Explore Washington D.C.

Washington, D.C.: Places to Eat Near the National Mall

Best restaurants a couple blocks from the Smithsonian, monuments, the White House and the Capitol

Don’t expect to book a table anywhere near this city’s most important kitchen. The chef who made it famous has gone, and the ovens have long since cooled. Yet every week thousands peer into it at the National Museum of American Historythe kitchen of Julia Child (1912-2004). This woman whose extraordinary passion and presence changed the way Americans think about food gave all of her kitchen's 1,200 elements to the Smithsonian.

And sooner or later, of course, museum visitors need to think about food as sustenance—either a quick bite to refuel or a fine dining reward after a well-spent day. So herewith a dozen spots close by the National Mall, three within official buildings, the rest just a few blocks from all those worthy Smithsonian wonders.


Carmine's main dining room
Main dining room (Courtesy Carmine's Restaurant)

425 7th St. NW

Where: Main drag of Penn Quarter, two blocks north of the Mall

Ambience: New York-nostalgic, self-described as a “Sunday afternoon at Grandma’s”

Best for: Southern Italian comforts like fried calamari, pastas with red or white sauce, chicken marsala, veal five ways plus shrimp, steaks and tiramisu

Special: Gift shop with Carmine’s own cookbooks, apron, corkscrew and shot glasses

Fish and chips at Elephant & Castle
Fish and chips at Elephant & Castle (Courtesy the restaurant)

Elephant & Castle
1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Where: One block north of the Mall

Ambience: British-pub atmosphere with tin ceiling, stained glass and Guinness signs

Best for: Fish and chips and Yorkshire pudding plus wings and nachos, bleu cheese burger, wraps, poutine

Special: Weekend brunch with yogurt parfait, grilled sirloin, eggs benedict, French toast and sports on TV

Shake Shack F Street exterior
Shake Shack at the International Spy Museum (Courtesy the restaurant)

Shake Shack
800 F St. NW

Where: A Penn Quarter corner near the Spy Museum and National Portrait Gallery

Ambience: Laidback, thanks to industrial ceiling, steely order counter, sociable customer lines

Best for: Burgers (all-natural Angus or “shroom”), griddled hot dogs, frozen custard

Special: Organic, biodynamic wines and “Shackmeister” ale


Cedar-planked salmon at Mitsitam Cafe inside Smithsonian's American Indian Museum
Cedar-planked salmon, American Indian Museum's Mitsitam Cafe (Courtesy the cafe)

Mitsitam Café
4th and Independence Ave. NW

Where: National Museum of the American Indian (closes at 5 pm, cafe at 3 pm)

Ambience: Cafeteria-style stations by region; tables in a sunny, soaring space with Mall and “fountain rapids” view

Best for: Bison loin, wild-rice salad, fruit tarts, traditional fry bread

Special: “Certified Green” with three stars

Ronald Reagan Food Court
1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Where: International Trade Building (Federal Triangle)

Ambience: Bustling food stations around a vast arena of seating

Best for: Satisfying diverse appetites with 18 options from deli food and tortillas to Cajun, Asian and smoothies

Special: Chance to see the vast, glass-roofed atrium of the trade center and a 9-foot-high, graffitied piece of the Berlin Wall

Cascade Café
6th St. NW and Constitution Ave.

Where: Underground at the National Gallery of Art, between the East and West wings

Vibe: Spacious cafeteria with masterpiece posters and extended lunch hours

Best for: Noodle bowl, grilled sandwiches, chef’s changing entrée, gelato (19 flavors)

Special: The waterfall wall that drops from glass pyramids on the plaza above, I.M. Pei’s prototype for his pyramid at the Louvre


Inside China Chilcano
Inside China Chilcano (Ken Wyner, courtesy the restaurant)

China Chilcano
418 Seventh St. NW

Where: Penn Quarter, steps from Jaleo, a sibling also by superstar chef José Andrés

Ambience: Festive atmosphere with bright surreal mural, woven pillows, a ceiling swirled with Nazca lines in neon

Best for: Chifa, Peruvian fare with Chinese accents, and nikkei, in which Japanese-style sashimi meets Peruvian potatoes

Special: An array of rare piscos—as brandies, sours and punch

MXDC tacos
Tacos at MXDC (Courtesy the restaurant)

MXDC Cocina Mexicana
600 14th St. NW

Where: One block east of the White House

Ambience: Copper chandeliers casting mellow light on banquettes, bare brick walls and metal sculpture

Best for: Juan Pavlovich’s ceviches, tortilla soup, paella, pork belly tacos, hibiscus margarita and 120 tequilas

Special: Partnership with Todd English—prized chef, cookbook author and PBS host with sites from Vegas to the Queen Mary II

Venison at Cedar
Venison at Cedar (Courtesy the restaurant)

822 E St. NW

Where: Penn Quarter, due north of Natural History museum

Ambience: Rustic (forest murals) yet sophisticated (green marble bar)

Best For: Game like Texas wild boar with sweet potato tart, vegan entrees (Caesar salad with tempeh)

Special: Sourcing of local farms and the restaurant's rooftop garden

Power Places

Inside recently renovated The Source
The Source (Rey Lopez/Under a Bushel Photography, courtesy the restaurant)

The Source
575 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Where: Beside the Newseum, steps from National Gallery of Art

Ambience: Chic bar-lounge with Japanese Izakaya fare, sleek aerie for Russell Smith's Asian-accented cuisine

Best for: Tuna tartare in miso cones, wok-fried or steamed seafood, duckling and dumplings

Special: Saturday dim sum brunch, input from star chef/owner Wolfgang Puck, $135 per person tasting menu of signature items


Charlie Palmer Steak
Charlie Palmer Steak (Courtesy Charlie Palmer Steak)

Charlie Palmer Steak

101 Constitution Ave. NW

Where: At the foot of Capitol Hill, one block north of the Mall

Ambience: Sense of power in the air, in the alcoves and at cloth-covered tables

Best for: Mike Ellis' bone-in NY strip, "surf and turf" with Maine lobster, anything picked from the garden

Special: A glimpse of the U.S. Capitol out floor-to-ceiling glass windows, the all-American wines in a “floating” cellar

Occidental dining room
Occidental Grill & Seafood dining room (Courtesy the restaurant)

Occidental Grill & Seafood
1475 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Where: Less than two blocks east of the White House

Ambience: Legendary quarters with leather booths and politico sightings

Best for: Rodney Scruggs’s elegant regional dishes, from lump crab cake and Delmarva oysters to lamb chops with peach chutney, plus lobster tail and venison with blueberry grappa sauce

Special: a portrait gallery of U.S. presidents, “statesmen” and celebs