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.


Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.