Washington DC is a city caught between tradition and modernity. Behind its center of government, its monuments inspired by an ancient Greek and Roman tradition, and its sprawling centers of science, learning, and culture, Washington is a city on the forefront of a bohemian and hip revolution. No matter what side of the political spectrum you stand on, Washington inspires childlike wonder in its vast museums, deep contemplation along it’s streets brimming with history and tradition, and a laboratory for some of the hottest upcoming chefs and restaurants. An international city that can fulfill any taste, Washington is a pedestrian friendly city that invites even the most seasoned traveller to discover something new, hip, and exciting behind it’s gleaming marble and brick walls. This past month, my friends and culinary explorers Rodrigo Gimenes and Giannina Zanardi, spent a weekend in DC, finding some of the best hidden eateries, enjoying the diverse lifestyle, and freely roaming the great monuments and sprawling Smithsonian museums to discover the best of DC.
Flying along the Potomac River into Reagan National Airport, the low lying city of Washington DC slowly reveals itself from the morning fog that rolls up along it’s shore. This is the city that has decided the course of a nation for over two hundred years, a city burned by the British, resurrected, and rebuilt as a testament, a tribute, and a successor to the great temples of Ancient Rome and Greece. The influences are everywhere, from the Jefferson Memorial inspired by the Roman Pantheon, to the Washington Monument invoking the obelisks of Ancient Egypt, DC thrives on a display of power and commerce. But behind the sprawling reflection pool, itself inspired by Roman avenues, is the city that the New York Times called one of the most hip cities in America.
This culture bending artistic influence can be seen as soon as you enter the Hotel Palomar, as Giannina describes it: “A very nice 4 star hotel, for a great price – in the residential part of DC, close to the metro station and countless restaurants and bars.” Located in the heart of Dupont Circle, the Hotel Palomar features custom designed rooms starting from $150.00, including access to in-room spa services, a full fitness center, and concierge service. The Palomar’s award winning design captures the essence of the unique and artistic atmosphere that flows through the city. For those wanting to be closer to the National Mall, the Smithsonian Institution, and the National Monuments, the Hotel Monaco is a blend of elegance and luxury in the heart of Penn Quarter and Chinatown. “It’s a great place for someone who is planning on visiting the museums and the monuments.” says Rodrigo. The Hotel Monaco features a host of fine dining options including the Poste Modern Brasserie, named one of Washingtonian Magazines Very Best restaurants, with uniquely inspired fare from Chef Dennis Marron.
Washington DC’s dining is a representation of their international and jet setting style. It’s a delight to wander the morning streets as the city roars to life with commerce, business and government. For a great breakfast that doesn’t go hard on the wallet, Giannina suggests Booeymonger, a delicatessen that has several branches in Georgetown, Friendship Heights, Bethesda, and Ballston. “Good food, friendly atmosphere, and great service for over 25 years…” she says “…A quick breakfast for an awesome price!” Featuring full breakfast platters for under $6.00, Booeymongers also puts their own unique spin on sandwiches, wraps, and salads all day. As the day rolls on, monuments are discovered, museums are explored, and after the last bit of breakfast has been walked off, there’s always looking for the perfect light and fun lunch fare. Rodrigo likes Matchbox, a vintage bistro with several branches from Chinatown to Capitol Hill, enjoying sliders cooked to perfection and topped with crispy onion straws. Giannina is quick to counter with 2Amys, as she praises “Best pizza in DC hands down. Neapolitan-style pizza with a great casual atmosphere.” Pizzas are cooked in the traditional wood oven with the thick crusted Neopolitan style and topped with the right balance of melty mozzarella and bubbling sauce. Dinner in DC is the perfect opportunity to explore Washington’s vast cultural diversity. From cutting edge Asian flair, to fun and hip tapas bars, dinner in DC is a foodie paradise for it’s blending of traditional ingredients and preparation, with a contemporary twist that turns each dish into it’s own individual work of art. Among the highly recommended was Rasika, the award winning Indian eatery consistently voted one of the best Indian restaurants in America. Giannina and Rodrigo praised the elegant atmosphere, and enjoyed a fare that was “…so full of flavor without being too heavy.” Rasika features a full menu from it’s traditional Tandoori oven, as well as innovative and flavorful curries, and a delights for both vegetarian and non-vegetarian diners. For dessert they offer inventive ice creams and sorbets topped with curry and cardamom. On another night, the attention turned to the casual, fun atmosphere of Jaleo, the Spanish restaurant and brainchild of Jose Andres, voted one of the 50 most powerful people in DC by GQ magazine. Rodrigo was thrilled by the great happy hour specials, featuring $4.00 sangria and tapas. The restaurant also boasts exciting theater and flamenco shows on special nights. Filling a sweet tooth in DC requires a trip to Georgetown Cupcake, offering traditional as well as wholly inventive and innovative flavors (Salted Caramel, or Lava Fudge anyone?) and also ships nationwide!
The very best of DC is in its museums and its history. It’s nearly impossible to list every site and detail of the
Smithsonian Institution because it’s so vast that even the slightest details don’t do it justice. The Smithsonian inspires childlike wonders from even the most hardened of people, from a stroll through the rocket garden of the Air and Space Museum, to discovering one of the worlds most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeletons at the Museum of Natural History. For the artistic crowd, it’s worth checking out the National Portrait Gallery, featuring the portraits of every US President, and the National Gallery with one of the biggest collections of Renaissance art outside of Italy. Music is everywhere in the city and there are free and discounted performances abound. There are free drum circles in Meridian Hill Park every Sunday, lighting up the capital with African influenced rhythms and anybody carrying an instrument is more than welcome to join. Free jazz fills the Museum of American Art on the third Thursday of every month, while the National Gallery hosts a wide variety of styles, from choral to Afghan in their free concert series every Sunday evening.
For those wanting to hit the trail, take a walk down the C&O Canal Towpath, meandering its way alongside the Potomac, and then head up to Gravelly Point and watch the planes take off from Reagan International Airport. Get up early and explore the monuments as they’re hit by the morning sun, the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument are devoid of tourists, offering a moment of quiet contemplation and serenity. Make your way towards the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the World War II Memorial, with it’s blocks honoring service from every state. At the end of the day, Fly a kite next to the Washington Monument and bring your four-legged friend to Capitol Hill and it’s pet friendly areas.
To see all of Washington would take a lifetime. The history of this nation is being made and constantly changed within its hallowed halls. It’s a reflection of our past, and a testament to our steadfast standing future. The politicians may debate and disagree, but the monuments to our leaders and events show a nation proud and grateful to it’s history. Beyond the marble walls is a young, multicultural town that is just waiting to be uncovered. Antiquity is a step away from some of the hottest new eateries demonstrating the wide spectrum of ethnicities and cultures that make DC feel fresh, new, and relevant every time. It may only be a weekend in Washington, but it’s packed with enough tastes and experiences to inspire a lifetime.
Rodrigo Gimenes and Giannina Zanardi are students from Miami FL. When not on the road, they can be found discovering the perfect caprihinha or delectable chicken hearts. I’d like to thank them for their reviews and photographs.