Around the World in 10 Plates: Global Dining in DC

By Zagat Staff  |  November 18, 2013
Credit: Ambar/Goran Foto

We are stunningly lucky to live in such an international city, where so many cultures have set down roots and shared their culinary traditions by opening restaurants. Gone are the days when ethnic dining meant you had a choice between Chinese or Mexican. Vietnamese and Ethiopian restaurants are abundant, and smaller European countries are giving Washington’s once-ubiquitous French restaurants a run for their money. Here are 10 ways you can eat your way around the world - without ever having to break out the suitcases.

  • Credit: Ethiopic/Neil Greentree

    Ethiopia: Ethiopic Restaurant

    The area surrounding Ninth and U Streets NW once reigned as the Ethiopian hub of the city, but the 2010 opening of this elegant little Ethiopian restaurant on H Street NE quickly changed that. Ethiopic is now generally regarded as the best Ethiopian spot in a city rich with excellent options for tasting that country’s berbere-spiced stews eaten with torn pieces of injera bread.

    401 H St. NE; 202-675-2066

  • Credit: Ambar/Goran Foto

    The Balkans: Ambar

    If you take Greece out of the equation, Balkan cuisine is not something Washingtonians have been exposed to much of on our home turf. The Southeast European peninsula now has a champion in Ambar, which delivers modern spins on the traditional dishes of Serbia and other Balkan countries with such dishes as stuffed sour cabbage with smoked pork and beef, as well as pork roulade with horseradish dressing and apricot jam. The wine and cocktail lists also pull heavily from the region.

    523 Eighth St. SE; 202-813-3039

  • Indian: Passage to India

    India is a large country with very distinct regional cuisines, and we are always delighted to enter the opulently decorated Passage to India and find so much more than chicken tikka masala and tandoori chicken. The menu is divided into North, South, East and West, expertly exploring dishes from each area. We love the Parsi-style lamb stew with apricots from the west, and the eggplants and jalapeño simmered in sesame-peanut gravy from the South. But don’t worry: you can also order chicken tikka masala and tandoori chicken.

    4931 Cordell Ave., Bethesda; 301-656-3373

  • Scandinavia/Eastern Europe: Domku

    Washingtonians craving pierogi, beet soup and pickled herring know to head to this Petworth pioneer for a fun mix of Scandinavian and Eastern European dishes complemented by outstanding aquavit cocktails (there’s even a pickled-herring martini). The relaxed, funky little restaurant has 86ed the weathered couches but maintains that indie European vibe. Pierogi Wednesday brings a special menu of 10 or so dumplings filled with everything from spicy lamb to strawberries.

    821 Upshur St. NW; 202-722-7475

  • Credit: Del Campo/Greg Powers

    South America: Del Campo

    Why settle for trying the cuisine of one South American country when you can taste test many? Chef Victor Albisu pulls from Argentinean, Chilean, Peruvian and Uruguayan traditions - also dotting the menu with empanadas inspired by his Cuban grandfather - at this Chinatown hot spot. The meat-centric menu and smoky flavors are complemented by a wine list stocked heavily with South American varietals, as well as classic cocktails from around the continent.

    777 I St. NW; 202-289-7377

  • Credit: Doi Moi/Scott Suchman

    Vietnam/Thailand: Doi Moi

    If you’ve never eaten your way around the Eden Center in Falls Church, that’s the place to start your education locally on Vietnamese cuisine. But if you’re looking for something trendier and fancier that doesn’t require a plan to avoid I-66 traffic, you can sample elegant versions of both Vietnamese and Thai cuisines under one roof at Doi Moi. Vietnamese stir-fried lemongrass beef over vermicelli and Thai Chiang Mai chicken and noodle curry are excellent representations of their respective cuisines.
    1800 14th St. NW; 202-733-5131

  • Belgium: Locolat Café

    Other Belgian restaurants in DC may have a higher profile, but we love this Adams Morgan version for its reliable European cafe fare and excellent Belgian confections created by pastry chef/owner Niel Piferoen. Follow up a plate of Belgian waffle topped with grilled asparagus and smoked salmon with something chocolatey from Piferoen, who trained in his native Belgium then landed a gig with Michel Richard at Citronelle before starting Locolat.

    1781 Florida Ave. NW; 202-518-2570

  • Credit: Flickr/Gary Soup

    Burma: A Taste of Burma

    Burmese food can really blow your mind the first time you try it, and this Sterling restaurant is a wonderful introduction to a cuisine that is essentially a marriage of flavors from Myanmar, Thailand, India and China. You might find a creamy, soothing chicken noodle soup, a chile-spiked stir-fry, or a complex blend of flavors and textures in the traditional fermented-tea-leaf salad.

    126 Edds Ln., Sterling, VA; 703-444-8510

  • Credit: Flickr/Photo by arnold | inuyaki

    Afghanistan: Bamian

    Northern Virginia is home to a handful of outstanding Afghani restaurants turning out well-made, traditional plates of dumplings, kebabs, and lamb and pumpkin dishes. And while looks aren’t everything, we appreciate Bamian as much for its comfortable, white-tablecloth dining room as for its qabili palau (lamb chunks mounded with carrot- and raisin-studded rice), its aushak (scallion dumplings topped with yogurt and meat sauce) and its sambosas (fried pastry filled with chickpeas and herbs).

    5634 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA; 703-820-7880

  • Mexico: Taqueria La Placita

    Yes, ethnic foods have gone well beyond Mexican - but that doesn’t mean we don’t get an intense hankering for an authentic, well-made taco every once in a while. Those who share our obsession know to head toward Hyattsville - DC’s de facto Little Mexico - for pork, barbacoa and chorizo, but also cactus, tongue and pig lip tacos at Taqueria La Placita.

    5020 Edmonston Rd., Hyattsville, MD; 301-277-4477