Guide to Washington, DC: Best Museums to Get Food

A museum where you can feed your brain and your stomach at the same time? Here's the museums that offer the best food options.
The National Museum of the American Indian’s Mitsitam Cafe. Photograph by Leonda Levchuk/National Museum of the American Indian.
The National Museum of the American Indian’s Mitsitam Cafe. Photograph by Leonda Levchuk/National Museum of the American Indian.

There are plenty of eating options in the Smithsonian and other­ ­museums, but unless you want fast food or a shrink-wrapped ­sandwich, the choices are more limited. Luckily there are foodie-friendly­ eateries in and around major attractions where you can get anything from a quick bite with the kids to a leisurely two-martini lunch.

Garden Café & the Espresso and Gelato Bar, the National Gallery of Art
Art inspires food at the National Gallery’s tranquil Garden Café, where guest chef José Andrés has designed a summer menu based on the exhibition “Joan Miró: The Ladder of Escape.” Entrées such as basil tortellini with buffalo mozzarella can be ordered à la carte; there’s also a buffet ($20.25 per person), with fresh breads, cheeses, salumi, and hot Catalan dishes like rosemary-garlic chicken. Pop into the Espresso & Gelato Bar in the East Building for a cappuccino and a selection of 19 house-made gelatos. Sixth St. and Constitution Ave., NW; 202-737-4215;

Mitsitam Cafe, National Museum of the American Indian
Inside the Museum of the American Indian, themed stations serve dishes inspired by ingredients and cooking techniques of five Native American groups. The service is cafeteria-style, but the fare—not to mention the selection of beer and wines by the half or full bottle—is far above cafeteria quality; think bison strip loin cooked to your liking and corn tortillas stuffed with mole-braised chicken, as well as kid-friendly chicken tenders. The cafe is open during museum hours, but the full menu is available only until 3 pm. Fourth St. and Independence Ave., SW;

Todd Gray’s Muse, the Corcoran Gallery
The most recent addition to the museum dining scene is chef Todd Gray’s Muse inside the Corcoran Gallery. While it’s a casual to-go concept, the menu of soups, salads, sandwiches, and small bites is sustainably and seasonally focused, as it is at Gray’s higher-end Equinox
and Watershed restaurants. Vegan and vegetarians are served well here; the menu always includes options for both, such as vegetable samosas and a marinated chickpea wrap. Omnivores can go the opposite route with a sandwich stuffed with grilled flank steak, charred onion, and arugula. 500 17th St., NW; 202-639-1786;

Zola, the International Spy Museum
This stylish Penn Quarter restaurant inside the Spy Museum offers small plates in addition to hearty salads, sandwiches, and other Modern American fare. One standout for tourists: the $20 “business lunch,” where visitors in a rush are fed and out the door within 45 minutes after choosing an entrée, starch, and vegetable from three set lists, plus a chef’s dessert. For a more relaxed vibe, rest museum-weary feet at the happy hour from 4 to 6 and 9:30 to 11, where bites such as lemongrass mussels and tacos are discounted and $5 gets you a passion­fruit mojito or other specialty cocktail. 800 F St., NW; 202-654-0999;

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