Various factors contribute to the diversity of Washington’s cuisine: its location on the Chesapeake Bay (perfect for super-fresh seafood) straddling northern and southern America, a diverse population bringing different flavours and ideas, and the money and power of a political centre.
Although Washingtonians have known it for years, the DC food scene became recognised beyond the city and country limits with the launch of the Michelin Guide in 2016, alongside the opening of the glossy waterfront Wharf district.
Here are some of the best places to eat in Washington DC, and why.
The district: The Wharf
Completed a year ago, the overhauled 1.6-kilometre Wharf is a long overdue entertainment district for DC. Which means it’s lined with swaggering restaurants and bars perfect for alfresco eating, such as Mexican Mi Vida, which has a following as strong as the margaritas it serves, and Dolcezza Gelato, which does fancy coffee and artisanal ice cream. Jenny’s Asian kiosk (the reincarnation of Jenny’s at the Wharf) does simple noodle dishes, while dockside Cantina Bambina does a roaring trade in margaritas and quesadillas. Come for the atmosphere, stay for the food.
The dish: Chicken and waffles
Thanks to DC’s position, straddling northern and southern America, there’s a lively line-up of Southern cuisine, serving classic dishes like maple syrup-drizzled chicken and waffles. One of the most recent openings is Succotash in downtown DC (named for the corn and lima bean dish that’s a Southern staple). Opened last year in a former bank building by Kentuckian Edward Lee, Succotash specialises in classic dishes like chicken and waffles on pretty pink floral plates; chocolate pecan pie; and a ‘dirty chicken’ cobb salad. There’s a long happy hour too – from 3-7pm. succotashrestaurant.com
The trend: Food trucks
Food trucks have become A Thing in DC, and some of the best (Red Hook Lobster Pound and DC Empanadas are two highlights) are found along the National Mall and the Wharf. Roaming Hunger has a good map to help you track down their locations. Ideal for a quick snack between museum stops. roaminghunger.com/food-trucks/dc/washington-dc/
The institution: Ben’s Chili Bowl
The stamp of approval: Michelin
DC’s food scene came of age when it got its first dedicated Michelin Guide in 2016. This September, Michelin publishes its third edition, with yet more restaurants expected to snap up the hallowed stars. Currently, 13 restaurants have one or two stars, and countless others are designated Bib Gourmand restaurants, offering value for money. The best restaurants in town, if you believe the Michelin people, are the two-star Pineapple and Pearls by Capitol Hill star Aaron Silverman and the avant-garde Minibar, by DC food hero José Andrés, which has just 12 seats and a very expensive tasting menu. Further afield, The Inn at Little Washington, outside the city proper in neighbouring Virginia, is housed in a cute Relais & Châteaux property and also has two stars. guide.michelin.com/us/washington-dc