Visiting Washington: local cuisine

Tons of tourists visit Washington, D.C. and I would like to lend some advise. I know when I visit an unfamiliar place, I like to get something distinctive and local to eat. What tastes like Washington, D.C.?

If you eat shellfish, get crabcakes, of course. We do them well here, even if it is technically a Maryland specialty. But if you’re paying less than $12-15 for a small dinner portion, you’re probably getting junk. But what else?

Some will point to the half smoke, a local sausage served in a bun, somewhere in taste and texture between a frankfurter and a bratwurst. I don’t like them. People and guides will insist you visit the half smoke landmark, Ben’s Chili Bowl on the once-desolate, now-vibrant U Street corridor. But I think it’s repulsive: I’ve never come out of there when I didn’t feel the twin pains of heartburn and regret.

For my money, I’d say that pupusas, a Salvadoran specialty conceptually between a tamale and a grilled cheese sandwich, is the best. Salvadorans moved into D.C. in waves after their civil war and now make up a conspicuous and important part of the local scene. Cheese ones are my favorite — you can get pork, too — and are usually served with a dab of vinegary slaw. They’re not expensive — you can usually get a serving for $2 or $3 — but can be quite filling. Allow some time, as they take time to grill. The best I’ve had in an area close to local hotels is La Frontera Cantina but if you keep your eyes open any “Mexican” restaurant or take-out will have them.

Here’s the local newspaper article that made me think about pupusas this way and here’s a recent newspaper article about pupusas in Baltimore

4 Replies to “Visiting Washington: local cuisine”

  1. My wife introduced me to pupusas (and fried yucca!) when she was living in DC. We were disappointed when we moved to Arizona, but we finally found a Salvadoran restaurant in Phoenix.

  2. PeaceBang is talking about City Lights of China and she’s right. North of Dupont Circle on Connecticut Avenue. Order the Jumbo Shrimp with Special Salt (shells on) or if you want something vegetarian, get the sweet-and-sour Mr. Katz’s Crispy Bean Curd like Hubby and I do. This time of year, they have a special asparagus menu.

    If you’re in Chinatown, go to Eat First. On H Street closer to 6th than 7th Street. Fabulous food in a so-so environment. A line out the door if there’s some event at the nearby Verizon Center. (Find out when the game begins and return.) Start dinner with one of the noodle soups — serves up to four — on the stand-up menu cards. I like the Hong Kong style dumpling with noodles. Hubby’s favorite is the Cuttlefish with XO sauce, while I’m partial to Tofu with Spicy Salt. Much, much better than the flashier but (in our one visit) flavorless Jackie Cafe next door.

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