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Don’t-Miss Dishes in Washington DC

From chili dogs to Ethiopian platters, these are the dishes to sample while you're in town.

Don’t-Miss Dishes in Washington DC
Hi, I'm Claire!

Claire Bullen is an award-winning food, drinks, and travel writer and editor who has lived and worked in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Paris, and London. She is the author of The Beer Lover's Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, and the editor at GoodBeerHunting.com. Her writing has also appeared in Time Out New York, The Daily Meal, Pellicle Magazine, and beyond.

Washington DC isn’t just a popular destination for history buffs. Thanks to its diverse neighborhoods and international communities, it’s also home to a wide range of culinary offerings. From Ethiopian platters to hearty Italian fare, from beloved chili dogs to indulgent cupcakes, here’s what you should be sure to sample while visiting the capital.

Chili Half-Smoke

Foto: Robert Crowo / Shutterstock

One of DC’s most beloved eateries, located on U Street (an area once referred to as “the Black Broadway”), Ben’s Chili Bowl has been a local staple since the 1950s. President Obama made waves when he visited the restaurant in 2009, and you can follow in his footsteps when you drop by and order a chili half-smoke (chili dog).

Ethiopian Combination Platter

Foto: Iulian Ursachi / Shutterstock

DC’s delicious U Street area is also home to a thriving Ethiopian community. If you’re new to the cuisine, order a combination platter, which typically consists of numerous spice-laden stews, all served atop a round of injera (spongy flatbread that tastes like sourdough and takes the place of silverware).

Cupcakes / Shutterstock

Foto: Nicole Glass Photography / Shutterstock

If you have a sweet tooth, look out for Georgetown Cupcake, one of the city’s most popular and successful dessert chains. Locations are now found all over DC, though pretty Georgetown is, as the name suggests, where the company got its start. Enjoy classics such as red velvet or inventive flavors including strawberry lemonade and butterscotch waffle cone.


Foto: christianthiel.net / Shutterstock

DC is home to plenty of movers and shakers, and while their politics may differ, there’s one thing most of them can agree on: steak. Consequently, the capital is home to a surfeit of traditional steakhouses. For a lavish dinner out, order a porterhouse or chateaubriand with truffle fries on the side.


Foto: Sunny Tan / Shutterstock

Italian is among the most popular cuisines in Washington DC, and if you head to vibrant neighborhoods such as Dupont Circle, you can look forward to a decadent introduction to the city’s trattorias and other traditional eateries. Enjoy seasonal pasta dishes, or go off-piste with risotto.


Foto: Netpixi / Shutterstock

Salvadoran cuisine is a mainstay in DC—often served alongside Mexican food in restaurants—and its signature dish has become a favorite in the capital. Think of pupusas as thick, pancakey tortillas, frequently stuffed with cheese, refried beans, and chicharrónes (pork rinds).

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