Eating in a museum cafe can mean dining on dismal cafeteria food, but recent years have yielded culinary offerings at DC’s cultural institutions worthy of their own visit. Look no further than Sweet Home Café, the eatery at the African American Museum that garnered a James Beard nomination; Manna, chef Todd Gray’s spot at the Museum of the Bible, or the National Museum of the American Indian’s Mitsitam Cafe. Now the team behind Immigrant Food is opening an upscale iteration of their “cause causal” restaurant at language museum Planet Word, with a menu designed by Seven Reasons and Imperfecto chef Enrique Limardo. Immigrant Food + opens on Thursday, October 7.
During museum hours, the restaurant will act as Planet Word’s cafe, serving grab-and-go bowls similar to the burgeoning fast-casual chain’s offerings. But in the evening, the space will transform into a high-end spot accessible through a street entrance. Fashioned by DC firm DesignCase, the 81-seat restaurant separates into disparately decorated pockets. Guests can sit in a breezy, plant-filled area one night or, on another occasion, dine in an intimate, tapestry-draped room that houses the original Franklin School furnace.
Like an edible Pangea, the menu features shareable plates that meld ingredients and preparations from across the world. The “immigrant dim sum experience” best represents the restaurant’s globetrotting aspirations: A three-level bamboo steamer unstacks into five small dishes for $20 per person, revealing pork buns, passion fruit-spiked kataifi, and wontons wrapped in plantains. Other offerings include a stacked Russian salad dressed in Peruvian aji amarillo foam and branzino paired with a Lebanese yogurt sauce.
“It’s keeping in line with what we’re trying to do with Immigrant Food, which is really to celebrate the different gastronomies that immigrants have brought,” says Chief Operating Officer Téa Ivanovic. “The idea is to continue doing that, but at a more upscale level.”
Planet Word’s linguistic mission also serves as inspiration for alphabet soup and a blue dessert sphere stuffed with chocolate mousse—a nod to the museum’s cerulean globe installation.
Siddle up to a bar inscribed with the word “home” in 27 different languages for cocktail offerings formulated by Minibar alum Morgan Barron. In addition to a roster of classic cocktails, Barron created seven drinks to embody a literary work from each continent—another nod to the museum’s wordy pursuits. Africa is represented by a smoky rye cocktail mixed with blackberries and cinnamon honey in homage to William Ernest Henley’s powerful poem Invictus, while Toni Morrison’s Beloved is imagined as a peach and grapefruit julep. The lengthy wine list also embodies wanderlust, featuring Balkan varietals alongside Spanish and South African grapes.
While the original Immigrant Food location near the White House takes on a policy-focused mission, the museum spot is working with Planet Word to formulate educational programs focused on culture. Recently, the restaurant partnered with the museum for a live cooking demonstration highlighting global gastronomies.
“The museum [celebrates] language and how that’s impacted our culture and who we are,” says Ivanovic. “We feel that immigrants have brought so much—not just language, but other ways that we define our cultures.”
Immigrant Food +. 925 13th St NW. 202-888-0760. Open Tuesday to Saturday from 11 AM to 10 PM; Sunday from 11 AM to 5 PM.