As you probably can tell, when I travel I am eager to come back and share all of my experiences from the trip, especially the food! Well, let me calm some expectations before you dive into this post. My trip to D.C. was very short and mostly spent touring the monuments and museums. Add in the fact that I had to account for finicky teen and tween appetites, my foodie experiences were fairly limited! We ate breakfast at our hotel and grabbed typical franchise spots a few times. Somehow I managed to visit three spots that are worth sharing here though!
Ben’s Chili Bowl
On our first day I thought perfect, we will take the kids to Ben’s Chili Bowl! Open since 1958, Ben’s is a D.C. institution in a historic area and near our hotel. I tell these kids it’s a hot dog spot and they looked at me as if I asked them to eat dog food. “Oh I don’t eat hot dogs!” You are twelve! What twelve year old doesn’t appreciate a hot dog?! I mean it is literally the only thing my mom would let us “cook” while we were home alone!
I let the little grumps have their way the first day and settled on some franchise restaurant near the White House. On the last day, I said to heck with their opinions! We are going to Ben’s! What do they know? In the end they exclaimed it was their favorite restaurant from the whole trip. So note to family travelers Ben’s Chili Bowl is a great spot for the kids.
When we got to Ben’s we expected a long line. You see after Obama’s first win, he went to Ben’s and thereafter it became a “must stop” for tourists. The line was not as long as we expected, but LORD the service created a line soon enough. The cashier was like the sloth from Zootopia when it came to ringing up orders. Despite the cashier’s shortcomings, other staff members were great and accommodating.
Regarding the food, you go to Ben’s Chili Bowl to get a half smoke, chili or a chili dog. They serve burgers too so the “I don’t get hot dogs” kids were content with that. I went for the good ole chili dog hold the onions with fries. It’s a simple meal that does not cost too much, but I really like it. My little cousins also ordered chili cheese fries and seemed to be a huge fan of them. Besides the food, the other plus to Ben’s Chili Bowl is just experiencing the neighborhood where it resides!
So back when my parents lived in D.C., one of our favorite spots was Carolina Kitchen out in Largo, Maryland. As soon as we booked our tickets, we added Carolina Kitchen as a must stop for this visit. Thankfully they have a D.C. location that we easily traveled to via uber.
Carolina Kitchen is a good ole soul food restaurant. In the past one of our favorite things here was the cornbread because it was basically cake with loads of honey on top. They changed it up a bit adding some cinnamon and nixing the honey. Still very good though! For more entree I picked the fried chicken, mac and cheese and greens. All of which were just how I remembered them. Their chicken is seasoned and fried to a crunch. The greens have a tinge of sweetness that is uncommon to me, but I still love it. Then the mac and cheese… I wanted to eat it slowly to savory the cheesiness!
I cannot say Carolina Kitchen is quintessential D.C. or offers Soul Food that you cannot get at home. What I will say though is, it’s just good and if you want a good restaurant there this is a good place to go.
Sweet Home Cafe
I mentioned this briefly in my review of the NMAAHC, but I’ll go into more details here. Let me start with a little background. Under the guidance of executive chef Jerome Grant, Sweet Home Cafe aims to explore the cuisine of different geographical regions. So it goes beyond the stereotypical “soul food” that people attribute to African Americans and highlights some other foods that are culturally significant as well. For the regions, you have the Agricultural South, the Creole Coast, the North States, and the Western Range.
The cafe is set up like a dining hall in the dorms. I for one loved those in college so this is not a turn off for me. I walked in eager to take in all of the stations but settled on the Creole Coast and a plate of gumbo. The roux was a little thicker than I am used to back home, but the taste was perfection. The gumbo had clearly been stewing for hours allowing all of the wonder flavors to seep in. They also offered your basic burgers, chicken fingers and fries for the kids and picky eaters. Then a whole dessert section which really took me back to my time in the dorms!
I enjoyed most of what we tried and thought it was seasoned well for a cafeteria styled restaurant. Some of my friends did not enjoy it as much I did though! I was honestly sad to hear that because we really liked our food! I think you have to remember how difficult it is to maintain James Beard quality food in that type of setting though. There will be the occasional miss, but the overall effort to present food true to African American cultural is there!
Okay so we just ate Soul Food and hot dogs in D.C. and none of those things are really true to their cuisine! Whenever I go back it will definitley be a foodie trip!