What to eat in Washington: 12 must-try local delights

Taste a wonderland of culture and flavor with this guide on what to eat in Washington, from all-American hot dogs to international delicacies.

Immerse yourself in the culinary delights of Washington, from local classics to international flavors.

Explore the traditional food Washington is known for, like blue crabs and oysters straight from the Chesapeake Bay.

Sample flavors of fusion from across the globe like authentic khachapuri in a cozy city center eatery, or relish Washington's take on Peking Duck. Be tempted by the aromas on a walking tour or romantic night in foodie hotspot Georgetown.

Treat yourself to a mouthwatering American hot dog, a uniquely Washington half-smoke, or a must eat fried chicken sandwich.

While Washington's landmarks may be at the top of your itinerary, the eateries frequented by American presidents, revolutionaries, and celebrities are top sights all their own.

Read on to find out what to eat in Washington.

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1. Uncover the history of the half-smoke

A local icon in Washington DC, the half-smoke was born in the 1950s at Ben's Chili Bowl. A half-smoke is typically a half-pork and half-beef smoked sausage bathed in chili sauce, mustard, and onions, creating a symphony of bold and tantalizing flavors and textures.

How to eat the best half-smoke in Washington?

On the U Street Neighborhood Food tour, drop by Ben's Chili Bowl for some of the city's best half-smoke and discover the answer to the question, "What food is Washington known for?"

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2. Unlock the secrets of the Proper Burger

The Proper Burger features a juicy patty made from high-quality beef, topped with charred red onions, smoked Gouda, dill pickles, sweet chili sauce, arugula, and garlic aioli, sandwiched between two toasted buns. The medley of hearty, smoky, sweet, and spicy flavors makes it a capital gastronomic experience.

How to eat the best Proper Burger in Washington?

For the most mouthwatering Proper Burger, sign up for the Washington DC: See the City Segway tour. Glide through the city, stopping at Foggy Bottom or the National Zoo to relish this popular food.

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3. Dive into the world of Chesapeake oysters

Chesapeake oysters are a prized specialty of Washington. Eaten raw, grilled, or baked, these mollusks have been cultivated since the colonial era, and are known for their distinct briny and buttery flavor. If you’re in the mood for seafood, these succulent oysters are what to eat in Washington.

How to eat the best Chesapeake oysters in Washington?

Venture on the From DC: Virginia Wine Country Tour with Tastings and experience the taste of southern-style fare, including some of the finest Chesapeake oysters, providing an answer to what to eat in Washington.

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4. Experience the allure of Chesapeake blue crabs

Known for their savory meat and sweet, delicate flavor, Chesapeake blue crabs are often steamed and seasoned with a mixture of spices. Paired with corn on the cob and a glass of wine, this famous food embodies the spirit of Maryland's traditional coastal cuisine.

How to eat the best Chesapeake blue crabs in Washington?

Sign up for the From Greater DC Area/ Bowie: Maryland Wine Tour with Lunch and delight in the tasting of Chesapeake blue crabs alongside Maryland's finest wines.

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5. Explore the delicacy of kitfo

A classic Ethiopian dish, kitfo has a deep-seated place in the hearts of Washington's food lovers. Traditionally made from raw, lean beef mince, kitfo is mixed with mitmita (spicy chili powder) and niter kibbeh (clarified herbed and spiced butter). Often served with injera (sourdough flatbread) and ayibe (mild cheese), resulting in a harmony of flavors that you must eat at least once.

How to eat the best kitfo in Washington?

On the Washington DC Bike Rental Tour, discover the city's landmarks, and conclude the adventure with a visit to Beteseb Restaurant for the best kitfo.

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6. Discover the magic of khachapuri

Khachapuri is an indulgent bread boat filled with molten cheese and crowned with a raw egg and butter. As the heart of Georgian hospitality, this cheese-filled bread is kneaded with love and tradition. The rich, gooey interior combined with the soft, warm bread offers a textural delight with each mouthful.

How to eat the best khachapuri in Washington?

On the Washington DC: History Tour Pub Crawl, stop by the Compass Rose for some of the best khachapuris to soak up the fantastic local brews while discovering some of the best food in Washington.

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7. Experience the joy of Sakuramen

Sakuramen, a soulful bowl of ramen with roots in Japan, is now a popular food in Washington. With hearty broth, springy noodles, and toppings like pork belly, soft-boiled egg, and green onions, Sakuramen is the epitome of comfort food. The complexity of flavors and the balance of textures create a harmonious symphony for the senses.

How to eat the best Sakuramen in Washington?

Experience the Washington DC: 16th Street and Adams Morgan Tour that provides the perfect chance to stop by the Saku Ramen Bar and indulge in this delightful dish.

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8. Dive into the world of VPN-style pizza

Originating from Naples, the Verace Pizza Napoletana (true Neapolitan pizza) has found a home in Washington's Georgetown neighborhood. Characterized by a thin, soft, and chewy crust, it features San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, and olive oil. Each bite is a fusion of simple ingredients that transport you to Italy.

How to eat the best VPN-style pizza in Washington?

Explore the Washington DC: Taste of Georgetown Walking Food Tour and stop at Il Canale to taste award-winning VPN-style pizza, a must on any list of foods to try in Washington.

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9. Savor the sweetness of donuts

An iconic American treat, donuts have a rich history dating back to the 19th century. Whether ring-shaped, filled, or cake-style, donuts often feature a glaze, frosting, or sprinkles.

How to eat the best donuts in Washington?

Embark on the Washington DC: Underground Donut Tour with Tastings, starting at Astro Doughnuts, then to Palmer Alley and Farmers and Distillers, before ending at Toscana Market. A treat for anyone seeking the best sweet food to eat in Washington.

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10. Celebrate the quintessential hot dog

A staple of American fast-food cuisine, the hot dog is a grilled or steamed sausage served in a bun. Toppings can include mustard, ketchup, onions, mayonnaise, relish, coleslaw, cheese, chili, and sauerkraut, with each bite a different adventure of flavors.

How to eat the best hot dog in Washington?

With the Washington DC: Washington Nationals Baseball Game Ticket, savor a delicious hot dog in the lively ambiance of a Major League baseball game for a genuinely quintessential experience of what to eat in Washington.

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11. Embrace the elegance of Peking Duck

Born in the Ming Dynasty, Peking Duck is a masterpiece of Chinese cuisine. Prepared through a meticulous process of air-drying and roasting, this dish offers a distinctive contrast of crispy, amber skin, and tender meat. The combination of textures and flavors creates a gastronomic experience that captures China's culinary refinement.

How to eat the best Peking Duck in Washington?

Enjoy the Washington DC: Small-Group 3-Hour Night Tour, ending your evening by savoring Peking Duck at Peking Gourmet Inn, a beacon of food in Washington and where the founder, Eddie Tsui, revived this dish's glory.

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12. Delight in the classic fried chicken sandwich

Embedded in Southern cuisine, the fried chicken sandwich is a must try American culinary tradition. Marinated and deep-fried chicken, served between soft buns and garnished with coleslaw or pickles, results in an irresistible combination of flavors and textures. This dish is a culinary expression of American diversity.

How to eat the best fried chicken sandwich in Washington?

On the Washington DC: African American History Tour, visit Roaming Rooster on U Street. Here, choosing what to eat in Washington becomes an opportunity to relish a savory bite of history at this African-American-owned restaurant chain.

FAQs

What are the must-try traditional dishes in Washington?

Washington's culinary scene showcases a range of traditional dishes such as the half-smoke sausage, Chesapeake blue crabs and oysters, and the renowned Peking Duck at Peking Gourmet Inn.

What are the best food tours in Washington?

The Washington DC: Underground Donut Tour with Tastings and the Washington DC: Taste of Georgetown Walking Food Tour are among the top-rated food tours.

What are the top local food markets in Washington to visit?

Eastern Market in Capitol Hill and Union Market in NoMa are two of Washington's most famous food markets.

What is the best time of year to visit Washington for food lovers?

Spring and fall are the best seasons to visit Washington for food lovers. These periods see numerous food festivals like the National Cherry Blossom Festival in spring, where unique cherry-inspired dishes are served.

How much should I budget for food in Washington?

The average daily food cost for a traveler in Washington is around $30 to $60 or more, depending on whether you opt for fast-casual eateries, food trucks, or dine at more upscale restaurants.