While in Washington, DC for the International AIDS Conference I had the opportunity to try out several local restaurants, mostly for either lunch or happy hour and mostly within walking distance of the Convention Center. In the process, I discovered that DC is a great city for vegetarians.
Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar (corner of 9th & H Streets NW) features Cuban-inspired lunch, dinner and happy hour offerings, and as its name suggests, has an extensive menu of rum-based drinks. I arrived at the peak of the lunch crowd, and as there was a 20 minute wait for a table, I opted to sit at the bar. From Monday – Friday, Cuba Libre features a Rápido Lunch menu with five options: seafood, vegetarian, chicken, “Visit to Havana,” or a Cuban Bento Box. Ranging in price from $12.50 to $16, you will get 3-4 small portions of some of the restaurant’s signature dishes. Service itself was also “rápido” despite the obvious crowd. I received my lunch within about 10 minutes of ordering.
I opted for the vegetarian lunch, which included a cup of black bean soup, a small but tasty salad and flatbread topped with vegetables and cheese. As the cheese was the only dairy on my plate, this meal could easily be made vegan. The lunch was quite tasty and it sure beat the alternative of over-priced convention center food. I also had a blueberry mojito, which was a bit pricy at $10.50, but contained a generous amount of alcohol and hit the spot.
Fado Irish Pub (corner of 7th and H Streets NW) was likely the best social dining experience I had in DC, but I guess that’s what Irish pubs are known for. I again sat at the bar, and learned that the bartender had also lived in Vegas for several years, so we had much to discuss. Beer was a bit pricy at $6.15 for a pint of Smithwick’s and I ate their Farmhouse Salad with poppy-seed dressing, which was pretty tasty but priced at $6.25. Only upon researching this post did I learn they have a happy hour. Regardless, I would go back here for the fun atmosphere and warm hospitality.
Regional Food and Drink (7th & H Streets NW and next door to Fado Irish Pub) is the place to go in DC if you’re a beer enthusiast. Their extensive beer menu features over 300 different bottled brews and several dozen draft beers are also available. They do have a well advertised happy hour, with a different featured beer special each day of the week. Because of their daily special, I tried the Anchor Zymaster Special #2, which was a rather hoppy brown ale. The food menu features standard bar food such as burgers, sandwiches and appetizers. I opted for the hummus plate, which was served with a variety of sliced veggies and warm pita bread. Service was mediocre despite the restaurant not being crowd, and there was nowhere near the hospitality of Fado’s.
Ben’s Chili Bowl (13th and U Streets NW) is a Washington, DC landmark, on multiple foodie lists and even has its own Wikipedia page where you can read all about this restaurant’s unique history. Ordering is done at the counter, and while I went a bit early for lunch (11:30), I had no trouble finding a seat. This eatery gets a “green seal of approval” from me for being 100% wind-powered. There’s also a gift shop next door where you can buy Ben’s Chili Bowl souvenir merchandise.
What Ben’s Chili Bowl is largely known for is the “half-smoke,” a large sausage made from 50% beef and 50% pork, which may be smothered with their homemade chili. I opted for the vegetarian version, and while my server warmed it up in the microwave, I was grateful it wasn’t cooked on the same grill as the meat versions. The chili was a mixture of kidney beans and texturized vegetable protein, and my veggie dog was served with a side of potato chips. This eatery is definitely worth a visit for the experience alone.
Lastly, I discovered that the best place in the city for a summer picnic is the enclosed, climate-controlled Kogod Courtyard inside the American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery complex. While there is a small café on site with over-priced sandwiches, soups and salads, you’re allowed to bring in outside food. The courtyard also hosts concerts and special events throughout the year.