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?
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Central Michel Richard (address and info) Downtown 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.
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.
Chicken Thighs with Pepperoni Sauce
Graffiato (address and info) Chinatown 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (address and info) Shaw 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.
The Red Hen (address and info) Bloomingdale 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 (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.
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.
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.
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.
Old Ebbitt Grill (address and info) Downtown 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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