The hardest thing for me about living in a small town is the lack of ethnic food. I could eat Thai food twice and week and never get sick of it. Sushi is my love language. There is nothing quite like great Italian pasta. So when I headed east for a few months this spring, good food was on the top of my list! Luckily, when visiting my friend Catherine in Washington D.C., she had a ton of great places to hit up, including several things I’d never had before! Here are a few of my new favorite D.C. restaurants.
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Favorite D.C. Restaurants
A confession: this isn’t my first D.C. food post. There’s so much goodness in the city that I couldn’t possibly sum it up in one blog post or even one trip. You can see some of my previous favorites here and here. But these are my 2017 discoveries!
Somehow in all my trips to D.C. I’d never eaten at Shake Shack. So we definitely had to change that! Instead of fighting the crowds to eat in the restaurant, we got it to go and headed across the street to the Smithsonian American Art Museum to eat in their quiet courtyard. The museum itself is great – my favorite is the presidential portrait gallery – but the courtyard is a sort of hidden gem of the area. Its quiet and peaceful, the perfect place to bring a book and a coffee for a relaxing afternoon.
Shake shack lived up to all our expectations, of course. It was so good that we didn’t even mind the fact that we were eating milkshakes while it snowed outside. It’s worth the hype if you’re looking for a quick and tasty burger!
Since we’re both self-employed, we spent a fair amount of time in coffee shops to get things done! First off: Tryst. I’ve shared before about my love of Tryst’s sister restaurant, the Coupe, so I was pretty excited to check it out. Like many coffee shops on snow days, it was packed with people working remotely. Be prepared for crowds. But it’s worth it! We stepped in for lunch, and it has way more meal offerings than your average coffee shop: sandwiches, salads, breakfast dishes. Plus the full complement of coffee & tea beverages, and a cocktail menu for the evenings. We grabbed a couch and some sandwiches to get a little work done and watch the snow coming down.
Another coffee shop worth checking out is Firehook. Technically a bakery, they’ve got tables lining the wall, perfect for a few quiet hours churning out a project. It’s got several locations scattered through the city, but we spent a few hours at the Connecticut Avenue spot and enjoyed it. Best of all, the bread is just so good! We grabbed a loaf for that night’s dinner, and it was delicious!
Another fun, funky location I loved is Union Market. It’s in an odd part of town, lots of warehouses and not quite where I’d wander to find a place for lunch. But tucked amongst the old buildings is a renovated space that’s one part food court, one part shopping, and one part bar. There’s more than twenty places to eat in this spot, serving anything from fresh made pasta to oysters. There are coffee bars, a brewery, and tea shops. You can shop for jewelry or meat or bring home dinner from a market. We opted for homemade ice cream from Trickling Springs Creamery and specialty iced tea from Teaism. In summer months, they open up an astro turf patio area in the parking lot, complete with corn hole and umbrellas for shade. I’d definitely come back when it’s warm for a relaxed happy hour with friends!
Chez Billy Sud
On my last night in town, Catherine took me to a bar in Georgetown. After so much good food and so many great spots, I didn’t know how this one would be better than anything we’d already seen. But it’s her favorite bar in the city, so we had to visit.
When she described it as a French bar, I confess I didn’t know quite what to picture. A Parisian bistro feel? Something elegant and refined, with damask wallpaper? This felt much more like the château we visited in the French countryside – dark but not gloomy, full of warm wood paneling and warm accents. The main room was dominated by a huge bar, complemented by clusters of seating perfect for a small gathering of friends or a first date.
Her favorite spot, however, is a quaint dark parlor with a fireplace. It gave the room an intimacy perfect on that cold night. Somehow we even timed it so that we were there for the last log on the fire of the season!
If you need a night to relax in a quiet bar, head to Chez Billy Sud. The staff is really friendly and has great recommendations on the wine list. They have a restaurant next door which we didn’t get to check out, but based on the bar I’d bet it’s good!
I’ve saved the best for last. When I first arrived and we talked about what we wanted to do, Catherine said that if we only eat one meal out, she knew where we had to go, and do I like Balkan food?
I can’t say I’d ever had Balkan food before, but I like everything and was eager to try it. The best part about Ambar, though, is their setup. They serve tapas-style, lots of small plates to try lots of things. But for a fixed price you can get unlimited tapas and drinks! And we’re not talking well drinks: these were high quality cocktails, full of fruit and without any canned syrups.
Balkan food, it turns out, is amazing. I liked every single thing we tried! We starting off with a series of spreads, ranging from cheese to a tapenade-like creation to something that tasted like spreadable cream, they were all heavenly. Grilled shrimp on skewers, asparagus paired with a quail egg, or sautéed calamari. I even convinced Catherine to try beef tartare, which I love and was probably my favorite thing we ate all night.
Ambar isn’t cheap, but it’s 100% worth it. At $50 per person, everyone gets unlimited plates and drinks. Make a reservation even for a weeknight.
Food, while crucial, wasn’t the only fun we had this trip! Here’s some of our snowy adventures and here’s a few of our favorite things to do in D.C., or you can find all my combined D.C. love on this page!
I hope these give you some foodie inspiration next time you head to D.C.! What are your favorite D.C. restaurants?