Washington, D.C.’s cooks, restaurants, and eateries have, over the decades, incorporated ingredients, techniques, and dishes from different cities, cultures, regions, countries, and cuisines. With time, these foods have evolved, and turned into dishes that are considered to be native to the locals in D.C. Below are a few of the famous signature dishes or foods that you should try when visiting Washington D.C.
1- Greasy burgers
Politicians, locals, hungry tourists and night owls are making a beeline for your Tune Inn on Capitol Hill as they’ve done since 1947. Many opt for the cheap, strong drinks; however, many are actually in search of the dive bar’s trademark hangover cure: the shamelessly irresistible greasy burgers.
Cooked until crispy on the outside and made of 100% beef, this is an old school classic. The meaty flavor of these hamburgers washed down with ice-cold soda, or a foamy glass of beer, is pure bliss. Loyal customers overlook the dusty range of doodads, taxidermy, political memorabilia, and pop culture that cover every square inch of wall space; the hamburgers are simply that good.
2- Chesapeake blue crabs
D.C.’s affection for Callinectes sapidus (“beautiful swimmer” in Latin), better known as the Chesapeake blue crab (a Maryland specialty), is a D.C. signature dish. For traditionalists, steamed crab coated in Old Bay Seasoning is the only way to eat it. They enjoy whacking away in the buggers with small wooden mallets to extract large amounts of tender, tender crab meat. June through September, people migrate into Captain White in the Maine Avenue shore in Southwest D.C. to Purchase crabs from the market.
The former is generally in scarce supply, so order it once you see it on a menu, and crab cakes are simple to find on menus since crab meat is readily available. Look for crab cakes which don’t stray from the traditional recipe made out of big lump crab, a little bit of onion, a few crumbled saltines for a binder and a touch of mayonnaise to keep the cake moist as it cooks, and obviously, a dash of Old Bay Seasoning.
3- Korean fried chicken
Contrary to Kansas City, Nashville, or Memphis, Washington doesn’t have a background of fried chicken, but they know a good thing when they taste this, and the city has enthusiastically embraced K.F.C. (Korean fried chicken).
Contrary to Southern fried chicken, K.F.C.’s batter is milder and has a textured, crunchy, paper-thin crust which explodes with chicken essence from the very first bite. Bul Korean restaurant in Adams Morgan is unequivocally the heaven of Korean food in D.C.. After you go, go with friends and discuss the K.F.C. three ways: plain so you can taste K.F.C. in its purest form, in sweet, spicy hot chili sauce, and at the soy, garlic, add ginger sauce — it’s umami is very important.
4- Mumbo sauce
Mention chicken wings and mumbo sauce (also spelled mambo and mambo) to many Washingtonians and they don’t have any idea what you’re referring to unless they grew up in a few of those historically African-American regions of the city. Chicken and mumbo sauce are typically sold by miniature questionable-looking carry-out Chinese-American stores which sell everything from beef with broccoli to chicken wings, fried chicken, French fries, fried fish, and pizza.
Many people may call it barbecue sauce, but mumbo sauce is a lean almost neon bright reddish-orange, occasionally reddish-brown, sauce that’s probably a hybrid made by combining ketchup with a dash of barbecue sauce and a few sweet-and-sour sauce. It’s generally tangy and sweet but can also have some warmth from added chili spice, and Washingtonians proudly proclaim it a hometown specialty.
5- D.C.’s iconic half-smoke
D.C.’s iconic half-smoke is the only dish that is authentic to the city. Granted, it’s a mix of sausage designs from more than 1 cuisine, and several of the models sold here come from two producers in Baltimore (Briggs and Mangers), but boy, can it be terrific once you get the perfect one. Made with a combination of coarsely ground pork and beef with a touch of hot pepper, the secret to this half-smoke can be found in the hog casings, which give the sausage a sharp snap when you bite into it, and the batter, which are, of course, secret. Occasionally smoked and not, some people today consume their half-smoke grilled with only spicy mustard on a bun with onions, but some smother theirs in chili with cheese and yellow mustard, such as the ones in DCity Smokehouse.
6- Peruvian polla a la brasa
If not for the large Peruvian population in D.C. , we would not have the curry and the mouth-watering pollo a la brasa, or rotisserie chicken that’s only one of the best meals you’ll find in D.C.. It is very affordable. Only a couple of dollars for a chicken.
This fashion of chicken got its beginning in Lima, Peru from the 1950s, and its entire title is pollo a la brasa al carbon, a significant distinction because al carbon signifies cooked within coal and flame. This method provides the chicken dark, rich, smoky flavors that can only come in the secret spice blend that’s rubbed over the entire bird until it slowly cooks at a coal and flame rotisserie oven. The spices used to make this chicken are a mystery as no one will spill the secret
7- Chesapeake oysters
There is no other indigenous food that defines the Chesapeake area like Crassostrea virginia, the native eastern oyster found in the Chesapeake Bay. For decades, the oysters were big, plump, , and a very important source of nourishment and commerce. Unfortunately, over-harvesting, pollution, and other dangers have destroyed the once pristine all-natural reefs and killed the oysters. Currently there are no wild areas left to crop, and the finest Chesapeake oysters come from aquaculture operations in Virginia, with Maryland coming in a distant second place regarding production.
Like wine, the taste of each oyster reflects its terroir and tastes different from 1 appellation or location to another.
8- Salvadoran pupusas
La Casita Pupuseria & Market has hands down the best pupusas. Not only because the food is yummy but because it’s always delicious and prepared by those that are enthusiastic about giving diners an experience of Salvadorian cuisine. The chefs and owners also have raised the bar on pupusas from the DMV. Pupusas are tortilla-like pancakes, typically about 1/4-inch thick, made with masa harina or corn starch, and filled with many different fillings, many frequently Salvadoran quesillo cheese, chicharron, crispy pork skin rinds or cracklings, and refried beans. They are traditionally served with a side of curtido cabbage slaw made with grated carrots, onions, a little hot pepper sauce, Mexican oregano, and apple cider vinegar. It’s the perfect acidic yin into pupusa’s creamy, slightly sweet yang. Once the pupa is made correctly, it’s a sleek, corn-imbued pancake that virtually melts in your mouth.
9- The “G-Man” subs in Mangialardo’s
There are a couple of semi-ethnic areas in the District, but no significant Italian neighborhoods ever existed, and also the couple of old-school mom-and-pop pizza and sub shops that did are almost all gone except for Mangialardo’s around Capitol Hill.
This very small sub shop is take-out just, is accessible from 8AM–3PM. There is constantly has line and crowd waiting to be served. The signature dish is a sub served, your choice of warm or cold. The subs have remained exactly the same way for 60 years.
10- U.S. Senate Bean Soup
This soup has been served in the Senate dining area since 1903. It originally came to existence by the request of two senators, Senator Fred Dubois of Idaho and Senator Knute Nelson of Minnesota, who are credited with making the soup or providing the recipe, but their recipes differ marginally. The main recipe includes navy beans, water, smoked ham hocks, and onions, but Dubois’s variant includes mashed potatoes. Even though this is a satisfying, hearty soup, the one thing which makes it notable is that folks are still referring to it.