Eating in the District:
This is by no means a list of the hottest spots in town, as those are often difficult to snag a reservation (which means thinking ahead, not a specialty of my family) OR they don’t take reservations (which means waiting in line, also not our thing). If you’re willing to brave the queue at Little Serow or Rose’s Luxury, let me know how they are. We’ve eaten at our fair share of fancy restaurants (both the Equinox and Blue Duck Tavern are worth the $$$), but here are a few we return to:
If you want to get a snapshot of the food scene in DC, spend an afternoon at Union Market and bring a SQUAD. You’ll want to taste everything and you can’t go it alone (I did and was sorry!). From empanadas and knishes to oysters and arepas, this giant food hall showcases all that DC has to offer. I started off with a Swedish Smorgastarta (sandwich cake), a layered confection of smoked salmon, cream cheese, dill, egg, and shrimp, and quite possibly the perfect breakfast. I couldn’t resist the savory mini donuts from B Donut (more smoked salmon, stuffed with cream cheese and “everything” sprinkles; a giant leap forward for donuts)! Then I was hard-pressed to choose between knishes, arepas (my daughter’s favorite), and Korean tacos. I went for the tacos, which is a handy vehicle for seasoned bulgogi and chicken, served with homemade hot sauces. You’ll find a few sit-down restaurants here also, but for me, it’s a walk-around-and-taste-as-much-as-you-can sort of place. You’ll find an outpost of Salt & Sundry here, too.
Angelika has a pop-up movie theater just down the street from Union Market and I waddled over for a matinee of The Post (seemed appropriate!).
Around 14th Street
My daughter and I never miss a chance for dinner at Le Diplomate. It’s our favorite place for pretending we’re in Paris. We always start off with a kir and a basket of toasty, cheesy gougeres to get us in the mood. She can’t pass up steak frites and I stick with the Trout almondine. Indulge in the pommes puree even though there’s probably as much butter as potato. This is NOT a spot for watching calories, but lively and fun for watching people. Reserve well ahead.
DC is crazy for Spanish food and I am, too. You probably already know my penchant for small plates and the fixation started in Spain. This is a popular spot on 14th Street, so make reservations, and then enjoy boquerones, Iberico ham, pintxos, bocadillos and more from an extensive menu of tapas.
Busboys and Poets
Is there anything better than a coffeeshop/winebar/bookstore/burger joint mashup? Ummm, I don’t think so. This superhip spot on 14th Street is popular, well, pretty much all day long. Have a latte with your laptop on the couch in the morning, meet friends for lunch or dinner, or sip a glass of wine at the bar at happy hour. Murals, books, overstuffed armchairs, this place is right up my alley. Can’t wait to go back.
The District is mad for brunch (and bottomless Bloody Mary’s!) and it’s a rough time to get a table. Lucky for us, we stumbled on B2 just around the corner from our hotel, Mason & Rook. This Belgian boite serves up fluffy waffles, moules frite, and over 100 beers. We loved the light and gluten-free waffle with berries, and a goat cheese egg white omelet aux fine herbes. Get the bucket of bacon.
Georgetown has plenty of mall shops these days, but it’s still a charming area and worth a day of browsing. Head off M Street and up Wisconsin for more independent boutiques and have your lunch at Cafe Bonaparte, a classic and cozy French joint, down to the yellow painted walls, black and white photos, and French-accented server. For $12, you can order a crepe and a salad. My arugula with grapes and goat cheese, plus a cheesy, mushroom crepe was the perfect fuel for an afternoon of window shopping. www.cafebonaparte.com
Farmers Fishers Bakers
This bustling spot on the Georgetown waterfront has an interesting concept: it’s owned by a consortium of American family farmers, and serves up a varied menu of farm-inspired and sustainable food and drink. You’ll be hard-pressed to choose between jambalaya topped with a fried chicken leg, assorted sushi, pizza, grilled meats and vegan choices. Even the pickiest of eaters will be sated here. We happily supped on said jambalaya and steak frites: a perfectly pink slab in a luscious whiskey mushroom sauce, plus a hefty chunk of chocolate cake for dessert (birthday week for my daughter). She says brunch is even better. You can work all that off at the winter skating rink right outside, or enjoy the sights from a cozy table, as we did.
Bistrot du Coin
Sure, it’s a bit touristy, but this reliable and well-priced bistro is ALWAYS packed and boisterous fun! Most folks go for buckets of mussels in various sauces, but try the tartiflette for the table to start. This cheesy, potato, and ham concoction is as authentic (and rich) as it gets.
Celebrating my daughter’s birthday with Moules Frites at Bistrot du Coin!
This is a charming local joint for brunch or lunch on the terrace on a pretty day, offering up the usual avocado toast, quinoa salad and truffle mac, but also “sarnies” like banh mi, Torta Milanese and a masala wrap. Quirky and very cute.
I’m a huge fan of old inns and well-worn hotel lobbies and this classic offers all of the above, plus good grub! I knew I’d like it when my father ordered a glass of milk, a shot of vodka, and a platter of oysters, and the waitress did not bat an eye. Kale pomegranate salad, burgers, and steak frites are on the menu, plus a few unusual additions like Shish Barak and Oyster Tacos. Decidedly old school and classic DC.
Tryst at The Phillips Collection
If you’re visiting this extraordinary mansion museum in Dupont, stop for a bite or cappuccino in their lovely cafe or courtyard. An oasis from the hustle and bustle.
Near the Mall:
A big bowl of steaming ramen, thick with noodles and pork belly, is just the ticket after monumenting (yes, it is a verb), perhaps accompanied by an order or two of pork buns. Save room for Cereal Milk Soft Serve or Birthday Cake Truffles!
A famous award-winning chef and chic surroundings, plus an entirely vegan tasting menu, if you are so inclined. www.equinoxrestaurant.com
The National Cathedral is a must see, and a stop for a bite at their cafe, Open City, is a don’t miss. Or the other way around! Snack on Salad Nicoise with a chunk of salmon, hefty chicken salad on homemade bread, lovely soups, and a wide variety of freshly baked desserts (we tried the Oatmeal Awesome Pie! So interesting), plus the usual cafe lineup of cappuccinos, espressos, and macchiatos. It’s a serene place, of course, and a sweet spot to bring your laptop and get some work done with God watching over you.
Fast/Casual is a thing in DC. You’ll find the following eateries with various locations, and always reliable for a quick bite:
& Pizza (build your own skinny oblong pie), Dolcezza (Gelato and Italian cafe), Paul (French baguette sandwiches) Le Pain Quotidien (tartine, croissants, and giant bowls of cafe au lait), Sweet Green (salads), Cava (Mediterranean), Julie’s Empanadas, and District Taco.
P.S. DC has gone mad for the stemless wine glass. Weirdly, every restaurant and hotel, even a shop that served us a glass of water, proferred these. I don’t know about you, but this is not a happy wineglass. I have to grip it to keep it from slipping through my fingers, or keep my pinky uncomfortably extended on the bottom. What’s with the wineglass, DC?