Food & Drink
FOOD: DC Food Scene – Coming of Age
by Powell Bernhardt
When you think of specific foods native to U.S. cities, you instantly pair cheesesteaks and hoagies to Philadelphia, deep dish pizza to Chicago, and Coney Island hotdogs and cheesecake to NYC. What staple food do you associate with the nation’s capital? Chocolate City’s Wale may suggest the local carryout for chicken wings with mumbo sauce (i.e., a sweet and tangy tomato-based condiment) on everything or Ben’s Chili Bowl, a historical landmark that dishes out chili half smokes to locals and tourists alike. Yet to many foodies, Washington D.C. has been lacking more than proper representation for taxation for many years.
As the political pulse of the world, Washington D.C. is a city comprised of people from all over the world. Congressional elections are held every two years. When politicians are elected, the city sees a new crop of staffers migrate into town while others leave in mass exodus. This lack of permanency has left Washington D.C.’s culture, including the food scene, ubiquitous.
Until recently, Washingtonians had to splurge at fine dining establishments or devour ethnic cuisine to satiate their elegant palates. But due to the region’s recession-proof economy and urban renaissance, the foodie diaspora is emerging on the streets of DC. Along with hordes of young professionals, neighborhoods like H St. NE, Shaw, the U Street Corridor, and Columbia Heights have seen an influx of moderate to inexpensive restaurants and bars with delightful treats. Although locals have witnessed the death of an authentic Chinatown due to the national chain gang, they have watched the birth of restaurants like Toki Underground and their masterful execution of Taiwanese ramen noodles. In the distant shadows of the legendary Eastern Market lies the new Union Market, an artisanal food haven. Range, the latest venture by Bryan Voltaggio of Top Chef, is situated one floor above the Maggiano’s, Cheesecake Factory, and other chain restaurants in the Chevy Chase Pavillion.
While politically savvy progressives debate the pro and cons of gentrification at local coffee roasteries, no one can deny that it has brought quality food to the city at various price points. A month away from the Fifty-Seventh Presidential Inauguration, there is a lot of buzz in Washington, DC. In accord with Obama’s campaign slogan, it is exciting to know that the District’s food scene is also moving forward.