Things to Do

Only-in-Washington Food Experiences

The best places to get seafood, tibs, and half-smokes.
Photograph by Scott Suchman

Why you’ll roll your eyes:

C’mon, Washington doesn’t have “official” foods like New York bagels or Chicago deep-dish.

Why you’ll love it:

We do have regional delicacies and rich ethnic pockets that set the city apart.

Have a progressive Vietnamese diner: Dreamy Vietnamese pop music floats through the breezeways of Falls Church’s Eden Center, an indoor/outdoor warren of jewelry stores, cafes, and restaurants that serves as a hub for many of the area’s 60,000-plus Vietnamese-Americans. Among our favorite dining choices: a mixed cold-cut bánh mì from Nhu Lan Sandwich (6763 Wilson Blvd.; 703-532-9009); roasted, lacquered quail with lime from Huong Viet (6785 Wilson Blvd.; 703-538-7110); and fried tofu with lemongrass and chilies from Thanh Son Tofu (6793 Wilson Blvd.; 703-534-1202).

Share an Ethiopian meal: Washington is home to the US’s largest number of Ethiopian expats, and that means we have a wealth of places to gather and break injera (the bread that serves as both platter and utensil). One of the most memorable is Abay Market (3811 S. George Mason Dr., Falls Church; 703-998-5322), a sparely appointed cafe that revels in the cuisine’s meatier side. It’s the place to try kitfo- a tartare-like mix of raw (or rare) beef knuckle tossed with butter and spiced with peppery mitmita– and tibs, a garlicky, gingery beef stir-fry.

Crack crabs: Breaking into crustaceans with a pitcher of cheap beer is more than a Washington tradition- it’s a rite of passage. We can’t think of a better place than Cantler’s Riverside Inn (458 Forest Beach Rd., Annapolis; 410-757-1311), a crowded dive overlooking Mill Creek. Diners pack around long tables, thwacking spiced crabs with wooden mallets for a taste of the sweet meat. If you want to throw a crab feast at home, check out Wild Country Seafood (124 Bay Shore Ave., Annapolis; 410-267-6711). The seasonal market mainly offers carryout, with only four tables outside, but both the hard- and soft-shell crabs are among the best around thanks to the owners- watermen who pluck them from the Chesapeake each day.

Down a half-smoke: Ben’s serves DC’s most historic half-smoke. But the tastiest version can be found at Meats & Foods (247 Florida Ave., NW; 202-505-1384). The sliver of a shop from husband-and-wife owners Scott McIntosh and Ana Marin griddles the pork-and-beef sausages, tucks them into Martin’s potato rolls, and ladles piquant beef chili on top. The finishing touch: chopped onions and a zigzag of mustard, plus the perfect spice, smoke, and snap with every bite.

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