If you're like me, when someone says “Washington D.C.”, delicious foodie bites are far from the first images in mind. But food lovers, I've got a secret to share…there are some scrumptious dishes to be sampled in America's capital! D.C. is home to many iconic American landmarks, making it a favorite destination for history buffs, but it also is home to an eclectic and diverse food scene with a history of its own to share with the hungry traveler. And let's face it – who isn't hungry after all that walking along the National Mall!?
On a recent girl's weekend, we veered away from the typical D.C. sites for a few bites with DC Metro Food Tours. The company offers many tours featuring local and regional food specialties, but we were looking for off the beaten path cuisine and history.
Enter the Adams Morgan Neighborhood. This gem is home to a wonderful fusion of ethnicities, cultures, and food specialties from around the globe, mainly attributed to the neighborhood's status as a gateway for immigrants since the 1960's. Restaurants serving up Guatemalan, Dutch and Eritrean fare and everything in between are scattered throughout these D.C. blocks. When we learned D.C. Metro Food Tours offered a walking food tour of Adams Morgan restaurants – we knew we'd found something unique. Sign us up!
Our friendly guide, Gerson, was a D.C. native who frequented the neighborhood restaurants as a young man and was passionate about the area's past. A history lesson surrounding the importance of our meeting location and a shout out to the neighborhood's All Souls Unitarian Church (Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz recorded their famous Jazz Samba album here) set the vibe for a cultural evening. Gerson queud up Jazz Samba's smooth tunes from inside his backpack, and off we strolled to the music.
Our sampling started with an array of appetizers at a Brazilian restaurant after learning from Gerson that the Adams Morgan neighborhood is home to a large Brazilian population. We devoured mussels in a steaming broth, fried yucca, and chicken & black bean croquettes over chatter and laughter as we got to know our tour group.
Let it be known, I have shied away from mussels after a bad experience with oysters. I know, I know, they are not the same, but I have refused to order them off any menu no matter how highly recommended they may come. I can happily say that after taking the plunge and trying these delicious morsels, mussels are now on my radar. My husband is most definitely doing a happy dance if he's reading this.
After polishing off every last bite, we walked along the vibrant streets, stopping along the way to discuss the past surrounding buildings, parks, row houses and even the divisive history of two elementary schools from which the neighborhood name is derived.
Gerson also explained that, at one point in time, the land in the Adams Morgan neighborhood was inexpensive compared to other areas in D.C.. This affordable land was purchased by foreign nations for their embassies. There was just one problem – the dignitaries stationed at these embassies preferred cuisine from their homelands. Solution? Dignitaries hired cooks from home to travel with them, ultimately leading to international cuisine finding a new home in the Adams Morgan neighborhood.
With some cool history tucked under our belt (don't worry, I didn't give it all away!), we headed on. I was immediately excited with the fusion restaurant we ducked into for stop number two. Himalayan/Indian cuisine was on the menu, and my taste buds were ready for some spice.
A Chicken Tikka sizzler was served with onions and peppers for a taste of Indian flavor while Chicken Chatamari (a savory crepe covered in an excellently spiced house Sriracha sauce) showcased Nepalese flavors.
Vegetable Dumplings, which were secretly whispered to be the best thing on the menu by our server, were also a hit with our vegetarian friends.
Onward we walked to our third stop of the evening – a Mexican Taqueria Bar. With a casual, open floor plan, street food style tacos and an abundant cocktail list, it was easy to see how this was a hot spot for locals. Trays of veggie, chicken and pork tacos arrived on the scene along with house guacamole, pico and slaw for loading on top. My only regret is not trying one of each variety – it was hard to reach the tacos at the other end of the table!
Even though we were stuffed to the brim by this point, our evening wouldn't have been complete without a little sweet treat. We stopped at colorful shop full of sugary delights and cozy, eclectic decor. Owned by a baker from Jordan, this little shop's history was an entrepreneur's dream, and the treats were full of nostalgia and comfort.
We each selected a cupcake accompanied by our choice of tea or coffee, and then lounged in the upstairs cafe as we nibbled on our desserts. It was a spot for lingering, and linger we did!
My girlfriends and I really enjoyed this tour. We discovered a new neighborhood that isn't on the typical “must see” Washington D.C. list, but that holds loads of it's own history, excellent foodie joints and a lively nightlife/music scene.
The 3 hour tour includes all of the food throughout the evening along with the intriguing history lessons your guide has to share about the Adams Morgan neighborhood. For an additional cost, each restaurant offers alcoholic beverages paired with the course being served which can be ordered at the time of dining.
History has many different stories to tell us. Discover what food can teach you in Washington D.C.!
Note: If you are looking for a tour that goes in depth as to why certain dishes are being served, this tour may not be the one for you (D.C. Metro Tours offers many other options). The evening's focus was on sharing the story of the Adams Morgan neighborhood as a whole while enjoying international dishes along the way. We did not cover the importance of particular dishes to the neighborhood.
Read about more of our favorite food tours around the world!
Disclaimer: D.C. Metro Tours provided me with a complimentary ticket to attend this food tour, as with always all opinions are my own!