Washington DC has not always been considered a “Foodie” town. However, in the past few years it is becoming known for its culinary culture. It’s not surprising that Washington DC is filled with international options as it is an international town with residents, ambassadors, and politicians from all over the world and the United States of America. The culinary atmosphere of the District of Columbia is global. Some of the latest things you’ll find in Washington DC’s restaurants, take outs, and food trucks are spicy, farm to table, sandwiches, and a lot of American and International options.
1. Half Smoke
The Half Smoke is believed to have originated at Briggs and Co., a DC meat packer in 1930’s. Briggs distributed a sausage made with half smoked pork and half smoked beef with special seasonings in a hog casing. When sold to another distributor in 1950 the quality of the meat went down. Eventually there was a resurgence of the quality sausage. It’s believed that Weenie Beenie Take Out was the first to sell the Half Smoke. Today, the Half Smoke is famous on Washington DC’s menus at sandwich shops and food carts. The sandwich is served like a hot dog on a bun. The sausage is smoked or grilled. It is topped with either spicy mustard and onions, chili and cheese, or hot peppers. Popular DC restaurants that sell the Half Smoke are Ben’s Chili Bowl, DC Smokehouse, and many food trucks and street vendors.
Oysters are a Washington DC staple. With its close proximity to the Chesapeake Bay, oysters are always available in Washington DC. Some of the best oyster restaurants in DC are Rappahannock Oyster Bar at The Wharf, Pearl Dive Oyster Palace on 14th Street, Hank’s Oyster Bar on Q Street, and Old Ebbitt on 15th Street. Raw bars serve oysters with sauces like cocktail sauce, lemon sauce, pesto, and Mignonette sauce. Cooked oysters are also delicious.
3. Bahn Mi
Bahn Mi is a popular Vietnamese sandwich that came to American restaurants in the 1950’s. It’s become popular in Washington DC and is often sold in sandwich shops and food trucks. Bahn means “bread”. A baguette is usually filled with meat, vegetables, mayo, and spices. Some versions include fusion meats, cilantro, cucumber, pickled carrots, pickled daikon, pate, chili sauce, and mayo. Sometimes the Banh Mi is filled with ice cream. In Vietnam, the Bahn Mi is served as breakfast or a snack.
Bowls are very popular in Washington DC. Ramen Noodles are served as soups with spicy Korean noodles, meat, and vegetables. Poke Bowls are Hawaiian in origin. These have cubed seasoned fish and vegetables served over sushi rice, salads, or quinoa. Buddha Bowls are typically vegetarian. It’s served in a bowl with small portions of several types of vegetables over rice or quinoa. For protein, tofu or chickpeas are used. The vegetables are arranged artfully. It’s believed that it’s called the Buddha Bowl because Buddha represents balanced.
5. Bean Soup
U.S. Senate Bean Soup is a staple on the U.S. Senate Restaurant. It’s sad that it was first requested by Senator Fred Dubois requested navy bean soup in the early twentieth century. Ever since, bean soup is offered on the Senator’s menu. The soup typically consists of navy beans, smoked ham hocks, and onion. It’s believed the original version also contained mashed potatoes.
6. Mumbo Sauce
Mumbo Sauce originated in Chicago in the 1950’s. Washington DC restaurant Wings and Things introduced the sauce in the 1960’s. Wings or fried chicken is baked in Mumbo sauce. The sauce is tangy and sweet with a touch of hot spice to the taste. It’s a reddish orange sauce made with ketchup, BBQ sauce, sweet and sour sauce, and chili spice. Chicken wings with Mumbo sauce can be found in many Washington DC restaurants and take outs. Yum’s is a popular place to find the sauce baked into its chicken wings and fried chicken.
7. Peruvian Chicken
Peruvian Chicken is popular in Washington DC. The roasted chicken was created by a Swiss expatriate living in Peru during the 1950’s. The chicken is specially seasoned and roasted on a spit over charcoal to make a crisp skin and tender, juicy interior. The dish was served in high end restaurants through the 1960’s before it became mainstream and served throughout the world, Peruvian Chicken is served with a creamy mayo based sauce or with a type of salsa called aja. The dish is often served with French fries. Some great Washington DC restaurants that serve Peruvian Chicken are District & Rico, Huacatay Peruvian Chicken, El Pollo Rico, and Tigo’s Peruvian Press.
Ethiopia restaurants are popular in Washington DC. The Ethiopian experience is communal so it’s fun to share a meal with family and friends. Zenebech Resteraunt, Chercher Ethiopian Restaurant and Mart, Ethiopic, and Dukem Ethiopian Restaurant are all popular DC spots for a great Ethiopian meal. When eating Ethiopian you share a large circular platter called a gebeta. It’s topped with injera, a flatbread fried in a skillet. On top of that are a variety of stews, curries, and vegetables. The meal is shared with friends and family and eaten with the hand.
Khachpuri is a puffed pastry filled with cheese and often a fried egg. The dish originated in Georgia and soon spread to Russia and Armenia. It’s popular in Washington DC today. The bread is leavened, left to rise slowly, and molded into shape. The cheese can be any type or combination. Often a mixture of feta, ricotta, and mozzarella mixed with butter is used. There is a brined cheese called Sulgani that is use in Georgia. The Khachpuri can be stuffed with a variety of ingredients, even potatoes. Compass Rose Restaurant was the first to put Khachpuri on the menu (https://www.compassrosedc,com). Mari Vanne, a DC Russian restaurant, serves Khachpuri. The Uzbek restaurant Silk Road Chayhena serves the treat. Tasty Dug-Out is a Georgian and Mediterranean DC restaurant that serves Khachupuri in a dug-out shaped pastry.
The “cupcakery” trend started a decade ago. Washington DC was ahead of the “cupcakery” trend. Cupcakes became more popular than cakes at birthday parties, weddings, and other celebratory events. Cupcakes offer more variety in flavors than a cake, can be arranged decoratively, and are often less expensive than cakes for events. In 2008 sisters Katherine and Sophie Kallinis opened Georgetown Cupcakes. This set off the “cupcakery” craze in DC. Other popular cupcake bakeries sprung up in DC. These include Baked and Wired, Midnight Confections Cupcakery, Bakeshop, and Sweet DC.