These essential DC restaurant dishes show off the incredible diversity of the District's dining scene.
As one of the country's top dining destinations, we want to show off the signature dishes and flavors at some of the city’s most popular restaurants. Of course, it’s hard to go wrong at many of these eateries, but if you’re a “what’s the dish I should try?” type of diner, we’ve got you covered.
A reminder: restaurant menus frequently change, so while these dishes are often featured, there’s no guarantee that they will be available on the night of your visit. Check with a server about the dish’s availability, or opt for another one of the restaurant’s tasty offerings.
The Sun City at Call Your Mother
Call Your Mother, which bills itself as “a Jew-ish deli,” serves up the classics you know and love with a twist. The Sun City is one of the most popular sandwiches at this spot named to Bon Appétit's list of America's 50 best new restaurants when it opened in 2019. What makes The Sun City so good, you ask? Think a pillowy, layered “bodega-style” egg with melty American and cheddar cheese and your choice of bacon or pastrami, all drizzled with spicy honey and packed into an everything bagel.
The Pork and Lychee Salad at Rose's Luxury
Named the best new restaurant in America by Bon Appétit in 2014 and also the recipient of a Michelin Star, Aaron Silverman’s Rose’s Luxury on Capitol Hill has plenty of ways to wow you. Diners have especially marveled at the lychee salad, a staple dish that has remained steadfast on an ever-changing menu. This dish featuring sweet lychees, pork sausage, red onion and peanuts is topped with a cool coconut cream and, like the restaurant itself, leaves quite the impression.
Mezzi Rigatoni at The Red Hen
A woodfire-powered kitchen, bucolic decor and an Italian-infused menu have turned The Red Hen into one of the city’s most popular neighborhood restaurants. The mezzi rigatoni is a staple from the restaurant’s early days that wows with its delicious simplicity. Short, made-in-house rigatoni is paired with a fennel sausage ragu and topped with pecorino Romano for pure pasta perfection.
Fried Chicken at Maketto
The stylish Maketto on H Street NE features one of the city’s hottest dishes. Chef Erik Bruner-Yang takes on fried chicken with flair, turning it into a crispy Taiwanese platter that is both sweet and spicy (thanks to the kick of peppercorns). Served on top of French bread, the ensemble can feed two or three people, who will most likely sit in silence as they marvel at the dish’s flavor explosion.
Khachapuri at Compass Rose
The neighborhood comfort of Compass Rose is reflected in its menu, sprinkled with international cuisine that can be served in a restaurant or on the street. The star of the show at this hot spot located one block from U Street is the khachapuri, a cheese-filled bread boat coated in an organic egg and butter, often served in Georgia. Pair this with any number of Georgian wines available and you’re officially transported.
Palak Chaat at Rasika West End
The highly acclaimed Rasika West End from James Beard Award-winning chef Vikram Sunderam is known for many dishes, but the savory palak chaat might be on another level. The dish stars crispy, flaky and crunch baby spinach, which is topped by a tamarind yogurt sauce and dates. Prepare for Indian-style cooking at its best.
Onion Soup Gratinée at Le Diplomate
This little slice of Paris from restaurateur Stephen Starr is a perennial, highly lauded favorite. Part brasserie, part cafe, part bistro, expect a laidback yet chic vibe at Le Diplomate. Just like in the City of Lights, “Le Dip” (as it’s known to locals) heaps generous portions of fromage brimming over the top of this soup you won’t soon forget.
Proper Burger™ at Duke’s Grocery
You can’t go wrong with the Proper Burger™ from Duke’s Grocery, a Dupont Circle mainstay with spinoffs in Foggy Bottom and Woodley Park. The burger that this London-inspired neighborhood pub churns out is so popular that they’ve trademarked the name. Two juicy beef patties on a fluffy brioche bun are slathered with melted gouda, charred red onion, a sweet chili sauce and garlic aioli. Dig in!
Spicy Shoyu Ramen at Haikan
If you haven’t tried Sapporo-style ramen, there’s no better time than now. Chef Katsuya Fukushima’s dazzling takes on ramen are on full display at Haikan in Shaw, which is related to uber-popular ramen counter Daikaya but traverses a terrain all its own. The spicy shoyu ramen is completed by chicken, beef and pork stock and comes with Japanese-imported noodles and all the fixin’s.
Mac and Cheese at The Smith
With locations in Penn Quarter and on U Street, there are twice as many reasons to try this ooey, gooey and yes, cheesy, starter perfected by The Smith. The skillet-roasted specialty is a cheddar-Fontina-Gruyère-Parmigiano Reggiano powerhouse perfect for splitting (or make it a main if you don’t want to share). Be prepared to inundate your Instagram followers with boomerangs of stringy, cheesy goodness.
Lobster Roll at The Salt Line
A visit to The Salt Line will transport you from the District to coastal New England, as chef Kyle Bailey’s seafood-centric eatery incorporates flavors from the Eastern seaboard like few other restaurants in the area. The lobster roll is a favorite at the Capitol Riverfront locale, served on a split top bun and garnished to your liking (we prefer it dressed in butter). You can’t go wrong with the raw bar here, either.
Smokehouse Fish Board from Ivy City Smokehouse
The tantalizing scent of savory smoked fish radiates at all hours from the Tavern at Ivy City Smokehouse, making this Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand recipient a must-visit. The delightful smokehouse fish board topped with five different smoked fishes, two bagels and everything else you need is a crowd favorite you don't want to miss.
Sedgewick Pizza at All-Purpose Pizzeria
For pizza lovers, All-Purpose Pizzeria’s locations in Shaw and Capitol Riverfront are a dream come true. The team behind The Red Hen and Boundary Stone brought their Italian-American cuisine expertise to this concept that anchors the District’s pizza scene with distinctive pies sure to tinge your passions. Try the Sedgewick, a white pizza that incorporates whipped ricotta, taleggio, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses with chives and truffle honey.
The Big Cheese at Federalist Pig
Step into Federalist Pig in Adams Morgan and you will feel as if you’ve been granted access to someone’s private kitchen. The coziness gives way to some of the best barbecue in the city, and The Big Cheese is a crown jewel: melted cheese, crispy onions and barbecue sauce are lathered on top of your choice of chopped pork or brisket. Make sure to load up on sauces and sides (we love the smoked cheddar mac and cheese!).
Still hungry? Check out these hot restaurants to try now as you wine and dine your way through the District.
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