When you think of downtown Washington DC, you’re probably able to rattle off the classic landmarks, including museums and monuments, cherry blossoms, and the Capitol building. Your mind immediately pictures the White House, Washington Monument, Chesapeake Bay, Capitol Hill, and Pennsylvania Avenue. But when it comes to local cuisine, you may be drawing a blank.
What food is Washington DC known for, you ask?
With so many residents and visitors from all over the world, it’s no surprise that the District has a diverse range of culinary offerings, from iconic dishes like the half-smoke to international fare such as spicy pupusas. There are even Washington DC events that centers around food.
If you’re aiming to be the most seasoned foodie this city’s ever seen, pull up a chair. Let’s dig in to our list of five best foods in Washington DC.
#1 The Half-Smoke
We’d be remiss to start this list anywhere else. The half-smoke is the undisputed champ of Washington DC’s best foods.1
- Why you’ll love it – This mouth-watering meaty concoction consists of a sausage casing filled with beef, ground pork, and a special spice blend. They’re often served up on a soft white bun and smothered in toppings like mustard, cheese, onions, or chili.
- Best places to get it – No need to hit the high-end establishments to get a classic half-smoke. You’ll find these DC favorites served just about everywhere: food trucks, Nationals Park, and the tiny-but-mighty takeout stand Meats and Foods. To truly eat like the locals do, head to Ben’s Chili Bowl, where they serve up the best-known half-smoke in town.
After experiencing the nightlife in Washington DC (especially after imbibing some craft beer in Washington DC breweries), one of the best ways to cap off the experience is with some pupusas. DC is home to more Salvadoran immigrants than any other city in the US, so it’s no wonder that Salvadoran cuisine is a Washington DC staple.2
- Why you’ll love it – Pupusas are a Salvadoran comfort food. These warm, crispy flatbreads are stuffed with cheese and every other delectable filling you can imagine, from traditional beans and pork to shrimp, squash, jalapeno, or even edible loroco flowers.
- Best places to get it – For a cozy vibe, try the family-owned and operated Pupuseria La Familiar on University Boulevard. If you’re in the mood for fine dining, try Samantha’s Restaurant, which specializes in a scrumptious fresh shellfish pupusa.
#3 Mumbo Sauce
If your taste buds are on the hunt for something truly unique to DC, you must try mumbo sauce, a condiment that was developed in DC takeout restaurants.3 (Yes, Chicago claims to have invented mumbo sauce too—but if it wasn’t invented in DC, it was certainly perfected there.)
- Why you’ll love it – Mumbo sauce is a sweet, thick, barbecue-like sauce, although its exact ingredients vary. Locals pour the tangy mixture over everything from fried rice to french fries.
- Best places to get it – For the authentic mumbo sauce experience, sample it from one of Washington’s many outstanding carryout restaurants. Try Eddie Leonard Carryout for Chinese, or Henry’s Soul Cafe for soul food classics like sweet potato pie paired with mumbo sauce.
#4 Ethiopian Fare
What is Washington DC known for food-wise? Ethiopian cuisine may not be the first one that comes to mind but, in fact, it’s a beloved part of the DC food scene. Luckily, you’ll have dozens of Ethiopian eateries to choose from, in DC’s Little Ethiopia neighborhood and beyond.4
- Why you’ll love it – Ethiopian food is warm and flavorful, featuring rich, thick stews, spicy meat and vegetable dishes, and spongy injera flatbread to soak up all the broth and spices.
- Best places to get it – It doesn’t get more authentic than Beteseb Restaurant, a family-owned eatery featuring injera made with traditional teff grain rather than wheat. Or try Dukem, a long-time local favorite that features live Ethiopian music on stage.
Washington DC has been a leader in cupcakes ever since they were the trendy dessert of the 2000s. Since the launch of famed Georgetown Cupcake in 2008, the District has become known for its many bakeries specializing in pint-sized goodies.
- Why you’ll love it – It’s cupcakes! Need we say more? If you’re still not convinced that the nation’s capital is also the capital of cupcakes, a mega-sized razmanian devil from Baked and Wired or a macaron-topped roasted pineapple cupcake from The Sweet Lobby will quickly sweeten your disposition.
- Best places to get it – Of course, Georgetown Cupcake pops up on nearly every list of Washington DC cupcakeries. But if you want to go beyond the expected for the lesser-known pastry hotspots, try Baked and Wired, The Sweet Lobby, or the Cakeroom.
#6 Fried Chicken
You might think Texas or New Orleans have the best fried chicken, but the chicken in Makketo is sparking a lot of attention. What makes it stand out is its Taiwanese influence.
In terms of hot dogs, Washington DC developed their unique style with half-smokes. Arguably, the best half-smoke is served at Bens Chili Bowl.
#8 Peruvian Chicken
For those who aren’t familiar, Peruvian chicken is a type of rotisserie chicken with crispy skin on the outside, juicy meat on the inside, and served with a unique Peruvian black sauce.
The capital of the United States may not be known for its pizza, but it’s no surprise that it’s a common go-to among the locals. While the capital doesn’t have its own style of pizza, like New York or Chicago, it does have some great Margherita pizza.
Make Yourself at Home in Washington, D.C. with Common
If this list of delicacies has you packing your bags for Washington, DC, we don’t blame you. That’s why Common is here to help you find your new homebase in the capital city.
If you’re dreaming of living within a short stroll of classic DC sights like the Capitol and downtown Washington, the Common NoSHA may be just the nest you need. Love a home with history and stunning architectural features? Check out Common Monroe, a breathtaking coliving space created from a beautifully remodeled church.
Whenever you’re ready to embark on your new adventure, Common has the home that’s right for you.
- Destination DC. Everything you need to know about DC’s signature dish: The half-smoke. https://washington.org/visit-dc/dc-signature-half-smoke-all-you-need-to-know
- Washington Post. How to eat your way through Maryland’s pupusa highway. https://www.washingtonpost.com/goingoutguide/pupusas-are-more-than-corn-and-cheese-these-six-stops-on-a-maryland-highway-prove-it/2018/06/13/
- Epicurious. This secret sauce from D.C. belongs on everything. https://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/mumbo-mambo-sauce-washington-dc-article
- Eater DC. 15 essential ethiopian restaurants around D.C. https://dc.eater.com/maps/best-ethiopian-restaurants-dc-map