Washington DC

Lunch Spots in Downtown DC for Business and Pleasure

Scott Schulman
Scott Schulman
Scott Schulman

Downtown DC — otherwise known as the area of the city a few blocks surrounding the White House — is popular not just for the tourist attractions, but also its people watching and power lunching. There are a ton of offices, government buildings, and lobbyists along K Street in need of a good lunch spot. Yes, expense account restaurants are aplenty, but there’s also myriad price points, cuisines, and vibes to be experienced for a mid-day meal. Here is a selection of the best ones to try for lunch, including historic DC staples and newer, trendy options.

The Bombay Club 

Sophisticated Indian fare to impress your colleagues
You probably don’t eat fancy Indian food every day, but for those days that you do, the best option downtown is The Bombay Club. Here you’ll find classics like chicken tikka masala and dal makhani, and a thali that is literally served on a silver platter. Get it.

Courtesy of Centrolina
Courtesy of Centrolina
Courtesy of Centrolina

Centrolina

Handmade pasta and in-house market in a modern setting
Set in the upscale City Center, this is easily one of the best Italian spots for pasta and seafood. We have yet to eat something here that is not excellent, but we especially gravitate the seasonal pastas, vegetables, and fish. If you want something quick, hop across the street to sibling restaurant Piccolina for sandwiches made with pizza dough and Italian-stuffed flatbreads called “scacce.”

Via Sophia
Via Sophia
Via Sophia

Via Sophia

Glamorous, new pizza spot good for an al fresco group lunch
Classic Italian dishes and Neapolitan pizza star in this new osteria in the historic Hamilton hotel. A plate of creamy bucatini cacio e pepe (or really any of the pastas) for a simple lunch delivers, and the pizza will not let you down either. The patio is prime political people watching, too.

BLT Steak

Break out the expense account for this upscale steakhouse and raw bar
This modern American steakhouse is best known for its piping hot, absolutely addictive giant popovers, and, of course, dry-aged steaks. This is going to be a pricier lunch, but if that’s what you are looking for, make a reservation before you go.

Old Ebbitt Grill
Old Ebbitt Grill
Old Ebbitt Grill

Old Ebbitt Grill

Historic American grill in Victorian setting ideal for a parents’ lunch
Yes, it’s a tourist draw but the iconic tavern is deserving of its reputation. Offering quintessential American food, Old Ebbitt offers raw oysters, its famous chili, burgers and sandwiches, and local seafood. The cornmeal-crusted, fried Chesapeake blue catfish is popular for a reason.

The Oval Room

Refined, Beltway insider spot ideal for an intimate lunch date
Given its proximity to the White House, The Oval Room has been the restaurant of choice for the power lunch types for a while now. Elegant dishes showcase local ingredients with creative touches, including blood-orange-glazed octopus, roasted chicken breast, and lobster omelettes.

Christina Slaton
Christina Slaton
Christina Slaton

Joe’s Seafood

Lavish dining room featuring Floridian favorites
Set in a former bank, this Miami import is much more than a steakhouse — it’s built quite the reputation for its seafood and stone crab. The crab’s claw meat is sweet and juicy, only enhanced by the signature dipping sauce made with mustard and Worcestershire. Don’t miss out on dessert, in the form of a giant slice of Key lime pie.

Joy Asico
Joy Asico
Joy Asico

Cherry

Swanky restaurant with wood-fired dishes for fun, mid-day break
Every plate that comes out of this W Hotel restaurant features ingredients from its massive wood-burning hearth. The menu includes typical salads and sandwiches, but also features a variety of charred vegetables, grilled meat, and singed seafood items. Highlights include ember-roasted carrots, wood-fired shrimp, and the burger with raclette cheese.

Courtesy of Buredo
Courtesy of Buredo
Courtesy of Buredo

Buredo

Fast casual spot for your more decisive, adventurous coworkers 
Take a super-sized seaweed wrap, stuff it with items like fresh yellowtail and kimchi slaw, and you have yourself a buredo. Yes it’s messy and unwieldy, but if you like sushi and burritos, you’ll like the choose-your-own adventure vibe of this spot.

Sydney Langer
Sydney Langer
Sydney Langer

District Taco

Worth the wait if you can sneak away from work for a bit
District Taco commands long lines, but the tacos here will satisfy that lunchtime craving. Sure, you can get a burrito or quesadilla, you’re here for tacos — especially the grilled whitefish or the al pastor marinated with guajillo chiles. Dress them up as much as you’d like with various salsas and toppings. If you are a breakfast-for-lunch kind of person, add scrambled eggs and potatoes.

DBGB Kitchen and Bar

Upscale French spot to wow an important client
Seemingly under-the-radar, this Daniel Boulud is consistently excellent. French classics are done right here, and the $27 L’Express option may just be one of the best deals in town. Steak tartare, tuna Nicoise salad, Crqoue Monsieurs, steak frites, and a fantastic club sandwich are all on offer. The Thai pork sausage with lemongrass and red curry is also a delicious, fun dish.

Courtesy of Teaism
Courtesy of Teaism
Courtesy of Teaism

Teaism

Refuel and re-caffeinate at this minimalist tea house 
One of the early fast casual pioneers in DC before fast casual was even a thing, Teaism’s Japanese leaning bento boxes and wide selection of teas are a favorite for lunch. Be sure to get one of the ginger scones to-go to accompany your mid-afternoon tea.

Courtesy of Sushi Gakyu
Courtesy of Sushi Gakyu
Courtesy of Sushi Gakyu

Sushi Gakyu

Enjoy the food of sushi master Yoshi Ota for half the cost
Dinner here is going to set you back a considerable sum, but lunch here is just a fraction of the cost and is as good. Choose from a variety of bento boxes, each featuring a number of pieces of sashimi, sushi, and maki rolls, and accompanied by miso soup.

Sichuan Pavilion

No-frills Chinese spot great for a group office outing
Take a group that can handle spice, because that’s where the real deal is at this Sichuan focused eatery. Ma Po tofu is a classic, and the steamed beef or pork in chili sauce bring the heat. Douse the fire with an assortment of vegetables, including bok choy and green beans.

Courtesy of Opaline
Courtesy of Opaline
Courtesy of Opaline

Opaline

French bistro makes for a lovely, romantic lunch
At this new restaurant in the Sofitel DC, find brasserie fare such as steak frites, herb-roasted chicken, gougeres, moules frites, and a signature burger with Gruyere. The patio is an excellent spot to enjoy an afternoon meal, as is the bright and pretty dining room. End your meal with a beautiful pavlova, and leave happy.

Scott Suchman
Scott Suchman
Scott Suchman

Astro Doughnuts

Embrace the afternoon food coma at this DC mainstay
Known for its fried chicken and doughnuts, and yes, fried chicken sandwiched between donuts, Astro is a place for indulgence. Stop in for your treat of choice — the creme brulee doughnut is pretty fabulous there is always a fun, seasonal creation available. (Old Bay doughnut, anyone?)Sign up here for our daily DC email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.

Aparna Krishnamoorthy is a freelance food and travel writer based in Washington DC. Always willing to eat biryani, pizza, fried chicken, and chocolate cake. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter for more dining and wanderlust adventures.

Washington DC

15 Totally Free Things to Do in DC

A full itinerary, completely free of charge.

Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery

Washington DC is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, and for those of us who call the District home, it’s easy to see why. With dozens of world-class museums, murals that transform streets into galleries, and sites brimming with history, DC offers a full agenda-completely free of charge. Whether you want to try a new farmer’s market, explore a new hike, or polish off your roller skating or canoeing skills, here are some of our favourite free things to do in the District.

Flickr/gawnesco
Flickr/gawnesco
Flickr/gawnesco

Hike, bike, or stroll along the C&O Canal

The historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal is one of the most accessible nature escapes from the District. Thanks to a multi-year restoration project, the first mile of the canal is an idyllic walk that’s easy to access in Georgetown. Stick to a short stroll there, or grab a bike or lace up your hiking shoes for a longer adventure along the 184.5-mile canal.

Jump on the pickleball craze

Pickleball is working its way up the ladder past kickball and softball as one of America’s favourite games. Jump on the craze and practice your paddling at one of the District’s pickleball courts in Takoma Park, the Palisades, and more. Plus, Washington DC Pickleball invites guests to drop in to beginner sessions to try their hand at the sport before signing up for a $30 annual membership.

Flickr/mcfeelion
Flickr/mcfeelion
Flickr/mcfeelion

Bike the Mount Vernon Trail

DC is incredibly bike-friendly, and luckily that applies to the land immediately outside of the city as well. Start in the city and bike along the Mount Vernon Trail, a scenic route that hugs the water and cuts through the woods. It’s about a 10-mile trip from DC to Mount Vernon, but you can cut the trip slightly short and end at the Old Town Alexandria waterfront-just make sure to factor in time for ice cream before pedalling home.

Explore a sculpture park

While not located in the District proper, Glenstone, an expansive sculpture park in Maryland, is worth the 45-minute drive. Tickets to the park are free (just be sure to reserve several weeks in advance), and the 300-acre space offers stunning art, architecture, and open land. In addition to its indoor gallery spaces, you can spend hours walking on paths that wind through sculptures, meadows, and forests.

Flickr/Geoff Livingston
Flickr/Geoff Livingston
Flickr/Geoff Livingston

See the monuments at night

When the sun goes down-and the summer humidity somewhat dissipates-head to the National Mall for the rare chance to see the monuments without busloads of tourists. Moonlight will give you a different perspective as you traverse the marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial or gaze up at the Washington Monument set aglow with lights.

Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery

Museum hop the day away

One of DC’s greatest strengths is its world-class Smithsonian museums that are open to the public free of charge. There is no shortage of options, from the intimate Renwick Gallery, to the sprawling National Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonians offer something for everyone. Pro tip: Some of the museums are open late in the evenings, making for an ideal date night.

muralsdc
muralsdc
muralsdc

Explore the city’s murals

Washington is home to hundreds of murals that are becoming as much a part of the city’s landscape as the monuments on the National Mall. Take a self-guided tour of these colourful creations no matter which neighbourhood you happen to be in. MuralsDC, the organization behind 150 of the District’s public artworks, is a great resource for mapping out a route to explore the city’s street art.

Hotel Washington
Hotel Washington
Hotel Washington

Take in a birds-eye view of the city

Washington looks pretty stunning from up high, and there are few spots within the city that make for phenomenal vantage points. Rooftop bars and restaurants offer epic views for the price of a drink or two, but there’s no more iconic sight than seeing the city from the top of the Washington Monument, which is completely free. Book a ticket ahead of time and ride an elevator all the way to the top of the monument and step out on the 500-foot observation deck.

Flickr/Nicolas Raymond
Flickr/Nicolas Raymond
Flickr/Nicolas Raymond

Wander through a garden

DC is home to some of the most beautiful urban gardens in the country, and many of them are open to the public for free. There is nothing like an afternoon spent strolling through, or picnicking, at the expansive 446-acre United States Arboretum or wandering through the Botanic Garden on the edge of the Mall. For something a bit smaller, explore the grounds at Tudor Place or Dumbarton Oaks (free in the winter), both of which are in Georgetown.

Flickr/ehpien
Flickr/ehpien
Flickr/ehpien

Hike the Billy Goat Trail

You can catch one of the District’s most popular hiking trails, the Billy Goat Trail, from the C&O canal. The full trail is 4.7 miles and ranges from easy to strenuous, so hike a section in and back or make the full loop for the variety.

Pay your respect at Arlington National Cemetery

Just across the Potomac from DC, Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 400,000 veterans. The cemetery is an expanse of 639 hallowed acres and the ANC Explorer allows visitors to locate graves, notable sites, and take self-guided walking tours to spots including the tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well as the final resting place of President John F. Kennedy.

Lace up your roller skates

When was the last time you went roller skating? Chances are it’s been too long. So get back into this nostalgic activity at the Anacostia Park roller skating pavilion. You can rent skates for free, just show proof of a government-issued ID, and the skating pavilion is open from 9 to 5 every day.

Help clean up the Anacostia River

We all know there’s a lot of work to be done to keep our waterways clean. Do your part, and have some fun, by participating in the city’s Green Boat initiative. On select weekends, DCers can join a two-hour guided paddle along the Anacostia River to collect trash and monitor the river’s progress.

Eastern Market
Eastern Market
Eastern Market

Stroll your local farmer’s market

DC’s close proximity to the farms of Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and beyond mean that the city’s farmers’ markets always have something to offer. Check out the year-round markets like Eastern Market in Capitol Hill and the Sunday market in Dupont Circle or head to seasonal markets like the pop-up in front of the White House that draws vendors like Cucina al Volo and Call Your Mother Deli.

The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress

Play tourist all around the city

It’s easy to forget that all those traditionally touristy activities can be fun for locals too. If you haven’t been on a tour of the White House, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, or the Capitol, this is your sign. All are free with advanced reservations. Plus, tucked in the northern quadrant of NW, the Washington National Cathedral is free and open to all. Tour the cathedral’s impressive architecture, 215 stained glass windows, 112 Gothically-inspired gargoyles, and enormous pipe organ. See if you can spot the sculpture of Darth Vader.

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Madeline Weinfield is a Thrillist contributor.

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