spent a week in DC and slowly worked my way through these highly-recommended restaurants and came to understand what makes Washington DC such a food destination. Its diversity and history. People from all walks of life bring people from all walks of life to their table with recipes developed out of love, history, and passion. I hope you take the time to read some of the stories behind these restaurants. We have humanitarians, immigrants, and Chopped winners sharing their talents with the locals and visitors of Washington DC.
As always, I’ll be updating this guide with each subsequent visit to DC!
Note: This post was last updated Dec 2021.
Zaytinya, headed by humanitarian and James Beard Award-winning Chef José Andrés
Recommended a few times to me was Zaytinya, a Mediterranean restaurant just a few steps from the National Portrait Gallery (which is free and wonderful, by the way.) Open from lunch to dinner, Zaytinya is headed by James Beard Award-winning Chef José Andrés. Look, his food is very good, but do you know what I love most about what I’ve learned about Chef Andrés? It’s his humanitarian efforts. For instance, he’s worked to serve over 3.5 million meals in Puerto Rico after the devastation of Hurricane Maria. He’s not just a talented chef, he’s a human rights activist. For that, I’ll always recommend his restaurants.
701 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Chicken Madness at Wisemiller’s Grocery and Deli
Sugarface and I got married last week and since Japan’s borders are still closed, we opted for a short mini-moon in DC. Sugarface went to Georgetown for undergrad. He’s been telling me about the Chicken Madness sandwich from Wisemiller’s Deli for almost 7 years now. It was a delight to finally eat the original Chicken Madness! It was an A+ sandwich and would totally eat it again.
Chicken Madness at Wisemiller’s Grocery and Deli
1236 36th St NW #2627, Washington, DC 20007
Dine at Le Diplomate if you want a mini escape to France
After Baked & Wired (written about later in this post), Le Diplomate comes second in the most recommended when I crowdsourced top restaurants in Washington, DC. Their bread table is what dreams are made of. Le Diplomate serves classic French cuisine in a space that transports you to Europe. Dining in their covered patio on their small tables brought me back to my short time in Paris. I loved my braised lamb and the stolen bites of duck confit from Sugarface’s plate. A longtime DC local told me that if I want to eat an elevated Big Mac, to try their burger. Ha! I’ll have to next time!
1601 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009
Unconventional Diner, an Unconventional Dot Near the Washington Convention Center
I took myself on a solo breakfast date to Unconventional Diner. I was tickled by their name as they’re a few steps away from the Convention Center in DC. Truly, Unconventional Diner is an unconventional diner. They have a hip and modern space and a sassy and creative menu. I quite enjoyed my chickpea shakshuka. They’re also quite celebrated in the community and it’s not hard to see why.
1207 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Purple Patch for a playful combination of traditional Filipino and innovation
Over and over again, I celebrate immigrant stories when I talk about my favorite restaurants. Purple Patch is a Filipino restaurant owned by a first-generation Filipino-American woman, Patrice Cleary. She was born in the Philipines and immigrated with her family when she was young. Her mother kept their culture alive through the food. And now Patrice shares her family history and culture with people of DC at Purple Patch. We had a fantastic first meal in DC here. I recommend the Spicy Adobo Chicken sandwich!
3155 Mt Pleasant St NW, Washington, DC 20010
Fuji Japan Food Truck, one of many flanking the National Mall
Fuji Japan Food Truck doesn’t appear to have a website but in searching for their site, I found so many happy reviews of their ramen! I’ve never had ramen from a food truck before. I was in the middle of a long walk with my two rambunctious dogs, so I didn’t dare order the ramen. Their pork belly bao was a great lunch option. I stumbled on this food truck during my walk to the National Mall. You’ll find rows of food trucks at the National Mall, a great place to picnic. Pictured are my dogs fixated on the bao I had behind me when a kind stranger offered to take our photo.
Thai X-ing for a Homey Vibe and Thai Omakase Experience
Sugarface said Thai-Xing might be his favorite meal from our week in DC because of the unique experience. The experience? You make a reservation for dinner and there is no menu to choose from. Everyone receives the same courses depending on what was decided on that day by chef and owner Taw Vigittaboot. The prix fixe menus are $30 on weekdays and $40 on Fridays and weekends. Tuesday is their vegetarian and fish night. The price is a steal for the amount of food served and the quality of the dishes.
Vigsittaboot shares his traditional home-style Thai recipes passed down from the women in his family. Mother, aunt, and grandmother. The setting is an intimate house. The quality is excellent. We had a pumpkin dish that blew us away, and I wish I had a bowl of their papaya salad.
Protip: They have a bar but you can also bring your own wine. Corking fee is $5 per bottle. (You’re not allowed to bring beer or liquor in accordance with DC government regulations.)
2020 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Dolcezza Gelato for a Sweet Pick-Me-Up
I managed to squeeze in a catch-up date with my friend, Christina at one of her local favorites. Dolcenezza’s gelato and coffee have been written up in some top-tier publications, including Bon Appetit, Saveur, and the New York Times. I needed some pep to fuel more eating and opted for an affogato. The cookies and coffee gelato was the perfect pairing for my espresso.
District Fishwife and Other Union Station Restaurants
A guide to restaurants in Washington DC would be remiss if it didn’t include a mention of the food hall Union Market. One of our stops at Union Market was District Fishwife. I had these delicious fish tacos. As mentioned often, I love celebrating good humans creating positive impacts in this world outside of their business. The husband-wife team behind District Fishwife share a passion for agriculture, fisheries, and aquaculture. They carefully source their seafood and try to minimalize their impact on wildlife populations. I love supporting business owners who use their platforms to help spread awareness of environmental causes.
District Doughnut’s Creme Brûlée Doughnut
Also located at Union Market, is the purveyor of my favorite creme brûlée donut. (I’ve had quite a few creme brûlée donuts.) They didn’t skimp on the custard filling and that brûlée crunch gives a satisfying bite. One of District Doughnuts many accolades is Best Doughnuts in DC, which they won for four consecutive years. It’s a terrible and wonderful thing that I don’t live close enough to them to eat them every day.
You know I love my donuts. For a donut guide to the Triangle, check out this article.
Coconut Club for Spicy Asian flair and their Instgram-Friendly Space
Not far from Union Market is the hip Coconut Club, serving tropical eats like spicy coconut chicken and the best Spam fried rice I’ve ever had. If you are squeamish about Spam (which I’m definitely not), their Spam Fried Rice is a great starter dish for you. I challenge you to not love it. My friend Patrick picked Coconut Club for our catch-up dinner. Competition is fierce, but Coconut Club might win for my favorite meal when we’re talking about Asian flavors. Must orders: Spam fried rice, Spicy Coconut Half-Chicken, and Brussel sprouts. I have to admit I’m getting tired of restaurants doing the same thing over and over again to Brussel sprouts. If you feel the same way, get Coconut Club’s truffle sprouts.
I did some digging on Chef Adam Greenberg of Coconut Club and learned he won Chopped four times and beat Bobby Flay once. Just two of our favorite cooking shows! We visited Coconut Club for dinner but I’d love to come back during the day. Their space is SO Instagram-friendly.
540 Penn St NE, Washington, DC 20002
Chercher or Many Other Ethiopian Restaurants
Did you know Washington DC is home to the most Ethiopian natives outside of Africa? One thing I love about Ethiopian cuisine is it makes me, someone who doesn’t gravitate naturally to vegetables, be excited to eat vegetarian and vegan. I’ve heard time and time again, you cannot skip Ethiopian when you’re in DC. I picked the highest-rated restaurant closest to where I was staying, which is Chercher. I recommend the Vegan Special here. A hearty and hefty platter with 10 different vegan sides to eat with injera.
Chercher Ethiopian Restaurant & Mart
1334 9th St NW Washington, DC 20001
La Colombe for a Quiet Caffeinated Break
La Colombe has locations across 7 cities in the US and has won recognition as one of the country’s best coffee purveyors. I stopped at the Blagden Alley location for a quiet mental break. This alley is also home to beautiful and diverse street art.
Tiger Fork for Noodles of Happiness and Dim Sum Style Brunch on Sundays
Also located in Blagden Alley is Tiger Fork. We went for the dim sum style brunch. One of our favorite dishes from the whole trip is the beef chow fun (pictured left). Beef chow fun is one of my all-time favorite noodle dishes and Tiger Fork’s noodles are SO PLUMP. The plumpest. So delightful. If I had to pick just one dish to have over and over again from Tiger Fork, that’s my pick. We also ordered the Hong Kong Breakfast special that includes an egg sandwich, egg custard, and Hong Kong milk tea.
922 Blagden Alley NW, Washington, DC 20001
Baked & Wired Wins Most Popular Cupcakery in DC
I crowdsource from both visitors and DC locals before visiting DC and Baked & Wired was the most recommended place. Pictured is the pistachio cupcake. Not pictured is the porked Elvis (banana cake with peanut butter icing topped with bacon. I bought the latter to Sugarface who isn’t that big into desserts. He said, “[%#&], that’s good.” Also, if you like apple cider and chai, try their Chaider!
Protip: Locals unanimously said if you have to choose between Baked & Wired or Georgetown Cupcakes, go to Baked & Wired.
Baked & Wired
1052 Thomas Jefferson St NW, Washington, DC 20007
A Baked Joint Should Sling Biscuits in NC
And because I loved Baked & Wired so much, I figured their bakery/cafe sister restaurant, A Baked Joint, would probably please me too. I’m so smart sometimes! A Baked Joint serves gourmet sandwiches, biscuits, toasts, and more. I wish I could eat three more of these breakfast biscuit sammies right now. I bet they would do so well in the fierce North Carolina biscuit scene. (Consider this a public plea for them to open a location in NC!)
A Baked Joint
430 K St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Ben’s Chili Bowl Brings People Together Since 1958
The Ali family opened Ben’s Chili Bowl in 1958 and still remains a popular place amongst both visitors and locals. When Ben’s Chili Bowl first opened, the street (U Street) was then known nationally as “Black Broadway” and Washington DC was still segregated. But all were always welcome at Ben’s. And all are still welcomed. My friends Arturo and Karina and I met a 5 am one day to drive to DC and spend the day there before heading back to NC. It was one of the most ambitious day trips I’ve ever taken. Our last stop before hitting the road back home was to get chili fries and dogs here at Ben’s Chili Bowl. I loved being amongst the diverse crowds in the restaurant. To go from segregated beginnings to a melting pot of happy customers? What an awesome journey.
Ben’s Chili Bowl
Momo’s Cafe For Instagram-Friendly Taiwanese Snacks
If you love fried chicken, flowers 🌸🏵🌺, and over-the-top desserts, I know just the place for you. Momo’s Cafe is a Tawainese cafe located west DC past Georgetown. Back in February, during the aforementioned 10-hour trip to DC, I came here with my friends Arturo and Karina. We happily shared basil popcorn, Taiwanese Spicy Pot, and the beautiful Honey Toast. The Honey Toast is meant to be shared. We were so full that we split the gorgeous dessert with the table next to us. This honey toast was stuffed with green tea ice cream and mini toast; it was glorious. Five-stars. Would eat and share again.
4828 MacArthur Blvd NW, Washington, DC 20007
Busboys and Poets feed both Body and Mind
One of these days, I’ll round up the bookstores that have won my heart as I slowly travel around the world. For now, let me tell you about this bookstore/diner in DC. First opened in 2005 and now with multiple locations, Busboys and Poets are owned by an artist, activist, and restaurateur, Andy Shallal. Busboys and Poets is named for American poet Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy prior to gaining recognition as a poet. Busboys and Poets offer their space to feed hungry souls, tantalize voracious readers, and host talks celebrating diversity and culture. A safe place you can feed both mind and body. (I loved their thin mint latte and their Cubano was a hearty lunch.)
Busboys and Poets
Daikaya – Izakaya on Top and Ramen on the Bottom
Daikaya has two restaurant concepts in one space. On the second level is their Japanese-style Izakaya and below is their ramen shop. We met up with old friends at the izakaya, and it was a solid place to nhâu. Nhâu is a beautiful Vietnamese verb that translates to “snacking while you drink with friends.” And that’s what we did. Snacked on Chicken kara-age, grilled avocado, chawanmushi (silky savory custard), enoki, and miso salmon. I especially liked the chawanmushi (pictured right).
705 6th Street Northwest Second Floor, Washington, DC 20001
And that concludes my DC restaurant guide for now…
I love DC for its diversity which is undeniably showcased in its restaurant scene. It has only been a few days since I left and I miss it already. I cannot wait to return and to revisit some of these restaurants in Washington DC and also add more gems I’m sure to find. Did I miss any of your favorites? Help me plan my next trip and tell me about your favorites in my comments!
To find out about the Conrad Hotel in DC, which is where we stayed, check out this blog post.
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