The nation’s capital is chock full of historical sites and larger-than-life monuments that draw crowds from all around the world. But the food scene in Washington, D.C. is no less impressive than the many tourists attractions throughout the city. I spent several days in D.C. recently, and of course, hunting down some of the city’s finest fare was an important part of my agenda. I emerged from my trip with a newfound love for The Capital City. The diversity of restaurants was remarkable, and in the end, I left with a large number of restaurants I look forward to trying on my next visit. But for the time being, here’s my best bites in D.C…which you’d do well to discover yourself next time you’re visiting.
Pot Roast from Founding Farmers – Without a doubt, one of the most talked-about restaurants in town. It continues to draw big crowds and waits can be long if you’re not booking a reservation ahead of time. The menu is dedicated to responsibly-sourced, entirely local products grown by farms in the surrounding region. Of the many enjoyable bites from this restaurant, I found the “Yankee Pot Roast” most memorable. It’s exceedingly tender beef, carrots, string beans, onions, and other veggies nestled on top of a buttery bed of mashed potatoes. Just like grandma used to make, but better.
Ramen and Fried Chicken Steamed Buns from Toki Underground – There’s usually a wait to squeeze into this tiny ramen room, sometimes up to two hours, but it’s a sacrifice worth making. Generally, your best bet is to get there 30 minutes before opening to avoid any lines. The restaurant sits on top of a popular bar, The Pug, which you can wait at and enjoy a drink while they work you into Toki. These hot, rich bowls of ramen are really a show stopper and definitely up there with the best ramen I’ve ever eaten. We ordered the “Toki Classic”, which was fantastic, but there’s 4 other varieties I’m dying to go back and sample. And while you’re slurping down noodles…be sure to grab a plate of their fried chicken steamed buns with spicy mayo. You won’t regret it.
Beef Skewers and Potstickers from Copycat Co. – This small shop is only a few feet away from Toki Underground, but it’s not nearly as busy. It’s a wonderful quick-hitter if you’re making your way around the city looking for the finest food. Handmade potstickers are rolled and pan fried right before your very eyes. But their meat skewers are the best reason to stop in. We enjoyed the tender beef sirloin, marinated in Chinese spices, and bursting with flavor. They’ve got a hip bar upstairs if you’d like to sit and stay a while, serving impressive drinks in a funky atmosphere.
Creme Brûlée Doughnut and Fried Chicken from Astro Doughnuts – It’s a space smaller than my closet (that’s not an exaggeration), but this tiny joint should not be missed by anyone enticed by the art of fried dough. The creme brûlée doughnut will haunt my dreams…soft, fluffy yeast dough filled with a string of vanilla cream and topped with crunch bruleed sugar. It’s perfection in doughnut form. But sweet is not all that’s important here. They serve up some very respectable fried chicken and chicken fingers. Get them plain or on a sandwich…either way, it’s a very enjoyable all-around experience.
Pork Buns and Chilled Spicy Noodles from Momofuku – Most of the foodie world recognizes the name “David Chang” … one the world’s most well-known chefs. He’s been the reluctant star of numerous television series, been written about and discussed in countless books and magazines, and remains one of the pioneers in Asian fusion cooking. If you’ve never eaten at one of his Momofuku establishments, you owe it to yourself to do so. Here the steamed bus are a real standout. There’s a handful of flavors, but the unctuous pork belly buns are heavenly. I’d recommend you skip the ramen here (in favor of Toki Underground’s mentioned above), and sample the “Chilled Spicy Noodles” with Sichuan sausage, spinach, and candied cashews. It was absolutely delightful.
Palak Chaat and Lamb Kashmiri from Rasika – No restaurant in D.C. is, perhaps, as universally praised and celebrated than Rasika. Their forward thinking Indian dishes are winning over critics across the country and recently, they brought home a well-deserved James Beard award for their efforts. I was probably more surprised by how much I enjoyed my meal here than any other restaurant on the trip. The popular “Palak Chaat” is a game changer. This vegetarian-friendly plate consists of flash-fried baby spinach with yogurt, tamarind, and date. From the description, you might never expect such splendor, but trust me, it’s a must-eat. From our entrees, the lamb kashmiri was another winner. It was bathed in a thick, dark sauce flavored with onion, ginger, star anise, and fennel. Don’t pass up this one either.
Chicken Adobo from Bad Saint – Filipino food is making waves across the country right now…and it’s about time. It’s a unique blend of Chinese and Spanish influences with exciting flavor profiles unlike any other country in the region. Bad Saint is a newcomer to D.C.. It takes no reservations, it’s first-come, first-served. And its surprisingly small dining room has made it one of the most coveted seats in town. For me, the most memorable bite was the chicken adobo. It’s set in a bright yellow broth of saffron, vinegar, soy sauce, and peppers. If you’ve never eaten Filipino food, this is about as good an introduction as you’ll find anywhere.
Oysters and Lobster Roll from Hank’s Oyster Bar – Hank’s does a number of things right, and accordingly, it can be tough to get a seat at times. Not surprisingly, their oysters are outstanding and the sheer variety oyster lovers have to choose from is quite impressive. Their lobster roll is one of the best I’ve eaten. It will cost you nearly $25 for a slice of thick buttered toast stuffed with a generous portion of fresh, cold lobster…but it’s worth every penny.
(All photos by Austin Mabry. For a look at the full line-up and photos from my trip, follow me on Instagram – @daniel_is_eating – or on my Facebook page)