For a long time, Washington, D.C. didn’t have a distinct culinary identity to call its own. Neither northern nor truly Southern, and bordered by Maryland and Virginia, our nation’s capital has always celebrated regional foodways and the cuisines of the many expats and immigrants who give the city its international vibe.
Whether it’s Maryland crab cakes, half-smokes, or ritual Sunday feasts for our brunch-obsessed citizens, the city’s burgeoning food scene is celebrating old and new food and drink traditions that would make anyone nostalgic. Homesick Washingtonians will recognize most of the things we’ve included in our list, so take a peek and then share your favorites on social media with the hashtag #FederalCityFood.
1. Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs
There are those who enjoy the mess, mayhem, and noise of hammering at hard crab shells for tiny bits of blue crab meat, while the other camp definitely prefers soft shell season. Whether they’re boiled with Old Bay or gently sautéed, they always go down easily with a local brew from DC Brau
or Hellbender Brewing Co.
2. Chesapeake and Rappahanock Oysters
Sadly, getting fine oyster specimens from the Chesapeake Bay are a thing of the past, but the Rappahanock River produces low salt beauties
that are delicious in stews, fried, but best eaten raw, especially when served by the folks at Rappahanock Oyster Bar
3. Embassy Wining and Dining
Washington is unique compared to other world capital cities because its 175 embassies were the originators of the now popular “public diplomacy” that makes it possible for visitors to meet ambassadors and staff and visit the embassy for purely social reasons. On any given day, Washingtonians can enjoy wine tastings, dinners featuring regional cuisines, and a wide range of social and cultural events and activities.
4. Ethiopian Coffee and Restaurants
D.C. doesn’t really have a distinct “Little Ethiopia” area, but we do have fabulous Ethiopian restaurants, like Kokeb
, or coffee houses that carry sensational shade grown, organic, 100 percent farmer owned, fair trade coffee, like the superb selections from Blessed Coffee
5. Half-Smoke Sausages
Not quite a kielbasa and too timid to be a hot dog, this coarsely ground, smoked, spicy, pork and beef sausage, when properly cooked, should have skins that snaps when you bit into it but burst with flavor. With or without herbs, onions, and chili, our favorite, made by Logan, is found at DC-3
on Capitol Hill.
6. Local Food Artisans
You wouldn’t think that a busy urban center would be a hot bed of artisanal, agricultural products, but D.C. is literally buzzing with activity. Most of the products can be purchased at farmers markets, gourmet stores, Whole Foods, or in their own retail stores. Standouts include Capital Honey
, mind blowing gluten-free baked goods from Sticky Fingers Bakery
, incredible pickled goodies from Number 1 Sons
(the dill pickles are addictive), and healing kombucha from Craft Kombucha
7. Virginia Wine
The wines of Virginia may not get the press and adulation heaped on California’s Napa and Sonoma Valleys, but there is plenty to crow about. There are now more than 200 wineries in the state and stellar producers, like Early Mountain Vineyards
and King Family Vineyards
, are making wine that can stand toe-to-toe with wine from anywhere.
Summer Whitford is the D.C. Editor and a food, drink and travel writer at The Daily Meal. In addition to lifestyle topics, Summer also writes about culture and the arts at Woman Around Town. You can follow her on Twitter @FoodandWineDiva and on Instagram at thefoodandwinediva.