All-Time Greats

The 12 Most Essential Washington DC Food Experiences

Go big or go home.

When you think of bucket list to-do’s, you probably think of far-flung travel destinations or once-in-a-lifetime experiences, like hiking to Machu Picchu or going on a safari in the Serengeti. Thanks to COVID-19, these bucket list items are temporarily on hold, well... unless you’re literally that guy who has been stranded in Peru for seven months.

Even though travel plans are still on hold for the foreseeable future, there are some splurge-worthy food experiences right here in Washington DC that make for an epic experience unto themselves. Here are a dozen different DC bucket list items to check off the list, which span the gamut from high-brow tasting menus to everyday eats, including pizza-by-the-slice.

Book a reservation at The Inn at Little Washington

Washington, Virginia
The Inn at Little Washington is DC’s only three-star Michelin restaurant, and it’s a destination unto itself. Located about 90-minutes west in the other Washington (in Virginia), this tasting meal experience has a $265 per person, plus tax and tip, price tag meaning this could very well be a once-in-a-lifetime eating experience. But you’ll savor each moment with Chef Patrick O’Connell’s whimsical menu of modern American cuisine—everything from lobster mousse to tuna and foie gras washed in black truffle vinaigrette. There’s even a cow cheese cart named Faira and she carries fromage aplenty. 
How to order: Reservations accepted by phone or online. Social distancing and outdoor dining are in effect.

Jumbo slice at Pizza Mart
Jumbo slice at Pizza Mart | Flickr/Nick Sherman

Take a jumbo-sized pizza tour

Adams Morgan
Anyone who has had a few too many in Adams Morgan knows that Jumbo Slice is the spot for pizza so big, you’ll need two paper plates to hold a slice. And sure, this certainly isn’t DC’s best version (pizza snobs, go here) but it’s part-nostalgia, part-novelty dish that can easily feed a small family or cure a giant-sized hangover. For the very best in jumbo slice, head to Duccini’s at the corner where U Street meets Florida Avenue NW. And if you can stomach even more carbs, meander up 18th Street in Adams Morgan for stops at Pizza Mart and Bestolli Pizza for other jumbo-sized options.
How to order: Do as most revelers do, order jumbo slice for takeout and eat it on the curb, or order it for delivery on UberEats.

Embark on an injera crawl 

Silver Spring, Maryland
Along Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, Maryland is one of the largest concentrations of Ethiopian eateries in the United States. Let injera, a spongy textured bread, be your guide as you nosh your way through a city filled with doro wat, a spicy chicken stew, coffee ceremonies, and markets filled with imported goods. Most of the shops along Georgia Avenue, including Beteseb, Lucy, and Abyssinia offer outdoor dining in an inviting patio setting. 
How to order: Takeout, outdoor dining, and safe social distancing protocols are in effect. Delivery options are available on Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Caviar.

Enter an earthly Eden of eats 

Falls Church, Virginia
The Eden Center center in Falls Church, Virginia has more than 125  Vietnamese vendors and many out-of-this-world eating options, including banh mi, but also lesser-known sleeper hits, like boba shakes and cha gio, Vietnamese spring rolls. Start your experience at Banh Mi So 1 for $5 sandwiches that might be the best in DC, then swing by Huong Binh Bakery & Deli for sweets and boba teas that will only cost you a few bucks. And save room for Phuoc Loc Bakery for pillow-soft buns stuffed with sweet and savory options and priced at just $1.50 to $2 each. 
How to order: Takeout and delivery menus available online. This outdoor shopping center is adhering to safe social distancing and safety guidance.

Hi-Lawn on the rooftop of Union Market
Hi-Lawn on the rooftop of Union Market | Photo Courtesy of Hi-Lawn

Get higher on Hi-Lawn

Union Market
For a breath of fresh air and some elevated eating, visit Hi-Lawn on the rooftop of Union Market. It’s a new outdoor concept helping support local chefs throughout COVID-19 and offers a casual, park-like space for the neighborhood. The roof features some stunning views of the Capitol Building, as well as some well-known chefs serving up Octoberfest-style snacks. Chef Nathan Beauchamp started selling fall picnic baskets, stocked with German-style soft pretzels, apple cider cheese, and bratwurst topped with sauerkraut. Plus, fall cocktails from bar director Ian Fletcher, like the Cider House Rules, an autumn-spiced apple cider mixed with overproof rum and amaro.
How to order: Reservations are available on Resy

Omakase at home with Sushi Taro

Dupont Circle
When Sushi Taro temporarily closed for service earlier in May, it left many people scrambling for sashimi. That’s because this omakase counter has been a top pick for more than decades, but a recent announcement that the restaurant would reopen for takeout and delivery brought so much joy—and so do the kaiseki boxes which come creatively designed and packaged. In the pre-COVID-19 days, it used to be a rush on the sushi counter to find a seat at happy hour, but patrons can now enjoy the divine pleasures of an omakase experience at home. Sushi Taro’s sashimi platter starts at $250 and comes with customizable options, but we suggest you let Michelin-star chef Nobu Yamazaki call the shots.
How to order: Curbside pickup and takeout only. See ordering instructions online.

Slurp oysters at Old Ebbitt Grill

After a year of extensive renovations, Old Ebbitt Grill recently reopened and offers both indoor socially-distanced dining options for patrons eager to slurp down oysters on the half-shell. This is a quintessential DC bar and restaurant, whether you’re a tourist or have lived here for decades. The ambiance, service, and fresh seafood are the main draws. But it’s the extensive list of oysters that keeps people coming back for more. Find varieties like Great White, Pink Ladies, and Dutch Islands. 
How to order: Order online for pickup or delivery, or make a reservation on OpenTable.

Eat at one of DC’s oldest restaurants

Dupont Circle
Iron Gate in Dupont Circle is a secluded spot with a secret garden and patio that happens to be one of the oldest continuously operated restaurants in the District. Aside from almost a century’s worth of history, its latest inhabitant, Chef Anthony Chittum, has been cooking dishes inspired by his love for Greece and Italy. He also sources the menu from local farms in the Shenandoah and Path Valleys in the Mid-Atlantic region. While this restaurant has an impressive track record in terms of history, the menu offers up many new surprises according to seasonality. For fall, expect maple-roasted autumn squash served with fresh goat cheese, Asian pear, dressed in an Italian balsamic.
How to order: Order online for pickup or delivery or patio reservations available on OpenTable

Do the half-smoke shuffle down U Street  

U Street
Ben’s Chili Bowl is the legendary landmark for Washington, DC’s half-smoke doused in chili and cheese, but along U Street several more options can result in a half-smoke sampling. This iconic dish is beloved by tourists and locals alike. It rose to fame at Ben’s, but you can also find fun the half-pork, half-beef casing at Florida Avenue Grill, Half Smoke, and Meats & Foods. All four restaurants are located within a short half-mile distance of each other, which means you can easily plan a “half-smoke shuffle” for weekend fun. 
How to order: Ben’s is open every day for patio dine-in patio service, curbside pickup, and delivery on GrubHub.

Pick crabs at The Wharf 

The Wharf
This seafood stall is located in a historic seafood market at The Wharf, a DC neighborhood that recently underwent a $2.5 billion renovation that’s only half-finished. The historic Fish Market is the oldest continuously operating open-air fish market in the United States, and Jessie Taylor Seafood is where you can score steamed Chesapeake crabs by the dozen, doused in Old Bay. The seafood here is arranged into display cases that span the length of the shop and is open from sun up (8am) to sundown (8pm).
How to order: Takeout-only dining. Social distancing and personal protective equipment are in use. Patrons must follow the directives of staff and signage on-site.

Photo Courtesy of JĂ´nt

Jaunt over to JĂ´nt

14th Street NW
The latest tasting menu to come to DC is an intimate, 12-seat counter from Michelin-star Chef Ryan Ratino, who serves prix-fixe dinners and elegant Sunday lunches. Diners can choose between a three-course menu for $75 or a tasting experience for $145. Meanwhile, the European-style lunch on Sunday goes for $65. Expect surprise boxes filled with decadent amounts of uni, sea urchin roe, or dishes topped with Kaluga caviar—the dining experience is one of the most luxurious trips your tastebuds can take while staying put in The District. Come November, Bartender Will Patton will launch a bar flight menu with his friends from around the industry. The four-course cocktail offering launches on November 2, and first up is a partnership with Tsunetaka Imada from Angel’s Share in New York City.
How to order: Social distancing and personal protective equipment are in use. Reservations required on Tock.

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Tim Ebner is a food and travel writer based in Washington, D.C. and writes for Eater, Edible, Washington City Paper, and Forbes Travel, among others. He's from Maryland and has a weakness for Old Bay seasoning. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
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