Most people wouldn’t label Washington DC as a foodie Valhalla. When I was an intern at a media company four years ago, I didn’t either. To me, this city was mostly about politics. After living inside the Beltway Bubble for four months, I came to appreciate its distinctive and kind neighborhoods, the colorful townhouses, and all those beautiful monuments. But for good food, you had to go to New York. Well, not anymore. I was happy to discover during a recent visit that my home away from home had undergone a transformation.
In the last few years, many new cafés, bakeries, and restaurants have popped up. What really surprised me is that DC knows how to do fast food properly. Suddenly there are plant-based tacos, pita bread stuffed with veggies, herbs, and spices, design your own pizza (including ancient grain crusts).
DC has become one of the fastest growing towns in America—and with it, comes an expanding, and extremely entrepreneurial food culture. A friend of mine says it's the Obama bump. The president and his family often go out and about, explore new places in DC, and dine out, which is good for business. But whatever the reason, it’s time to pay attention to the capital's finest feasts.
Chef Aaron Silverman, who is also the mastermind behind the popular next-door restaurant Rose’s Luxury, opened Pineapple and Pearls last February. Here you’ll find flat whites, cinnamon buns, lunch by day, and fine dining by night. It’s the perfect pit stop when you’re taking a stroll down Capitol Hill. The coffee machine and the cute latte art are definitely big Instagram hits, but this place offers more than just pretty pictures.
Try: The pineapple roll. A cinnamon bun-like pastry made with pineapple butter and finished with pineapple icing and Swedish pearl sugar.
Until a few months ago, Chaia's treats were only for sale at DC farmers' markets. But owners Bettina Stern and Suzanne Simon recently opened shop in a gorgeous brick-and-mortar building in Georgetown. These women prove that you don’t need meat for tasty finger food. Chaia’s seasonal and plant-based tacos are a combination of fresh produce and urban style street food. The flavors are explosive, surprising and perfectly paired. All tacos are topped with microgreens grown on a nearby urban farm.
This place takes both its gelato and its coffee very seriously. What’s not to like? Dolcezza opened its doors in 2004, which seems like a lifetime ago, but it’s still a popular name in DC. They have three branches in the city, but the one on 14th street has the best vibe.
Try: Salted-caramel gelato.
Big Bear Café is best enjoyed with a drink in hand on their luscious, grapevine-covered patio. This café is a reflection of the changing neighborhood: you'll spy cute hipsters to neighborhood folks alike. The happy hour (did someone say Jolene Peach Punch?) is the main steeze, but during the day there’s plenty of room inside to get some work done as well.
Like every self-respecting foodie mecca, DC also has its own juice bar. JRINK sells its cold-pressed juices and homemade nut milks in many colors and flavors at five locations in the city. Owners Jennifer Ngai and Shizu Okusa both used to work at the World Bank, and made a major career switch to 'healthify' their beloved city.
Try: Black Magic, a scary but healthy black juice that also helps with your hangover (apparently).
Shouk is fast, healthy, and stylish. In other words: fast casual meets fine dining. The pitas and salad bowls are packed with lots of vegetables, legumes, and bold Middle Eastern spices. Founder Ran Nussbacher and chef Dennis Friedman worked on the menu for two years before opening Shouk. The fresh markets of the Middle East inspire the flavors, and everything on the menu is plant-based—even the labneh is made from cashews. “We make everything from scratch,” says Ran proudly, “from the sodas to the food. DC has become a breeding ground for these new wave fast food type establishments. A lot of chains have started here and are now seeing national success.”
Try: Spicy black bean pita.
This teeny tiny place in Dupont Circle has secrecy all written over it, even though most locals know it by now. Go to Serow for the high quality family-style Thai food, but be aware: they don’t take reservations, so you will definitely have to stand in line. But the six-course menu (with a fixed price of $49) is definitely worth the wait.