Food & Drink

From icons to instant classics: DC's 15 signature dishes

Published On 07/30/2014 Published On 07/30/2014
Signature Dishes DC
Laura Hayes

DC isn't just about half smokes (it's definitely all about the half smokes, but that's different). The dishes that define our burgeoning culinary scene range from old-school to cutting edge, from spicy to sloppy. How many of these 15 signature DC dishes have you eaten your way through?

Central Michel Richard

Fried Chicken

Central Michel Richard (address and info)
Yes, a French culinary icon can make a mean fried chicken. The secret? It’s in the crust. Chef Richard breads the chicken with lumps of country bread before frying it in clarified butter. Central serves the golden brown goodness with mashed potatoes that are just as addictive. Wanna try to make it at home? Pick up a copy of Richard’s Happy in the Kitchen cookbook. Then go back to his place when you inevitably fail.

Laura Hayes

Half Smoke & Pizza

Ben's Chili Bowl (address and info) & Jumbo Slice (address and info)
U Street
This "U Street Taco" is so magical that it actually contains two sig dishes all rolled (literally!) into one. First, the famous Ben’s Chili Bowl half smoke that’s been devoured by a bunch of presidents and Bill Cosby. Then, there’s the Jumbo Slice, which you’ll claim is the best pizza in DC, if someone asks you at 3am.

Laura Hayes

Chicken Thighs with Pepperoni Sauce

Graffiato (address and info)
It’s hard to make Top Chef judges swoon, so it was quite a surprise when Mike Isabella’s pepperoni sauce turned out to be a real panty dropper on the show. Padma and Tom both went wild for it. Fortunately though, you don’t have to crawl into your TV to try it. Just head to Graffiato, where it’s served with Amish chicken thighs. Again: liquid pepperoni!


Senate Bean Soup

Senate Dining Room (address and info)
Capitol Hill
This soup is about as boring as politics, but this list wouldn’t be legit without it since it’s mandated that it be available in the Senate Dining Room every day. People have been slurping this slop of navy beans and smoked ham since the early 20th century. Even Oliver Twist wouldn’t ask for more. Pro tip: the public can dine in the SDR, but you need a reservation and Congress must be in session.

Michael J. Colella

Palak Chaat

Rasika (address and info)
Penn Quarter/West End
It’s a no-brainer that vegetables taste better fried, but this honor is typically reserved for potatoes, okra, pickles (!), and the like. One dish at Rasika changes all that with golden fried spinach. The crunchy fried leaves are topped with sweet yogurt, tamarind sauce, and date chutney for some serious tang. This is a guaranteed re-order. 

Laura Hayes

Super Grilled Cheese

Stoney’s (address and info)
Logan Circle/Foggy Bottom
It feeds us on game days. It feeds us on workdays. It definitely feeds us during trivia. Stoney’s SGC is bar food perfection with its Kraftacular melty cheese, tomato, red onion, and bacon. SO MUCH BACON. You will never order another naked grilled cheese again.

Laura Hayes


Cava Mezze (address and info)
Barracks Row/Rockville/Clarendon
If you dig drama, don’t leave Cava Mezze without ordering the saganaki. It comes with a big fat flame typically reserved for hibachi grills that also spray fake ketchup at gullible people. The fiery dish is simply Kefalograviera, a Greek cheese, covered in lemon and brandy. It stays warm for about as long as a football game and is deliciously salty and satisfying.

Laura Hayes


Compass Rose (address and info)
14th Street
This new kid on the block (specifically a block right off 14th Street) is already earning its stripes as a sig dish. Khachapuri is Georgian (the country, not the peach fetishists of the South) and closely resembles a calzone, but with a whole lot of butter. It comes out of the Compass Rose kitchen piping hot and requires diners to smear around a runny organic egg. This is an instance when you DO want egg on your face. 

Thai X-ing

Pumpkin Curry

Thai X-ing (address and info)
Thai X-ing is a bit of an enigma wrapped in a mystery. After all, it seems to be in some dude’s house and you can actually BYO whatever you want to drink (rare in these parts!). But there’s one dish that keeps us coming back: pumpkin curry. They utilize a special kind of squash called kabocha and produce a creamy concoction with just the right amount of heat.

Laura Hayes

Mezze Rigatoni

The Red Hen (address and info)
At a place where pastas tend to skew fancy (saffron fettuccine!), the humble rigatoni has emerged as the crowd pleaser. Sure, the colors lean a little Chef Boyardee, but one bite and you’re cured of this notion. Fat tubes of pasta intertwine with morsels of fennel sausage ragù and snowflakes of Pecorino Romano. In April, Eater reported that they sold 8,200 orders in a year. Not bad.

Blue Duck Tavern

Apple Pie

Blue Duck Tavern (address and info)
West End
BDT makes 500 of these bad boys per week -- giving Paula Deen a run for her money when it comes to butter usage. The dessert menu says it’s for two, but we have faith in your ability to clean your plate. Besides being delicious, it also has longevity. It’s one of the few items that have remained on the menu since BDT opened eight years ago. Even POTUS digs it.

Laura Hayes

Pork Lychee Salad

Rose’s Luxury (address and info)
Barracks Row
Order this one for dinner AND dessert. It’s that good. In fact, if Chef Aaron Silverman takes it off the menu, a scene from Olympus Has Fallen, White House Down, or just about any DC destruction movie would follow. A composed bowl filled with ground pork sausage, red onions, lychee halves, coconut cream, and herbs arrives at the table, requiring the diner to mix it up before savoring each and every bite of this sweet and fiery masterpiece.

Laura Hayes

Avocado Toast

Cork (address and info)
14th Street
Somehow the folks at Cork have found a way to make a few slivers of avocado taste as luscious as premium Wagyu beef. They’re splayed like rose petals across slices of perfectly grilled bread and topped with pistachios, toasted pistachio oil, and large granules of sea salt that look like they went through the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids machine. Try it for dinner or Sunday brunch.

Laura Hayes

Avgolemono Soup

Greek Deli (address and info)
Farragut North
This famous soup cures everything from the common cold to a bad breakup. It’s that comforting. The ingredients aren’t that exotic -- just the holy trinity of celery, carrots, and onions, plus chicken, orzo, eggs, fresh lemon juice, and a little corn starch. What makes it special is the heartfelt cooking of Greek Chef Kostas Fostieris, who’s been at this since the Greek Deli opened in 1990. Oh, and the seemingly fried bread it comes with. That helps too.

Laura Hayes


Old Ebbitt Grill (address and info)
Old Ebbitt has more history than most monuments in this city, considering they got their start in 1856. They also happen to be an authority on oysters. You can choose one type (of six) or mix and match, and don’t forget that all raw bar items are half off every day from 3-6pm and 11pm-1am (2am on Fri-Sat).

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1. Central Michel Richard 1001 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20004 (Downtown)

Central Michel Richard is the place to go for quality eats in an unpretentious fashion -- classed-up comfort foods like lobster burgers and baked cheese breads adorn the menu.

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2. Ben's Chili Bowl 1213 U St NW, Washington, DC 20009 (U Street)

Ben's Chili Bowl has been an iconic part of the DC food landscape since first opening its doors in 1958. Its hot dogs, burgers, and subs are time-tested, Obama-approved classics. Of course, you're really there for the signature smoky chili, which tastes great in a bowl but even better atop a cheesy, onion-y hot dog. Ben's might be cramped, but the sizzling smell is too enticing to pass up.

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3. Jumbo Slice 2341 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20009 (Adams Morgan)

Jumbo Slice is open late in Adams Morgan and serves up slices so big they could be used as a blanket, leaving it up to you whether your sleep or eat through the aftermath of your boozier evenings.

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4. Graffiato 707 6th St, Washington, DC 20001 (Chinatown)

Opened by former "Top Chef" Mike Isabella, Graffiato is an innovative Italian eatery in Chinatown (yes, confusing). What's not confusing is the tastes or the fact that there is a ham bar where locally-cured meats are carved to perfection right in front of you. The open wooden bar-style kitchen allows you to converse with the chef as he kneads the dough for your personal wood-fired pie.

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5. Senate Dining Room Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20002 (Capitol Hill)

The Senate Dining Room requires a reservation, and Congress must be in session, but if you can get a spot, you're just one step closer to getting your hands on some famous Senate Bean Soup.

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6. Rasika 633 D St NW, Washington, DC 20004 (Penn Quarter)

Make a reservation well in advance for this Indian fine-dining experience in Penn Quarter, where, after more than a decade on the culinary scene (it more than fills DC's "upscale Indian" gap), the contemporary restaurant still gets packed with professionals both young and old, and plenty of client-wooing dinners. That said, you'll want to eschew jeans on your special night out at Rasika, and perhaps anything white as well, considering you'll be indulging in saucy plates of expertly made classics like chicken tikka masala, tandoori lamb chops, and duck vindaloo. You'd be remiss not to order a side of the fan-favorite palak chaat, too: crisp, lightly fried spinach leaves drizzled with sweet yogurt, tamarind, and date chutney. The white tablecloth? It's a goner.

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7. Rasika West End 1177 22nd Street NW, Washington, DC 20036 (West End)

Rasika is an elegantly designed contemporary Indian restaurant with a boundary-pushing menu that still keeps its roots in traditional Indian cuisine. Its wine list also spans across the globe and is hand-selected to complement the menu.

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8. Stoney's 1433 P St NW, Washington, DC 20005 (Logan Circle)

This handsome yet understated Logan Circle sports bar serves up wing platters, nachos, pizzas, and cheap domestic brews -- all the comforting grease and suds you'll need while you watch the latest NFL game. Stoney's has a laid-back neighborhood feel that locals love, but things do tend to get rowdy during game day, particularly when the Denver Broncos, the bar's team of choice, are playing. As you're glued to one of the many TVs, you'll want to indulge in the legendary Super Grilled Cheese, an after-school snack turned bar food with an addictive buttery crunch and obviously-fake-but-obviously-tasty American cheese. Order the original Super (with tomato, bacon, and onion), or ask for it “Freddy Style" and, well, see what happens.

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9. Stoney's On L 2101 L St NW, Ste. 103, Washington, DC 20037 (K Street)

This place has been feeding DC some of the city's best burgers, brews, grilled cheese, and mac and cheese since '68. They've got this pleasing people with awesome food thing down pat.

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10. Thai X-ing 515 Florida Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001 (Shaw)

Situated in an old rowhouse on Florida Ave, this quirky Thai spot is BYOB (!), so be sure to bring along your favorite beers, wines, and spirits. Boasting one of the best and cheapest all-vegetarian tasting menus in DC, Thai X-ing serves market-fresh, vegan, and gluten-free dishes, plus a Sunday night vegetarian menu that -- lucky for you -- always includes chef/owner Taw Vigsittaboot‘s signature pumpkin curry, featuring a special kind of squash called kabocha that makes for a creamy concoction with just the right amount of heat.

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11. The Red Hen 1822 1st St NW , Washington, DC 20001

The open kitchen, bare brick walls, and simple, maple furnishing make you feel like you're in your own home when you eat at The Red Hen, as does the comfort of their classic Italian and American dishes. Just upscale of what you'd find in a chain, roasted chicken with black truffle polenta, house made cavatelli with spicy lamb, and grilled swordfish show impressive culinary chops but don't break the bank. They stick to simplicity here, even with its global wine list, and it works.

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12. Blue Duck Tavern 1201 24th St NW, Washington, MD 20037

A popular brunch, lunch, and dinner spot inside the West End's Park Hyatt, the Blue Duck Tavern offers up hearty fare with the likes of pork belly, short rib hash, and apple pie on the menu. Herald the arrival of spring by brunching al fresco on their outdoor patio, where you might sneak a peek at some seasonal flora and fauna (including a small family of those eponymous ducks!).

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13. Rose's Luxury 717 8th St SE, Washington, DC 20003 (Capitol Hill)

Situated in a converted townhouse on Capitol Hill, Rose's Luxury is a twinkle-lit, farmhouse-chic restaurant that draws crowds for its bold small plates. Unfortunately for those crowds, it doesn't accept reservations. Get here early for dinner and you can nab a front-row seat at the chef's counter overlooking the open kitchen, where shareable dishes like Thai-marinated pork blade steak and boudin-stuffed jalapeño are prepared with precision.

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14. Cork Wine Bar 1720 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009 (Logan Circle)

Imagine you're at a swanky bar, where there is wine by the hundreds and above you a woman is explaining its origin and content, get this, unpretentiously. And then you decide you want to indulge your sweet tooth with a warm apple crostada topped with bourbon vanilla ice cream, you would be, my friend, at Cork Wine Bar.

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15. Greek Deli 1120 19th St NW, Washington, DC 20036

Greek Deli has been going strong since 1990, serving hearty and loving portions of delicious Greek fare -- ranging from gyros and specialty veggie platters to a tasty avgolemono soup that comes with homemade bread.

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16. Old Ebbitt Grill 675 15th St NW, Washington, DC 20005 (Downtown)

Depending on your tastes, it will either be extremely appealing or off-putting that the Old Ebbitt Grill is the oldest saloon in Washington, once frequented by Presidents Grant, Cleveland, Roosevelt, and McKinley. Just steps away from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Old Ebbitt’s Beaux-Arts façade begs you to enter for a cocktail, while its mahogany and velvet booths and bars set in marble, brass, and beveled glass implore you to stay for a few more as you imagine what kind of political secrets and scandals were shared here. As you’re doing your best Woodward and Bernstein impressions, munch on breakfast, lunch, brunch (if you’re there on a weekend), or dinner. The menus certainly have a Southern slant (chicken and waffles, crab cakes, shrimp and grits), though you can also opt for house-made cannelloni, pappardelle, and ravioli or flash-fried swordfish tacos.