open-table-sold-outIf you’re a foodie making your way to Washington for President-Elect Obama’s inauguration next week, you’ve probably already seen plenty of suggestions on the best of the best restaurants here in DC – Komi, CityZen, Citronelle, Minibar.

Rather than wasting your time with gushing descriptions of places that have been completely booked for a month or more, we’re here to help you seek out a few foodie experiences that are representative of Washington’s dining scene.  While you’re here, check out:

  • Ethiopian cuisine – The Washington area is home to more than 200,000 Ethiopians, giving us the largest Ethiopian population in the United States.  And Ethiopian cuisine, with its injera bread and complex spices, is an experience not to be missed by true foodies.  For an authentic taste of Ethiopia, check out one of the numerous restaurants clustered along 9th and U Streets, NW.  Popular choices include Dukem, Madjet and Zed’s, but we can personally vouch for the great flavors at Etete.  Their kitfo – a spicy minced beef dish served raw, medium, or well done – is a great introduction to the heat of most Ethiopian cuisine, and it is complemented nicely by tej, a traditional Ethiopian honey wine.  Most of the Ethiopian places in Washington will accept reservations, but you should also be able to score a table if you walk in.

1942 9th Street, NW
(202) 232-7600
Etete on Urbanspoon

  • Local, sustainable, organic, farm-t0-table – Is anyone surprised that food and politics mix here in the nation’s capital?  One of the biggest trends on the DC dining scene lately has been a push for more ethical dining options.  At places like Restaurant Nora, which has been serving primarily organic cuisine for more than a decade, this is hardly news.  But for many other restaurants the move to sustainable seafood, locally (and humanely) raised meats and in-season vegetables is a revelation that local foodies have been quick to embrace.  Pass on the Chilean sea bass and seek out a sustainable alternative at restaurants from Dino to Hook.  For a taste of the farm-t0-table scene, check out newcomer Founding Farmers – a restaurant whose commitment to sustainability carries through to its efforts to earn LEED Gold Standard certification.  For the inauguration, their ‘bar chefs’ will be mixing up a number of signature cocktails – including an Obama Sangaree made with Courvoisier Exclusif, Dry Sack sherry, Cointreau Noir, fresh squeezed lemon and orange juices and simple syrup.  Even better – visit the vendors in the East Hall and on the farmers’ line at Eastern Market this weekend and cap off your experience with blueberry pancakes or a crabcake sandwich at the famous Market Lunch.  The crowded space is a favorite among regulars that is not to be missed.

Market Lunch
East Hall at Eastern Market
225 7th Street, SE
(202) 547-8444 
Market Lunch on Urbanspoon

More recommendations for authentic DC foodie experiences after the jump.

  • oyster-riot Raw Deals – For those rare occasions when power isn’t enough of an aphrodisiac on its own, Washington has some great raw bars where you can enjoy oysters, clams, shrimp and even lobster.  Chief among them is the one at the Old Ebbitt Grill, beloved by tourists for its proximity to the White House and its quintessentially ‘DC’ decor.  Pass the main bar by and head around the corner – you’ll find yourself face to face with a raw bar that knows what it’s doing when it comes to shellfish.  Though the annual Oyster Riot takes place in November, you’ll be able to enjoy at least half a dozen varieties of oyster and an assortment of other fresh seafood.  To sweeten the deal even further, check it out during their Raw Bar Happy Hours (usually 4 to 6 PM and 11 PM to 1 AM, Monday through Thursdays), when items go for as much as half off their regular prices.  Shellfish lovers would also do well to seek out the New Orleans-inflected bar at Johnny’s Half Shell (where they regularly stock our favorite oysters from Raspberry Point) and the local-favorite Hank’s Oyster Bar (with locations in DC and Alexandria).

Old Ebbitt Grill
675 15th Street, NW
(202) 347-4800

  • Chefs with Star Power – It comes as a surprise to many visitors that the Washington metro area has more than its fair share of celebrity chefs.  Sure, we expect most of the nationally-syndicated celebrities (Michael Mina, Todd English, Wolfgang Puck, Eric Ripert, Alaine Ducasse) to put in an appearance at their DC establishments during this historic week, but you’ve got even better odds of seeing our home-grown celebrities when you come to town.  While long-time local favorites like Michel Richard (Citronelle, Central) and Jose Andres (Cafe Atlantico and its Minibar, Zaytinya, Oyamel, Jaleo) are well known across the country, it should be noted that the Food Network and the various cooking competition shows have made stars out of quite a few of our other chefs, as well.  Take some time while you’re in Washington to visit Top Chef’s Spike Mendelsohn and enjoy a burger at Good Stuff Eatery.  Better yet, buy a ticket to join him at his Burger Ball after the inauguration – a great alternative to the black tie and ballgown crowds at the formal balls throughout the city.  Pay a visit to Rock Harper, winner of the second season of Hell’s Kitchen and chef at Ben’s Next Door on U Street, NW.  Then walk a few blocks west to CakeLove and LoveCafe, where lawyer-turned-pastry chef-turned Sugar Rush host Warren Brown makes his delicious cupcakes.  Enjoy some of chef Teddy Folkman’s “Throwdown with Bobby Flay”-winning mussels and frites at Granville Moore’s on H Street, NE.  Or head out to Alexandria and take advantage of their Inaugural Week restaurant specials by dining at Chef Morou Ouattara’s Farrah Olivia.  You may remember Chef Morou from him appearance on “The Next Iron Chef” – his combination of French, American and African flavors with truly innovative techniques definitely sets him apart from most local chefs.  If you can snag a reservation, Farrah Olivia would make a great way to enjoy a three-course meal from a celebrity chef for $35 per person.

Farrah Olivia
600 Franklin Street
Alexandria, VA
(703) 778-2233
Farrah Olivia on Urbanspoon

Armed with these suggestions, even the most adventurous epicures should be able to find something to satisfy them while in town for the Inauguration.  And check back with us tomorrow for some suggestions on restaurants with Presidential significance – every multitasking tourist’s dream!