Travel + food = a match made in heaven. Indulging in the finest the city has to offer has carved a permanent home on all my travel itineraries. I love trying out new restaurants (high end and low end), asking locals for recommendations, sampling hole-in-the-wall favorites of locals, and researching the best of the best in the city before I go. Through my culinary journey through Washington D.C., though I would not peg the city as a particularly foodie capital or one that’s a leader in innovative gastronomy, there were a few delights that I stumbled across that shouldn’t be missed for those with a real knack for all things foodie.
And I’ll also say, no matter how orgasmic the food is, if the service is sub-par, they will not get any recommendations from me! Food and service carry equal weight for me.
In no particular order…
1) Filter Coffeehouse and Espresso Bar
A friend who lives in the area recommended this coffeehouse to me. And considering how we used to frolic through London’s food scene together, I already know that her palate is as discerning as mine and that she’s just as picky when it comes to coffee. Tucked away on 20th Street in the DuPont Circle area, Filter Coffeehouse is a gem that’s become a clear favorite of locals. The coffee is some of the best I’ve tried EVER. That’s no joke. The place was extremely crowded both times that I went, which is always a great sign. Service is friendly and fantastic.
Recommendations: Cappuccino + Sumatra Lingtong Wahana Estate Pour Over Coffee
2) Ben’s Chili Bowl
Want to try DC’s signature food? You’ll find the half-smoke in all its traditional glory at Ben’s Chili Bowl on the U Street Corridor. There may be debate on what a half-smoke actually consists of, but there’s no denying that Ben’s Chili Bowl is a trendsetter when it comes to this beloved sausage specialty. But there is definitely a consensus that every bite should have a certain kick and snap. The meat mixture inside is often times half pork/half beef, lending both spicy and smoky flavors. Either grilled whole or split down the middle, these quarter pounders are then popped into fresh steamed or griddled buns. Toppings vary, but almost always include chili with some spots adding a combination of shredded cheddar, a squirt of mustard, freshly diced onions, and relish.
Recommendation: Bill Cosby's Original Chili Half-Smoke
Zaytinya may have restored my faith in brussel sprouts. I was eating it the wrong way before. Clearly. But seriously, this Mediterranean restaurant is a must-try in the city. And I must give major props to the lovely lady from Poly|Purpose who was the first to recommend this restaurant. After her, just about every person I asked, Zaytinya topped their list of favorites. I’m a big fan of José Andrés and this place definitely kept that love alive. At the end, the very sweet bartender sent over the entire platter of desserts, which allowed us to sample a little bit of everything. Needless to say, the service was fabulous. 🙂 And the quote on the front of the menu was an instant hook!
Recommendations: Horta Salata + Crispy Brussels Afelia + Turkish coffee
4) Georgetown Cupcakes
Georgetown Cupcakes are literally an institution in D.C.’s dessert scene. I’ll admit, I find this chain slightly overrated. BUT. There’s a huge BUT because there are a few flavors that GC happens to do very well and should receive credit for. This is another joint that you’ll almost always have to wait in line for, but if I happened to crave some of my favorite flavors, I’d stand in the long winding line for them.
Recommendations: Cookies & Creme Cheesecake + Salted Caramel
5) Baked and Wired
I guarantee you, no matter what time you go, you will be standing in line. The coffee is above average and the cakecups (their version of cupcakes) are de-lici-ous! Truth be told, in general, I found them even better than Georgetown Cupcakes, which are definitely the pride of the city. The cakecups are large in size, moist in texture, and rich in taste! One word: INDULGE!
Recommendations: Strawberry cakecups + Dirty Chai Tea Latte cakecups
6) Zenebech Injera
I have a really big soft spot for Ethiopian restaurants. Whether it’s the actual cuisine, the cozy ambiance, or just the amazingly polite hospitality/service, I always leave with a satisfied palate and a smile on my face. Most Ethiopian restaurants I have been to have been hole-in-the-wall joints, and Zenebech Injera is no different. But the mouth-watering food more than makes up for its shoddy exterior and small space. Washington D.C. has the largest Ethiopian population outside of Ethiopia, making its cuisine a definite must while in the city. Though there’s lots of meat dishes, there’s an even greater array of vegetarian options to choose from. And portions are huge!
Recommendations: Golden Tibs + Vegetarian Combo + Ethiopian wine (honey wine/tej)
7) Bangkok Joe’s
Perhaps it’s the epic memories I have attached to this place or the fabulous Thai food/dim sum on offer, but I find myself coming back to Bangkok Joe’s time and time again. Nestled right along the Georgetown waterfront, Bangkok Joe’s has found a permanent home on all upcoming DC trips. Their motto: Life without dumplings is not worth living. And I couldn’t agree more.
Recommendations: Assorted Dumpling Platter + Chicken Panang Curry + Shrimp Fried Rice
8) Tea Cellar at the Park Hyatt
Spending a weekend afternoon in this tea lounge is as lovely as it gets. I must admit, I’m slightly obsessed with afternoon tea. Ok, maybe slightly is an understatement. But either way, I loved the afternoon tea experience here, probably one of my favorites in the U.S. The refined elegance of this contemporary space added just the right amount of glamour and style to my experience. The best part was the tea sommelier that’s assigned to each table. We chatted for, well, much longer than he should have, according to his manager that kept glaring over at him. Nonetheless, as someone who loves teas from around the world, I absolutely appreciate it when people can talk about subjects with real knowledge and without the fluff.
Recommendations: Hidden Orchid Oolong + Moonlight Jasmine Blossom
Obelisk, my love, you had me at the antipasti. The house-made burrata with olive oil is simply excellent. The cozy ambiance sets the mood, making it perfect for a date night. I don’t know why but this place is supremely underrated and is most definitely a hidden gem in D.C.’s dining circuit. All I know is that if I end up moving to D.C., I know exactly where to get my Italian fix.
Recommendations: Burrata with olive oil + Squash Ravioli + Veal Chop
This place was a pain in the a$$ in the reservations department, but the fabulous culinary journey that the chefs take you on makes it all worth it. The ambiance is sheer romance, the people around you are pure class, and the food is absolute gastronomic genius. The cuisine is Greek, but with the twists and innovations applied to the classic dishes, you wouldn’t even know it. And service? Second to none.
Recommendation: Wine pairing menu (let the chefs surprise you!)
If you’re well-tuned to the dining/dessert scene of NYC, then this place needs no introduction. Serendipity is as iconic as they come, and with good reason. I had no idea that there was a location in Washington, heck, I didn’t even know they had any locations besides NYC. But when I stumbled upon it as I was walking through the Georgetown area, I literally let out an embarrassingly loud gasp and squeal. Pure decadence, I kid you not. Before I go on and on and ramble about how amazing it really is, just try it for yourself!
Recommendation: Frrozen Hot Chocolate (you won't need anything else!)
This list was compiled over my last few trips to Washington D.C. A few other good ones I liked (but didn’t quite love) are Bourbon Steak and Teaism. A few I’ve been told to try, but have yet to try: Rasika, Blue Duck Tavern, and Plume. If you’ve tried any of those, I’d love to hear your thoughts. One thing that strikes me is that I have not had any luck with one of my favorite cuisines: Japanese. But as always, I’m all ears for any new recommendations–please leave them in the comments below. =)