Details

Mitsitam Cafe

Fourth St. and Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20024

202-633-7038

Neighborhood: Capitol Hill, National Mall, Capitol Hill

Cuisines: Vegetarian/Vegan, South American, Fusion/Eclectic, American

Opening Hours:
Open daily 11 to 5.

Nearby Metro Stops: Smithsonian, Federal Center SW

Price Range: Inexpensive

Dress: Informal

Noise Level: Chatty

Reservations: Not Accepted

Website: http://www.americanindian.si.edu/subpage.cfm?subpage=visitor&second=dc&third=mitsitam

Best Dishes:
Selections from the South American station, such as chicken tamales, quinoa salad, yucca stew, plantain empanadas, and chicha fresca; cedar-plank-roasted salmon; fiddlehead fern salad; fry bread with honey.

Mitsitam Cafe

The National Museum of the American Indian's restaurant is a culinary tour through five Native American cuisines.

From June 2006 Cheap Eats

Tucked inside one of the curves of the Smithsonian's American Indian museum, the Mitsitam Cafe is a treasure--a museum cafeteria where you might learn as much as you do from one of the exhibits.

The cafe, with its curving booths and glass walls that let the sun stream in, echoes the museum's fluid layout.

There are five food stations, each with a different menu focusing on a Native American region and its indigenous ingredients. The downside: It's hard to figure out where to start after you've grabbed a plastic tray. And at peak times, crowds of zoned-out tourists can create traffic jams at each counter.

Though menus shift daily, the South American station near the entrance is the best all-around bet. Beneath the husks of the chicken tamales is a wealth of smoky cornmeal, tender dark meat, peanuts, and green chilies. Quinoa salad, with its fine dice of cucumbers and fruity vinaigrette, feels like something you might find at Komi.

A heartier dish is a spicy stew of yucca, tomatoes, and chicharrón. Plantain empanadas, lightly fried and filled with sweetened milk, are billed as a side but make a fine dessert. And while other stations have sodas or mini-bottles of Woodbridge Chardonnay, this one offers chicha fresca, a smoothielike mix of blue-corn meal, pineapple, and citrus juices.

Head over to the Northwest Coast area for a cut of salmon roasted on a cedar plank plus a bright salad of fiddlehead ferns, charred onions, and fennel. Skip the gloppy vegetable salads and kiddie-geared chicken tenders at the Great Plains stand, but don't miss its fry bread--warm puffs drizzled with honey and cinnamon.