Downtown DC -- otherwise known as the area of the city a few blocks surrounding the White House -- is popular not just for the tourist attractions, but also its people watching and power lunching. There are a ton of offices, government buildings, and lobbyists along K Street in need of a good lunch spot. Yes, expense account restaurants are aplenty, but there’s also myriad price points, cuisines, and vibes to be experienced for a mid-day meal. Here is a selection of the best ones to try for lunch, including historic DC staples and newer, trendy options.
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Sophisticated Indian fare to impress your colleagues You probably don’t eat fancy Indian food every day, but for those days that you do, the best option downtown is The Bombay Club. Here you’ll find classics like chicken tikka masala and dal makhani, and a thali that is literally served on a silver platter. Get it.
Handmade pasta and in-house market in a modern setting Set in the upscale City Center, this is easily one of the best Italian spots for pasta and seafood. We have yet to eat something here that is not excellent, but we especially gravitate the seasonal pastas, vegetables, and fish. If you want something quick, hop across the street to sibling restaurant Piccolina for sandwiches made with pizza dough and Italian-stuffed flatbreads called “scacce.”
Glamorous, new pizza spot good for an al fresco group lunch Classic Italian dishes and Neapolitan pizza star in this new osteria in the historic Hamilton hotel. A plate of creamy bucatini cacio e pepe (or really any of the pastas) for a simple lunch delivers, and the pizza will not let you down either. The patio is prime political people watching, too.
Break out the expense account for this upscale steakhouse and raw bar This modern American steakhouse is best known for its piping hot, absolutely addictive giant popovers, and, of course, dry-aged steaks. This is going to be a pricier lunch, but if that’s what you are looking for, make a reservation before you go.
Historic American grill in Victorian setting ideal for a parents’ lunch Yes, it’s a tourist draw but the iconic tavern is deserving of its reputation. Offering quintessential American food, Old Ebbitt offers raw oysters, its famous chili, burgers and sandwiches, and local seafood. The cornmeal-crusted, fried Chesapeake blue catfish is popular for a reason.
Refined, Beltway insider spot ideal for an intimate lunch date Given its proximity to the White House, The Oval Room has been the restaurant of choice for the power lunch types for a while now. Elegant dishes showcase local ingredients with creative touches, including blood-orange-glazed octopus, roasted chicken breast, and lobster omelettes.
Lavish dining room featuring Floridian favorites Set in a former bank, this Miami import is much more than a steakhouse -- it’s built quite the reputation for its seafood and stone crab. The crab’s claw meat is sweet and juicy, only enhanced by the signature dipping sauce made with mustard and Worcestershire. Don’t miss out on dessert, in the form of a giant slice of Key lime pie.
Swanky restaurant with wood-fired dishes for fun, mid-day break Every plate that comes out of this W Hotel restaurant features ingredients from its massive wood-burning hearth. The menu includes typical salads and sandwiches, but also features a variety of charred vegetables, grilled meat, and singed seafood items. Highlights include ember-roasted carrots, wood-fired shrimp, and the burger with raclette cheese.
Fast casual spot for your more decisive, adventurous coworkers Take a super-sized seaweed wrap, stuff it with items like fresh yellowtail and kimchi slaw, and you have yourself a buredo. Yes it’s messy and unwieldy, but if you like sushi and burritos, you’ll like the choose-your-own adventure vibe of this spot.
Worth the wait if you can sneak away from work for a bit District Taco commands long lines, but the tacos here will satisfy that lunchtime craving. Sure, you can get a burrito or quesadilla, you’re here for tacos -- especially the grilled whitefish or the al pastor marinated with guajillo chiles. Dress them up as much as you’d like with various salsas and toppings. If you are a breakfast-for-lunch kind of person, add scrambled eggs and potatoes.
Upscale French spot to wow an important client Seemingly under-the-radar, this Daniel Boulud is consistently excellent. French classics are done right here, and the $27 L’Express option may just be one of the best deals in town. Steak tartare, tuna Nicoise salad, Crqoue Monsieurs, steak frites, and a fantastic club sandwich are all on offer. The Thai pork sausage with lemongrass and red curry is also a delicious, fun dish.
Refuel and re-caffeinate at this minimalist tea house One of the early fast casual pioneers in DC before fast casual was even a thing, Teaism’s Japanese leaning bento boxes and wide selection of teas are a favorite for lunch. Be sure to get one of the ginger scones to-go to accompany your mid-afternoon tea.
Enjoy the food of sushi master Yoshi Ota for half the cost Dinner here is going to set you back a considerable sum, but lunch here is just a fraction of the cost and is as good. Choose from a variety of bento boxes, each featuring a number of pieces of sashimi, sushi, and maki rolls, and accompanied by miso soup.
No-frills Chinese spot great for a group office outing Take a group that can handle spice, because that’s where the real deal is at this Sichuan focused eatery. Ma Po tofu is a classic, and the steamed beef or pork in chili sauce bring the heat. Douse the fire with an assortment of vegetables, including bok choy and green beans.
French bistro makes for a lovely, romantic lunch At this new restaurant in the Sofitel DC, find brasserie fare such as steak frites, herb-roasted chicken, gougeres, moules frites, and a signature burger with Gruyere. The patio is an excellent spot to enjoy an afternoon meal, as is the bright and pretty dining room. End your meal with a beautiful pavlova, and leave happy.
Embrace the afternoon food coma at this DC mainstay Known for its fried chicken and doughnuts, and yes, fried chicken sandwiched between donuts, Astro is a place for indulgence. Stop in for your treat of choice -- the creme brulee doughnut is pretty fabulous there is always a fun, seasonal creation available. (Old Bay doughnut, anyone?)
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Aparna Krishnamoorthy is a freelance food and travel writer based in Washington DC. Always willing to eat biryani, pizza, fried chicken, and chocolate cake. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter for more dining and wanderlust adventures.