Capitol Ideas: Dining in D.C.
In June of this year, I left my lifelong home of New York City for the nation’s capital. Having grown up in a mecca of vegan (and raw) dining options, I was spoiled: I had no idea what it meant to live in a place without juice bars in every zip code, vegan bakeries around the corner, and a mix of both fine dining and fast dining options for the herbivorous eater.
It took some time, but as the summer went by, I began to explore and discover DC’s lean, green, and vegan scene. The city may not be able to rival New York or L.A. in terms of creativity or availability, but it does boast a strong and vibrant little collection of vegan-friendly dining options. We’d expect no less of the city that houses offices for PETA, COK, and PCRM; a local farm animal sanctuary, and a passionate community of plant-based eaters with an eye on political activism.
Lunch bites and snack breaks
Featuring wraps, sandwiches, salads, and sides, Java Green is a great option for weekday pop-ins or early dinners. It features fresh vegetable and fruit juice, a clearly marked gluten-free menu, hot and cold soups, and even a gluten-free and vegan burger. Try the raw pizza and live “trio” salad (kale, sea veggies, and kimchi) if you’re in the mood for something extra green. The downside? Portion sizes are tiny, so order in bulk.
A winner of the Food Network’s cupcake wars, Sticky Fingers offers the some of the finest cookies, cupcakes, and pastries in town–vegan or not! The sweet and salty cookie is to die for, and the peanut butter-fudge cupcake may just monopolize your birthday celebrations for good. If you’re craving something more savory than sweet, you can enjoy the restaurant’s tempeh BLT, it’s cheesy quesadillas made with Daiya cheese, the chick’n ranch wrap, or some good old-fashioned biscuits and gravy. If you’re a gluten-free eater, help yourself to the gluten-free chocolate cupcake, and float home on a chocolate high.
Founded by three Georgetown students who were fed up with the area’s limited dining options, Sweet Green has now expanded beyond its flagship location, dotting the entire district with the best and most innovative salads around. Simple, healthy, and fast, Sweet Green sources local and organic ingredients, and offers such innovative salad options as the Chic P (Falafel, pita chips, chickpeas, and a delectably tart hummus-tahini dressing) and the Sabzi (spicy quinoa, raw beets, white beans, basil, sprouts, and dried cranberries). You can make your own salads or wraps with any of the restaurant’s seasonal offerings (I’m partial to the roasted butternut squash), and you can also help yourself to any of the tasty soups, many of which are vegan. If you’re fending off the DC heat, try the incredible watermelon lemonade for a cooling treat!
There’s something for everyone at this casual cafe, which also offers catering services. Raw foodies and health freaks can feast on the garlicky, raw kale salad, the pickled beets, or the parsley with plum vinaigrette. Other options in the restaurant’s extensive (and-100 percent organic) salad bar include Asian noodles and corn-and-black bean salad.
If you’re in the mood for something hot and filling, though, you’re really in luck. Try any of the restaurant’s daily rotation of hot bar options: highlights include veggie steak n’ cheese, a battered basket, spaghetti pie, barbecue tofu, and sheppard’s pie. With fresh smoothies and juices to boot, you can’t go wrong!
Another crowd pleaser, Busboys and Poets serves up comfort classics in both vegan and vegetarian formations: most of the pizzas can be ordered with either vegan cheese or regular cheese, and and paninis range from tempeh to chicken. The restaurant’s hummus is not to be missed, and its ful medames dish is perfectly spicy and rich. Vegans will flip over the vegan nachos.
An inclusive list of desserts and coffee beverages–not to mention a small bookstore in house (in which diners are welcome to sit and explore)–ensure that all diners will be tempted to linger long after a meal is done.
Dinner for two
DC’s only gourmet raw dining establishment, Elizabeth’s offers a five course pre fixe dinner every Friday night featuring a sumptuous and seasonal tasting menu. A weekly selection might feature such entrees as Wild Mushroom and Tarragon Bisque with Fennel Salad & a Sunflower Cracker, or a raw apple cobbler for dessert. Elizabeth Petty, the owner, opened EGR after a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2009, and her passion for the restorative power of raw food shines through these light and brightly flavored dishes. She’ll be glad to greet you as you dine, and share more of her excitement for raw food with you. The price tag at Elizabeth’s Gone Raw is not cheap (it’s a $75 tasting menu), but the experience is truly unique, and there is no finer raw foods mecca in DC.
Cafe Green is the place to be if you’re seeking out a casual and health-minded dinner bite. The restaurant features extensive raw options, including an impressive raw pizza with sprouted quinoa and buckwheat crust, raw avocado and spicy soup options, a marinated kale and mango salad, and raw crackers. Fresh juices are served up daily, along with fresh coconut water and kombucha. If you’re not into uncooked cuisine, try the gluten-free mung bean pancakes or the incredible mac n’ cheese. Let the buyer beware, however: the restaurant is very often out of options, especially raw ones, so be prepared to be flexible.
Though not vegan or even vegetarian, this restaurant, which is situated three blocks from the White House, is famous for sourcing local produce. The restaurant’s architecture is LEED- certified (a fancy way of saying it’s eco-friendly and environmentally conscious) and it’s other green features include front-of-house and back-of-house recycling, high-efficiency water and energy usage, menus printed on recycled paper with soy-based inks, and water served in reusable glass carafes. Veggie dining options aren’t exactly innovative, but they do include some tasty grain salads, entree sized salads, a savory veggie burger, and a roast eggplant tartine.
Restaurant Nora has bragging rights as the nation’s first certified organic restaurant. This means that the restaurant was churning out organic fare in 1999, long before there was consumer pressure to do so. Nora Pouillon, the restaurant’s founder, has stayed true to her original intention of serving the DC population dishes that are freshly sourced from local farms. Though this is not a vegan restaurant, nor even vegetarian, it is focused on produce, and very high quality produce at that. Many of the salads are easily veganized, and your server will be happy to help you create a vegan meal. (When I went, I was lucky enough to enjoy a creamy risotto with morel mushrooms and fresh corn.) Prices are on the higher end of the spectrum, but the restaurant itself delivers a true fine dining experience, and is well worth it for a fancy dinner.
This trendy restaurant in DC’s trendy Dupont circle offers up a menu of local and seasonal fare, including numerous vegan options. Though portion sizes tend to be modest, you can count on robust flavor and New American classics served up with creative flair. All vegans are accommodated: I recommend the tofu skewers and the quinoa with roasted fennel. Another notable feature is the restaurant’s extensive gluten-free menu, which features risotto, quinoa and a heaping of sides. A great and inclusive spot to bring friends of all dietary orientations!
Science Club operates primarily as a bar and lounge, featuring a solid (and reasonably priced) wine list. What’s most notable about this particular bar is its emphasis on vegan dining options on the bar menu. These include a quinoa salad with balsamic reduction, hummus, and tofu skewers. DJ’s spin at Science Club every night of the week, and the restaurant also hosts private parties. This is your best late night bet for a vegan snack and sip of wine!
As you can see, DC’s vegan scene may be less outspoken than other cities’, but seek and ye shall find many an option. Enjoy plant-based fare while you soak in the spacious parks and green vistas of our nation’s capital!
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