News & Politics

2006 Who We Are: Ethnic Cuisine Brought to D.C.

Thanks to restaurants run by immigrants, Washingtonians now have easy access to exotic food from every corner of the globe.

Cuisine follows culture. With the influx of immigrants over the past three decades, ethnic eating in the area has never been better or more varied. Here’s a primer to the dominant cuisines, their signature dishes, and great places to find them.

Vietnamese (pho)

Pho 88, 10478 Baltimore Ave., Beltsville; 301-931-8128

You’ll find at this storefront cafe one of the area’s best renditions of what some call Vietnamese penicillin—a rich, flavorful soup made from simmered oxtail bones, perfumed with ginger, star anise, and cinnamon, and topped with bean sprouts, chilies, and sprigs of holy basil.

Ethiopian (doro wat)

Etete, 1942 Ninth St., NW; 202-232-7600

This gem in the U Street area does the national dish proud, submerging a leg of stewed chicken and a hard-boiled egg in a peppery red sauce made from caramelized onions and berbere powder.

Salvadoran (pupusas)

Irene’s Pupusas III, 11300-B Georgia Ave., Wheaton; 301-933-2118

This is the reigning go-to spot for pupusas, those soft griddled corn cakes stuffed with cheese or cheese and beans and topped with a sharp, peppery slaw.

Thai (honey-roasted duck)

Thai Square, 3217 Columbia Pike, Arlington; 703-685-7040

The honey-roasted duck at this hole in the wall might be the area’s definitive version of this classic dish—lightly sweet, wonderfully crunchy, and virtually grease-free.

Indian (chicken tikka masala)

Passage to India, 4931 Cordell Ave., Bethesda; 301-656-3373

Also called Butter Chicken, the dish here is a textbook version of this northern Indian staple, its rich creaminess offset by the tang of the tomatoes.

Mexican (posole)

La Sirenita, 4911 Edmonston Rd., Hyattsville; 301-864-0188

Few dishes are more comforting than the heaping bowls of posole at this roadside diner, in which cubes of pork, red chilies, hominy, chopped onions, and slices of avocado come together in a gutsy, restorative stew.

Korean (kimchee)

Gom Ba Woo, 7133-C Columbia Pike, Annandale; 703-642-1577

The classic cabbage dish is brought to vivid life here, the crisp, lightly pickled leaves swabbed in a fresh, kicky chili sauce.

Persian (kebabs)

Shamshiry, 8607 Westwood Center Dr., Vienna; 703-448-8883

The kebab e kubideh here is the gold standard, the spiced, minced beef expertly molded around its skewer and meltingly soft as it comes off the flame.

Afghan (aushak)

Faryab, 4917 Cordell Ave., Bethesda; 301-951-3484

These pillowy dumplings—stuffed with mint, topped with a tomato-based meat sauce, and drizzled with yogurt—are both rustic and refined.

Jamaican (jerk chicken)

Caribbean Delight II, 11000 Baltimore Ave., Beltsville; 301-595-4667

Many versions of this popular dish stint on the vinegar and the heat, but the jerk chicken at this storefront restaurant is full of spice and tang. It’s also wonderfully plump and succulent.

Peruvian (spit-roasted chicken)

El Pollo Rico, 2541 Ennalls Ave., Wheaton, 301-942-4419; 932 N. Kenmore St., Arlington, 703-522-3220

These golden, juicy birds are as good as chicken gets—as the long, snaking lines in and outside these smoke-billowing shops attest.