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Entries in dining (7)


So, where do we eat? - On the Hill

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In our previous installment of "So, where do we eat?", I was able to provide a fairly inclusive look at all the food options on the Mall; the good, the bad, and the ugly. This time around, it's going to be a little different. Capitol Hill, the neighborhood/cult that I belong to, has a variety of dining options and I'm not Zagats. So to bound the problem a bit, I'm shooting to provide a little insight for lunch and light dinner options in the area of the Capitol Building extending down Pennsylvania Ave, SE. Specifically, I'm aiming at the guy who's just finished being probed by the Capitol Police, herded like sheep by some guide who's already given the same talk a half dozen times today, and now has two kids trying to explain that yes, dad, they're really hungry now.

His first step might be the Capitol Visitors Center, and hey, it's not a bad option. The food's fine and the prices, while not great, aren't quite the rip-off of the Smithsonian's. We're talking $7 for a cheeseburger here. So if your feet are killing you and the lines aren't too long, enjoy. Open Monday - Saturday from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm.

But if he could pull it together, I'd say keep walking. Without even going outside, another option awaits. Find the tunnel to the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, go through it, and continue on to the tunnel to the Madison Building. Or he could just go outside and walk to the modern looking white stone building across Pennsylvania Avenue from the Jefferson Building. Either way, take the elevator to the sixth floor and head to their cafeteria. It's a bit cheaper and the view of DC to the south is spectacular. And you will get a chance to see some real live Librarians in action. On the off chance they engage you in conversation, run with it. You will learn more about 16th Century Japanese woodblock printing (or whatever) than you ever knew existed. It's even more fun than it sounds, trust me. They're open M-F 8:30 - 10:30 am and 12:30 - 3:00 pm.

If a government cafeteria, no matter how scintillating the conversation, isn't your cup of tea, than continue down Pennsylvania Ave. For those of you with your trusty Red Ryder with a compass in the stock, that would be heading southeast. Which your friendly Capitol Police officer will be happy to tell you as he questions you about bringing a BB gun that close to the Capitol. There are several dining establishments in the vicinity. These may not be the best, but they strike my fancy.

First, I would mention Pete's Diner, just down 2nd Street at 212. Great diner with a weird yet pleasing mix of traditional diner food and Asian cuisine. It's good, it's quick, and the seating is so tight you're guaranteed to make a new friend. The staff, even as busy as they are, are unfailingly friendly. Surprisingly for a diner, Pete's has a great selection of vegetarian options; one of the best on the Hill.

A block or so down Penn, you will see line of stylishly dressed Hill staffers lined up outside a place known simply as Good Stuff Eatery. You may also see a guy who hasn't shaved in a couple of days trying to eat a burger, read a newspaper, answer his four year old daughter's question, and drink his beer; all without noticing that he's dripped Old Bay mayonnaise into his one year old's hair as she is strapped to his chest. Feel free to say hi. Good Stuff has excellent burgers, good fries with four different types of mayo to dip them in, and truly inventive shakes. A little hint: don't order all three. I have to limit myself to any two when I'm there. And unlike the Visitor's Center, this $7 dollar burger is worth it. Fans of Top Chef might recognize the owner/chef, but I'm afraid I'm not up on my TV to talk about it too much.

And while there are several other options here, if you're looking to sit down at a place with a little ambiance, I recommend Hawk and Dove. Not so much for the food, which is standard bar fare, but because it's a classic DC institution. It's one of the best place to observe one of Washington's timeless traditions: the Running of the Interns. While interns inhabit the Hill year round, the warmer months will bring them out by the hundreds. While I too will quickly tire of them, especially when they fail to follow the rules, I do enjoy a earnest faced young intern chatting up some friends with a discussion of his "Member". And no, he's not being dirty. Anyway, the place is one of the great dive bars in the city and is a lot of fun.

Feel free to continue your journey down Pennsylvania Ave towards Eastern Market but I shall leave you here. Perhaps another time we can discuss the options around the Market; they warrant their own post. For now, we will leave it at that.

As I said above, this wasn't going to be comprehensive but if you feel there's something worth mentioning here, leave it in the comments or send it to me at


So, where do we eat? - On the Mall

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The National Mall is a great place to spend a day to Washington, as long as you don't get hungry. Most of the museums have food options; they're just expensive and, often, not very good. And nearby? Ha! We have the neoclassical Federal Triangle area to the north and the brutalist Southwest DC to the south. Notice how I fail to call them "neighborhoods". Neighborhoods imply the presence of "neighbors" or at least humanity. These are barren wastelands of government office buildings with nary a Starbucks in sight. I've seen folks get lost for days in the wilds of Federal Triangle, only to emerge clutching half gnawed bits of Spanish tile and asking "Why? Why, dear Lord, do they make it so hard to find something to eat?" I'm not kidding, it's not pretty.

What to do? If you don't want to have to barter your youngest for food, here are some options. Or, at the very least, some help on getting a good return on that child.

My Recommendations:

1. Department of Agriculture - You know, that big white building on the Mall that's NOT a museum? Back when the Agriculture was a major part of our economy, they got a prime spot on Independence Avenue and 14th. Ag may be the appendix of Cabinet Departments, but they have a good cafeteria. It's not anything special, except the food is reasonably priced, there's plenty of seating, and it's only a two minute walk from the Mall. Oh wait, that makes it pretty darned special around here.

To get in, you need to walk south of 12th St and then west on C ST SW (a right). It will be the second door on your right. You have to go through security; just tell them you're going to the cafeteria.

Hours: Breakfast 6:30 - 10:00 (Hot 7-9) Lunch 11:00 AM - 2:00 PM Coffee shop 2:00-3:30
Closed Weekends/Federal Holidays

2. National Museum of the American Indian - It's not cheap, but at least you get something for the experience. Far and away, the best museum food court in DC and, while I haven't visited all of them yet, I daresay the world. Each section represents a different region of Indians (Plains, Northwest, Mezo-American, etc.) and has food from that area. The buffalo chili on fry bread is a safe bet but this is a great place to get adventurous. It's going to cost you, but so would that Big Mac at Air and Space.

Hours: 10:00 AM - 5:15 PM

3. On the Fly Carts - Great local addition to the food cart scene. I've got nothing against the half-smoke vendors (except that their half-smokes are crap) but these guys prove that street vendor does not have to equal suck.

Hours: 11:00 AM -6:00 PM, weekends and holidays only

4. Natural History Museum - Fossil Cafe - Ok, it's no bargain and the food, while fine, is nothing special. I just like it as a quiet place to get a cup of coffee, until all of you tourists show up. It's back in the corner behind the dinosaurs, hence the name.

Hours 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM

5. Bring your own - Bring a picnic lunch. Technically, no food or drink is allowed in the museum and I certainly wouldn't recommend eating inside them, but most museums have bag checks. Just bring it and check it when you go in. Personally, I like the Haupt Garden behind the Castle.

Places that are fun because of where they are, not what they serve:

1. Smithsonian Castle
2. Museum of Natural History - Atrium Cafe
3. National Gallery of Art - neat places, but expensive

Do Not Recommend:

1. National Air and Space Museum - It's just McDonalds for twice the price. And hot, damn hot in the summer.
2. National Museum of American History - I hear it's finally open, but they're selling off-the-shelf pb&j for five bucks. When I take a look at it, I'll tell you how it is. Until then, I stand by my assessment.

By all means, if you know any more, add them in the comments. Or, if you want to quibble with me, please do so, but not about the Air and Space food court. That place sucks. If I were the Wright family I'd put up signs saying it's not named for us, it's those other Wrights from, um, New Mexico. So, if you like the Air and Space one, keep it to yourself.

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