Washington D.C is trending in the food scene, so we rounded up the best places to eat and top restaurants and sites to visit, including Rachael Ray's top 5 faves!

1. All-Star Chefs in Washington D.C.

Washington D.C.

Celebrity chefs have set up spots all over the district; emerging gourmands -- from food-truck drivers to neighborhood restaurant owners -- are putting their distinct regional spin on farm-to-table menus; and once-homogenous ethnic areas are filled with foodies ready to travel via their taste buds.

Read on for four great reasons visit the nation's capital this summer. Who knows -- you might even be seated next to the first family!

The most prolific restaurateur in town is James Beard Award -- winning chef José Andrés, who has opened seven trailblazing eateries in 11 years -- including Mediterranean ZAYTINYA, a Rachael favorite; pop-up spot AMERICA EATS TAVERN; and the six-seat, avant-garde MINIBAR BY JOSÉ ANDRÉS one of the hardest reservations to get in town.

After a complete renovation, Andrés's JALEO is the one of the city's hottest tapas designation. The Penn Quarter restaurant offers Spanish comfort food and reasonable prices -- most items are under $15. Variety is the key here: The menu boasts offers over 70 options, including spicy chorizo wrapped in crispy potatoes, and "paella" made with fried pasta and shrimp, so no two visits may ever be the same.

In the city's Chinatown neighborhood, GRAFFIATO draws crowds hoping to snap a picture with owner and Top Chef alum Mike Isabella and sample his Italian-inspired small plates, pastas and pizzas. The two-story industrial space features a ham bar, prosecco on tap and chalkboard walls listing local farm sources. Guests and cooks chat over platters of hand-cut spaghetti with olive oil-poached tomatoes, garlic and basil, and braised chicken thighs with spicy pepperoni sauce -- a dish that received rave reviews from judge Tom Colicchio on Top Chef. "Even before looking at the menu, diners will ask for the pepperoni sauce from the show," Isabella says. "I don't think I'll ever stop serving it."

On Capitol Hill, Top Chef All-Stars competitor Spike Mendelsohn whips up juicy, hand- crafted burgers at GOOD STUFF EATERY. Spike's Sunnyside comes with a fried egg and bacon; the Michelle Melt, a free-range turkey burger, honors the health-minded first lady, who has visited.

Next door, fresh-from-the-oven slices are served at his WE, THE PIZZA parlor. Order the BBQ pie, topped with a mound of slow-roasted pulled pork, barbecue sauce, cheddar and crispy onions. Don't forget to grab one of the house-made sodas for the road.

"Everyone thinks of D.C. as being the political capital of the world, but it is so much more than that," Andrés says. "New chefs are coming to open burger joints and high-end restaurants, so we are in the right place at the right time."

Prices and other details were accurate when published in July 2012.

2. Ethnic Eats in Washington D.C.

Little Ethiopia

Home to almost every foreign embassy, D.C. benefits from the constant infusion of different cultures. However, this district offers an experience you won't find elsewhere: Little Ethiopia. Clustered near 9th and U Streets N.W., between vibrantly colored 19th-century row houses, funky boutiques and thriving art galleries, is a strip of restaurants catering to the largest Ethiopian population in the United States.

"Ethiopian food has become a defining local cuisine, much like barbecue is in Memphis," says Tyler Cowen, author of An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies. Served family-style and utensil-free, Ethiopian meals are usually eaten with injera, a thin, spongy sourdough bread used to scoop up spiced meats, vegetables and stews.

Try the doro wat, a hearty chicken-and-tomato stoup, at ZENEBECH INJERA (202-667-4700), an unassuming Ethiopian grocery store-diner combination. "It has absolutely no ambiance, but every dish is excellent -- the flavors are simply the real deal," Cowen says.

Stop by DUKEM ETHIOPIAN RESTAURANT on Wednesday nights for live music and traditional African dancing. It's known for boldly spiced dishes like tibs, beef or lamb fried with vegetables.

Other nearby Immigrant communities have also migrated into the city, bringing authentic flavors from Korea, Vietnam, Burma and Thailand. At Dupont Circle's LITTLE SEROW, chef Johnny Monis' restaurant is dedicated to capturing the brightness, pungency and spice of northern Thai cuisine. Simply decorated, the restaurant's one rule: Let the kitchen make all the decisions. The seven-course, family-style chef's tasting ($45) is the only option here -- and no substitutions! But with offerings like eggplant served with a salted duck egg and pickled garlic, or pork ribs topped with whiskey-dill sauce, who'd want to make a change? Get there early, though: The 28 stools are first-come, first-seated.

Trinidadian cuisine is another popular cuisine. Head to TEDDY'S ROTI SHOP (202-882-6488) for dishes made with roti, the country's pillowy grilled flatbread. Ask for the "shark and bake" (spicy shark meat stuffed in a battered, deep-fried bun called a bake) and the "buss-up-shut," which in Trini sounds like "bust-up shirt." The roti is shredded with stewed chicken, goat or conch until it resembles, well, an old shirt -- but it tastes a lot better!

Prices and other details were accurate when published in July 2012.

3. The Food Truck Revolution in Washington D.C.

Fojol Bros.

Don't be fooled by the crowd outside the National Portrait Gallery, they may be looking for lunch, instead of admission! On this particular day, chef Andrés' PEPE FOOD TRUCK, which serves Spanish sandwiches and soups, was parked in front of the museum with a line 25 people long -- and growing by the minute.

Compared to other metropolitan areas, D.C.'s food truck movement lagged behind because of three words: government red tape. However, after refining old regulations -- including a decades-old law affecting when a truck could stop (only when a patron waved it down!) -- the national gourmet meals-on-wheels revolution as come on lightning-quick.

The movement really took hold on President Obama's inauguration day in 2009, with the launch of the FOJOL BROS. INDIAN TRUCK, described by its owners as a "traveling culinary carnival." (The chefs dress up in funky Arabian Night costumes and fake handlebar mustaches.)

Three years later, there are more than 100 mobile eateries -- and counting. "Food trucks attract everyone from well-suited business types to T-shirted college kids," says Mike Bober, co-editor of food- insider site capitalspiceblog.com. "They're the grand equalizer. Everyone wants interesting food at an affordable price." Andrés agrees: "I may have high-end restaurants, but we can also offer options at my truck for $10. It feels good that we can reach so many people."


While many mobile eateries have regular stops throughout the city, savvy truck owners announce their daily locations and menus on Twitter.

  • CAPMAC (@CapMacDC, $7): The comfort-food caravan serves twists on mac 'n' cheese, like their Classic (cheddar and pimiento cheeses with crumbled Cheez- Its) and Reuben Mac (swiss and fontina cheese, pastrami, sauerkraut and a rye bread crumble).
  • CURBSIDE CUPCAKES (@CurbsideCupcake, $3): Bubblegum-pink vans canvas the town selling fresh-baked faves, including their version of a tequila sunrise: a moist orange cake covered in buttercream icing spiked with tequila.
  • DC EMPANADAS (@DCEmpanadas, $3.50): Order off a rotating menu of savory stuffed fried pastries like their Executive Order, filled with bacon cheeseburger and grilled vidalia onions.
  • PORC (@porcmobile, $8): Locals flock to PORC -- "Purveyors of Rolling Cuisine" -- for mightymeaty fare, including heaping-tall pastrami sammies and slow-roasted pulled- pork platters.
  • RED HOOK LOBSTER POUND DC (@LobstertruckDC, $15): Choose from two types of fresh lobster rolls: Maine-style with a homemade lemon mayo, or Connecticut-style with just lobster meat and melted butter.
  • STIX (@eatstix, $5): Curbside dining can get messy, but not at this roaming eatery, where every item is served on a stick. Try the skewered summer salad (chunks of cucumber, cherry tomato and red onion) and beer-brined BBQ chicken, marinated overnight in dark lager.

Prices and other details were accurate when published in July 2012.


The Obamas

From the organic vegetable garden flourishing on the South Lawn to the president's burger runs to the first lady's work advocating healthier school lunches, the Obamas have made it clear: Good food is on their agenda and also on their calendar. When the first family gives the White House chef the night off, they hit some of the city's hottest restaurants. 

"They're the biggest celebrities in the city, so it's news when they show up anywhere for dinner," Mendelsohn says. "With Twitter and Facebook, the word spreads immediately." Whether it's an intimate dinner for two, a quick stop for a pizza slice or a simple supper with the family, one thing remains constant: The Obamas like to dine at locally owned, small-business restaurants.

 Sharing plates of crab cakes and seafood pasta, the Obamas celebrated their anniversary at the softly lit chef's table at this American bistro, known for its airy open kitchen and regional farm-to-table menu.

 During dinner, the president's Twitter and Instagram accounts posted a photograph of him and Mrs. Obama chatting with diners around a wooden communal table. On the menu at the cozy bistro: black pepper-and-cheese pierogi and hand-sliced Old Bay fries with curry mayo.

 On his way back to the White House after a little shopping, the president dropped by this pizza joint to pick up three pies: sausage and pepperoni; green pepper and red onion; and a Supreme Clientele, which has all the aforementioned toppings plus olives and mushrooms.

 Southern food must have a fan in Mrs.Obama,who has twice visited this eatery named for the Florida hometown of author Zora Neale Hurston. Surrounded by high ceilings, playful murals and rocking chairs, she ordered the pecan-crusted trout.

 Obama visited the bustling, no-frills burger place twice: once with Vice President Joe Biden, and once with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, who ordered a cheeseburger along with the POTUS and peacefully split a plate of fries.

 It's not hard to see why President and Mrs. Obama chose this seasonally inspired American restaurant for Valentine's Day: It's quiet, intimate and decorated in romantic red hues, and it offers a tasting menu at a price that will steal hearts -- $59 for four courses.

Prices and other details were accurate when published in July 2012.

Rach's Favorite Washington D.C. Restaurants

Ben's Chili Bowl

"Beyond my top choice, Zaytinya, these are the restaurants I find most delicious in the district." -Rachael

 The great chef Art Smith knows Southern food -- you have to try his maple-ham hoecake. As he'd say, they're kiss- your-mama delicious! 

 Order the signature dish, the chili half-smoke: pork-and-beef smoked sausage on a steamed bun, topped with mustard, onions and spicy chili sauce. The owners told me it's Bill Cosby's favorite!

 I visited this D.C. classic when I filmed an episode of my Tasty Travels series. They serve some of the best crab cakes and oysters around.

 My buddy Spike Mendelsohn introduced me to this spot -- his favorite for Indian food. Start out with their tasty Cucumber Vesper cocktail made with gin and Lillet Blanc.

Prices and other details were accurate when published in July 2012.

Tourist Spots with Great Food

Good Stuff Eatery


Scope out the best eats when you're out and about at the district's top tourist spots.

We, The Pizza

When you visit: THE CAPITOL
 Flip a coin -- if it's heads, order a pair of pizza slices with all the trimmings. Tails? Go next door for big- as-your-mouth gourmet burgers. Either way, your stomach wins.

Eastern Market

When you visit: EASTERN MARKET
 After a Saturday morning of exploring the historic market's arts and crafts and local produce, head to its South Hall area to explore a plate of hearty blueberry buckwheat pancakes, aka "blue bucks."

The National Mall

When you visit: THE NATIONAL MALL
Found inside the National Museum of the American Indian, it features cuisines from different Native American peoples, like Indian fry bread from the Great Plains.

National Portrait Gallery

 This may be the best fine-dining deal in town! Drop in at the bar for lunch, where you can get an entrée, beverage and dessert for just $19.

The White House

When you visit: THE WHITE HOUSE
 Before your morning tour, pop into a booth made from reclaimed barn wood and order a signature breakfast ($12): crispy fried chicken tenders with gravy, two eggs and a waffle topped with fresh whipped butter.

Prices and other details were accurate when published in July 2012.

Where to Stay

Vaulted Ceilings of the Hotel Monaco

If you're with your...Family
 Keep the kids smiling at the whimsical Hotel Helix, where you can lounge in a colorful room with a king platform bed for you and a bunk with two twin beds for them. You'll even find kid-size bathrobes and a mini bar with Pez dispensers. 

If you're a...Couple
 There's nothing like a 19th-century mansion to inspire a little romance. Make your way to the charming Swann House B&B to find all the makings of a memorable escape: claw-foot tubs, fireplaces and private outdoor decks.

If you're with your...Girlfriends
 Feel glam with your buds downtown at Donovan House. After a day of play, slip on some cute heels and head up for cocktails at the rooftop pool and bar. Hungry? You can order dishes from Zentan, the hotel's fusion restaurant from Top Chef Masters finalist Susur Lee.

If you're an...Architecture Buff
 The marble four- level Hotel Monaco Washington, D.C., building has housed the General Post Office, the International Trade Commission and even Congress back in 1814. Add in the fact that it was designed by the architects of the Washington Monument and the Capitol dome, and you've got the design fiend's sweet dream -- just look at the high vaulted ceilings and long windows!

If you're a...Pet Lover
 Is your pup in tow? Book it to Hotel Palomar, where they'll welcome your four-legged friend with open arms (and maybe even a tasty treat). Look for the Bark Bar water station inside the front door, and ask about the Dish pet lounge.

Prices and other details were accurate when published in July 2012.