Food

12 Great Sit-Down Lunch Spots Around DC

Where to go for Afghan, Thai, Mexican, sushi, and more

New Prince George's County restaurant Pennyroyal Station. Photograph by Amanda Hoey.

If you’ve tried to meet up with friends and colleagues for a proper sit-down lunch recently, you’ve probably noticed a lot of your pre-pandemic go-tos have yet to return. Sure, fast-casual eateries abound. But many full-service, sit-down restaurants are reopening slowly, limiting hours to dinner only for now as they try to staff up or wait for office lunches to return. So if you’re struggling to suggest a place for your next lunch date, here are 10 great options across the DC area.

Afghan Bistro/Bistro Aracosia
8081 Alban Rd., Springfield; 5100 MacArthur Blvd, NW; 1381 Beverly Rd., McLean
At this trio of Afghan restaurants, we could happily make a meal just out of the spiced beef mantu (dumplings) topped with a drizzle of yogurt-garlic sauce and dried mint. Bigger appetites can choose from a range of kebabs or stews with herby veal and mushrooms or an indulgent bone-in lamb shank.

Cranes
724 9th St., NW
This Spanish-Japanese restaurant recently earned a Michelin star for its a multi-course kaiseki tasting. But you can try a more affordable version of chef Pepe Moncayo’s cooking at lunch with the $35 “bento omakase.” The six-dish sampling brings together unusual ingredients combinations like maitake tempura with manchego cheese or burrata with shiso pesto.

Elephant Jumps
8110 A Arlington Blvd., Falls Church
This standout Thai restaurant provides a much need jolt of heat and flavor for an otherwise mundane work week. We’re big fans of the fried papaya salad with tangy lime sauce as well as the herb-filled banana-blossom salad with coconut milk, chicken, and shrimp. When in doubt, consult the black board for specials.

Le Diplomate
1601 14th St., NW
This French hotspot with private “streetside chateaus” fills up fast. No wonder: it’s a great place to linger over a foie gras parfait or moules frites and maybe, just maybe, even indulge in a midday glass of Vouvray. Just be sure to make a reservation in advance.

Las Gemelas
1280 4th St., NE
The new venture from the crew behind Espita Mezcaleria is two concepts in one: a “fast-fancy” all-day taqueria and a full-service, seafood-centric Mexican restaurant. From the latter, find hamachi crudo with avocado and pineapple as well as pork cheek and carnitas enchiladas with mole coloraito. The mezcal-heavy cocktail list is another attraction, but there are also intriguing non-alcoholic options like “fluffy” pineapple juice with nitro coffee.

Mercy Me
1143 New Hampshire Ave., NW
The “sorta South American” cafe and tropical cocktail bar from the team behind Call Your Mother and Timber Pizza serves breakfast all-day—from egg-stuffed tacos to Argentinian pastries to bagel sandwiches. For lunch, look for adobo turkey sandwiches, shrimp and coconut rice bowls, and a salad with grilled peaches and smoky-spice cashews.

Pennyroyal Station
3310 Rhode Island Avenue, Mount Rainier
Former Bar Pilar chef Jesse Miller delivers creative comfort foods at this neighborly new spot in Mount Ranier. An all-day menu features snacks like crabby deviled eggs and fried green tomatoes alongside buttermilk-fried chicken sandwiches and lunch-only crab cake melts with grilled ramps and oven-roasted tomatoes.

Rakuya
1900 Q St., NW
If you’re looking for a good value sushi lunch, this is your place. You’ll find nigiri, sashimi, and roll assortments to meet a range of affordable budgets plus a solid chirashi bowl for $22. Bento boxes with tempura or teriyaki are another strong way to go, while the vast menu also includes noodle soups and katsu curry rice.

Swahili Village
1990 M St., NW
Restaurateur Kevin Onyona envisioned this Kenyan restaurant (which also has a location in Beltsville) as an upscale cultural and culinary hub for African diplomats and expats and other internationally minded office workers. The pandemic disrupted its opening, but now’s a great time to finally sample the house-made beef samosas, goat stews, and deep-fried whole tilapia in coconut sauce.

Spanish Diner
7271 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda
José Andrés’s all-day diner is a spinoff of the one in New York’s Mercado Little Spain food hall. The comfort food menu spans from classic Spanish tapas to bocatas (sandwiches) to “la cocina de la Abuela” (our grandmother’s cuisine)— think stews, meatballs, and a macaroni dish baked with chorizo. Egg lovers will particularly appreciate an entire section of the menu devoted to olive oil-fried eggs over crispy potatoes with various Spanish meats.

The Tavern at Ivy City Smokehouse
1356 Okie St., NE
This casual seafood joint is run by the same people behind seafood distributor ProFish, which supplies many top restaurants around town, so you can count on the quality. Smoked fish, made in-house, is a staple (go for the fish board to get a wide sampling), but other highlights include Maryland crab cakes and perfectly crisped fried shrimp.

Unconventional Diner 
1207 9th St., NW
French chef David Deshaies dresses up American diner food at this something-for-everyone dining room near the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Brunch is served until 4 PM, offering French toast with roasted peaches or fried chicken with cheddar-chive cornbread waffles. Looking for lunchier options? Check out the double cheeseburger or a healthier cauliflower and falafel salad.

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Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.