Matthew Merril, '22
From Michelin Stars to humble hole-in-the-walls, the greater D.C. area is home to some of the best food in the country. D.C., being a beautifully diverse city, is home to many people of many different cultures. Culture and food are directly interlaced, cuisine being a form of art and expression of the unique flavors that a group of people have to offer. The blend of every imaginable culture culminating in one spot can be a bit overwhelming, so here is a comprehensive breakdown of the food culture in the area.
World-renowned chef José Andrés (who came to speak at STA!) received a Michelin star, the highest accolade a restaurant can attain, for his restaurant “minibar.” Listed as an “avant-garde tasting experience,” the restaurant exemplifies the emergence of many high-brow status restaurants in the area, like The Inn at Little Washington, Pineapple and Pearls, and Métier.
While laden with luxurious eating experiences, D.C. is home to much more. In a town rich with history, restaurants such as Ben’s Chili Bowl have served as a staple of not only dining, but also culture. Residing in the U Street Corridor, the restaurant has housed great Jazz musicians including Duke Ellington and Nat King Cole, being known in the area as “Black Broadway” in the 1950’s. The restaurant became even more intertwined with the history of the city during the April 1968 riots which followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., when the restaurant stayed open past curfew, feeding firefighters. It’s restaurants like Ben’s that enrich D.C. with their fascinating history and remind us of the significance of the city in the story of the nation.
It is a story of immigration as well as riots, of people from all walks seeking new life in the home of the free. The wide range of people in the DMV has resulted in a wealth of foods: Black-owned, Latino, Halal and Asian-fusion are just a few of the styles of cuisine that have forged the local food scene. David Chang’s varied-menu chain Momofuku, which includes Momofuku CCDC in D.C., was lauded as “the most important restaurant in America” by Bon Appetit magazine, a testament to the potential that food has in local culture, feeding us both physically and spiritually. Kith/Kin is another standout, serving Afro-Caribbean cuisine on the Wharf. Founder Kwame Onwuachi sought to revolutionize the way African cuisine was perceived, which is exactly what he did by publishing a memoir about being a young black chef, along with earning the highly coveted James Beard award. This selection of restaurants represents D.C.’s many unique and authentic takes on ethnic cuisines.
For our last course, the dessert scene in the DMV has created quite a bit of buzz with the city’s ability to match the current trends. In 2008, two sisters decided to open a quaint cupcake shop (which at the time was an uncommon dessert to invest in), and it instantly became a world-wide phenomenon. The bakery, known as Georgetown Cupcakes, put DC on the map for anyone with a sweet tooth, thanks to the TLC reality show titled “DC Cupcakes.” The Georgetown Cupcakes model—opening one central boutique bakery before franchising the bakery out, while still keeping the novel appeal—became an inspiration for many bakeries in the area. Two such bakeries currently dominating the industry are Levain Bakery and Crumbl Cookies. Levain, a Brooklyn-based bakery, is notorious for their absurdly thick cookies, having become a viral sensation on the internet. Their approach is simple, but extremely effective. With only a few locations (New York, Georgetown, and Bethesda) the cookies are elusive, making the demand so much higher. Meanwhile, Crumbl Cookies, building off of their own internet success, has found success in digital marketing. Crumbl has also taken the route of expanding as far as possible (a whopping 215 stores and counting!), and releasing new, limited edition flavors every week, compelling customers to visit the store every week in hopes that they won’t miss the next best. With many locations in Virginia and Maryland, the stores have definitely introduced a new taste into the food scene of the DMV.
Food is built on culture as much as culture is built on food. D.C. offers some of the best of both in the nation. Enjoy it!
Image from Ben’s Chili Bowl.