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Washington D.C.: A Capital City for Foodies

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday August 1, 2022

When it comes to gustatory pleasure, foodies might tend to think about places like New York City with its famed delis, New Orleans with its Cajun cooking, or San Francisco, which is hip in just about every regard. But would you have suspected that the nation's capital has more cooking than mere political intrigue?

It's true: D.C. is an unexpected gourmand's paradise. Below, enjoy a sampling of what's on offer in the District.

Brunch: The Most Important Meal of the Week?

At home at the heart of any number of LGBTQ+-theme events — and an event in its own right — brunch ranks with dance nights, pool parties, and drag shows as a staple of gay culture. D.C.'s dining scene is replete with tasty brunch options.

Liquid nourishment in the form of mimosas is a venerable part of the brunch experience, and nobody does it better than Seasons and Sequoia Restaurant in Georgetown. There's also the bottomless mimosas offered by Richard Sandoval's El Centro to go with the eatery's array of tapas — a tasty departure from the usual brunch fare.

If it's a wakeup jolt you're needing, consider brunching at Open City in the Woodley Park area of Adams Morgan — a spot that's known, the eatery's website points out, not just for its "American comfort foods" but also its "specialty coffee drinks that are legendary."

Boqueria also goes the tapas route for brunch, featuring a $42 prix fixe Barcelona-style brunch with endless mimosas and all the tapas you need to soak up your libations. Foodies looking for a fresh spin will also enjoy Georgetown's Tony and Joe's Seafood Place, where the menu is rounded out by seafood specialties, while the bottomless brunch at Agora distinguishes itself with a Mediterranean flair: Their hummus and other dips are faultlessly paired with delectable pita bread.

(Find more brunch ideas in D. C. here.)

Women Take the Lead

Who says "a woman's place is in the kitchen?" A woman's place is anywhere she wants to be, and that also includes the creative environment of top-flight cuisine. Head to famed gayborhood Dupont Circle to sample the dishes of Fava Pot, which prides itself on "serving the best of healthy, home-style Egyptian cuisine," with every meal generating revenue, donated by the restaurant, to help Egyptian orphans.

Chef Amy Brandwein, nominated no less than three times for the prestigious James Beard Award, offers gourmands dual delights with her Italian-themed establishment Centrolina, focused on fine dining with an array of fish dishes, pasta elections, and dry aged ribeye steak, and more, as well as the fast casual eatery Piccolina, where pizzas and other wood-fired oven specialties rule.

If you're needing a sweet treat, a restful break complete with a healthful vegan snack, or a fairly traded pick-me-up, try out the offerings at Sunyatta Amen's Calabash, located in the D.C.'s "Little Rome" neighborhood of Brookland. Or, seek a couple flavorful scoops of cooling relief from the summertime warmth at Ice Cream Jubilee, whose locations dot D.C.

(Find more women-owned restaurants here.)

Black-Owned Restaurants

Diversity means celebrating everyone's contributions and accomplishments, and that's as true in the world of the gourmand as anyone else. Washington D.C. is home to dozens of Black-owned establishments. As Washington.org notes, "DC's strong African American history and its status as a popular landing place for talented entrepreneurs and chefs from all over the world has added to the city's already thriving community of Black chefs and Black-owned restaurants and bars."

Trinidadian fare is on the menu at the Jeanine Prime-founded Cane DC (named a Bib Gourmand destination by Michelin in 2020), with jerk wings and oxtail vying with Geera Pork and Cow Heel Soup for a place on your palate. Want something a little more casual? Consider Ben's Chili Bowl — a DC institution" since 1958 with its signature "half smoke" hot dog.

Florida Avenue Grill lays claim to being "the oldest soul food restaurant in America" — the venerable eatery has been serving hungry patrons its hearty breakfasts and "home-style" dinners since 1944.

(Find more Black-owned restaurants here.)

Fine Dining: Michelin's 'Bib Gourmand' Eateries

A few Michelin stars is one way to make the fine dining credentials of an establishment official. If that's your focus, take heart knowing that you can eat heartily at numerous establishments in D.C. that haven't just proven their vision and their expertise, but put it all together with prix fixe menus that make for a memorable experience without emptying your wallet.

In fact, it's a requisite for Michelin's "Bib Gourmand" that an establishment offer at least two courses, plus wine or dessert, for a price in the neighborhood of $40. Named for the Michelin mascot, Bibendum, the distinctive designation may sound like it connotes a rare combination of value and voluptuous dining, but there's no lack of Bib Gourmand options in D. C. In fact, with three dozen establishments that meet the criteria, there's plenty to get excited about.

Check out The Red Hen for instance, an Italian restaurant with a cozy atmosphere and a menu fully loaded with your favorites, from antipasti to pasta and from secondi to seafood. Also on the Italian side is Stellina Pizzeria in Union Market, serving up mouthwatering "neo-Neapolitan" pizzas among other authentic Italian delights.

Feeling French? Opt for Ellé, the "neighborhood bakery and café by day and full-service restaurant by night" that offers delectable selections for each meal — from pastries for the breakfast crowd to sandwiches at lunchtime and, in the evening, outstanding suppertime options.

Or, get more geographically adventurous with the Laotian cuisine of Thip Khao in Columbia Heights, the flavors of "modern Afghan bistro" Lapis in Adams Morgan, Daru's taste of India, or the Cantonese fare that Queen's English in Columbia Heights counts as their specialty.

(Find more Bib Gourmand restaurants here.)

Casual Meets Craft in Food and Drink

Casual dining is just that — casual; it doesn't call for black tie or Michelin stars but puts the focus on friends and fun. Even so, there's still a place for craft at the brew pub or corner eatery, especially when it comes to unwinding with inventive, top-quality beer selections and imaginatively crafted cocktails.

Relax and drink in the imbibable and cultural offerings at DC Brau, the first modern-day brewery in the nation's capital and the home of comedy shows, live music, and — yes! — drag shows, as well as weekend tours of the establishment's brewing facility.

Bluejacket Brewery in Navy Yard pours house-crafted lagers, hoppy and hazy IPAs, stouts, and other refreshing creations that can be enjoyed alone or help wash down dishes from their lunch, brunch, or dunner menus.

Farm to table is more than a catch phrase at Farmers & Distillers, a majority famer-owned establishment where the substantial menu offerings can be mixed, matched, and paired with distillations of partner business Founding Spirits, which are created much as the food items are prepared: All "scratch-made" and handcrafted, with American farmers providing the grains and botanicals that go into each glass.

The Pleasures of the Cheap Side

Craft is cool and elegance forever au courant, but when it comes to hanging with your buds or searching out some late-night sustenance, your ribs want something hearty stuck to them. D.C. has you covered with a "cheap eats" scene that boasts filling fare that's more sassy than classy.

Serving up some cheeky attitude with its burgers is Lucky Buns in Adams Morgan, with its "American portions" sized servings of double-patty hamburgers, not to mention (as its website does) "confit chicken wings, dive bar queso and frozen cocktails as far as the eye can see."

Just the name of Clyde's, an American Bar & Restaurant with seven locations around the D.C. area, has an authentically down-market vibe, but this chain also has an appreciation for sustainable foods sourced locally (not to mention it takes pride in serving hormone-free chicken and beef dishes).

And speaking of names that say it all... Good Stuff Eatery goes for burgers in a big way, as well as all the fixins you like to go along with them such as four kinds of fries and milkshakes. Feeling more like a chicken sandwich or a salad? They've got that, too. From Capitol Hill to Georgetown to Crystal City, there's likely to be one or another of Good Stuff's seven locations not too far away when hunger strikes.

(Find more cheap eats choices here.)

Wherever you come from in the 50 states (or abroad), you're sure to find something that represents your taste in Washington D.C.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.