The trip that changed D.C. for me: Where to eat, stay and play in the city

When I visited D.C. for the first time as a kid, I left unimpressed. Coming back as an adult changed my perspective

Published June 24, 2024 3:05PM (EDT)

Washington Monument in Washington DC, USA (Getty Images/jimfeng)
Washington Monument in Washington DC, USA (Getty Images/jimfeng)

"A Fatty's Guide to Traveling and Eating the World" is a recurring travel and food column here at Salon that’s dedicated to helping travelers of all sizes find adventure

I visited Washington, D.C., for the first time as a kid. No, it wasn’t on a patriotic school trip or anything like that, but I mostly left unimpressed. Maybe it was because we were keeping strict kosher at the time and I didn't have a chance to try the food. Or perhaps it was because my dad heard we were at the World War II museum with my grandmother and scolded us. It could have been something else entirely.

Adulthood has a funny way of changing your perspective on things—perhaps because you get to choose what to do and how to do it, so every trip is just a little more exciting than it was back then. Either way, heading to D.C. as an adult changed my perspective.

The weather was wonderfully hot in July. We had missed the cherry blossoms by a few months which might have been a bummer if not for the beautiful breeze on the water, delicious food that just kept coming and the warm hospitality that we felt at every turn.

Here's what we ate , what we did and where we stayed, so perhaps your next trip to Washington, D.C. is a little more colorful and a hell of a lot tastier. 

Where to Eat

Federalist Pig: I don’t know about you, but I’m a brisket girly through and through. But the folks at the Federalist Pig served up a tray with a little bit of everything, leaving us with unexpected favorites. The ribs were exceptional, and I don't usually like ribs! We put the sticky garlic sauce on everything, and it just took all the smoked goodness to the next level. The sausage and chicken were deciduous, too.

Oyster Oyster: If you turn your nose up at a vegetarian restaurant, trust me when I tell you that you must try Oyster Oyster. This Michelin-starred restaurant makes vegetables simply shine. Every bite has so much thought put into every detail, from the English peas with kohlrabi and vegan bread made with beets and served with a marigold “butter” to my favorite dish of the night, a crunchy fried graffiti eggplant topped with eggplant stew and fennel, Be sure to make your reservations well in advance, as this popular DC restaurant fills up quickly, and you definitely don’t want to miss your chance to fall in love with vegetables. Oyster Oyster offers a vegetarian and vegan menu, with or without an oyster course.

Ilili: The vibes at Ilili are immaculate! Located at the Warf, my wife, Morgan, and I had brunch at the Lebanese restaurant while we were in DC. The customer service was top-notch, and the food was a great alternative to the more typical “American” brunch. Our brunch order included hummus topped with lamb confit and served with pita, fatayer stuffed with akkawi and feta cheese, served with a pear salad, and green and black Lebanese olives with citrus and thyme. Whatever you do, be sure to end your meal with a scoop of black sesame ice cream. It’s so good. 

Bresca: If you love French food, be sure to dine at Bresca, a contemporary French Bistro with regional influences. As you might expect at a French restaurant, the fluffy brioche loaf served with butter was a showstopper and shouldn’t be missed. The service at Bresca stood out in all the right ways. I'm not really a fan of French food, and while Bresca didn't change my opinion, the thought and creativity that went into every bite were crystal clear. Note that if you’ll be dining on a Saturday, Bresca strictly serves its tasting menu, which is what we enjoyed. 

Cranes:Barcelona-born Chef Pepe Moncayo turned his passion for Spanish and Japanese food into Cranes, a fusion restaurant marrying the two cuisines — quite successfully, I might add. From tempura-battered fish to local morels, every dish was interesting, challenging your perception of what should be any specific way. Get the “omakase” tasting menu and try a little bit of a lot of dishes. And the desserts, balancing texture and complex flavor, are simply perfect. 

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Eaton Hotel: If you’re looking for a sterile hotel that does nothing more than serve as a place for travelers to lay their heads, then the Eaton Hotel probably isn’t for you. While you’ll certainly find the rooms comfortable and the hospitality admirable, where the Eaton Hotel shines is in its activism and community programming. Katherin Lo, founder of the D.C. and Hong Kong-based Eaton, envisioned the hotels to function as a third space.

At least from the outside, their business model is admirable — a focus on creating a space for the D.C. community to gather, create and be authentically themselves. 

Grab an iced coffee from Baker’s Daughter and one of the yummy jam bars for the perfect midday pick-me-up. The hotel is home to the Allegory, a unique speakeasy where the very drinks and walls tell a story. But our favorite bar functioned as a waiting room for the Alagory, called the Library. The music was incredible, people were dancing, and it was an all-around good time.

Four Seasons: As you would expect from a Four Seasons, the service at the Georgetown hotel was top-notch. Beds are always my nemesis (mostly because a crappy bed can easily ruin my vacation if I just can’t sleep) but our bed at the Four Seasons was super comfortable, and the water pressure was enviable. It was a lovely stay. For some reason, we struggled to find good oysters in DC, but the steakhouse at the Four Seasons  delivered! We ordered them with the duck fat fries, which were a home run, too. 

Things to Do

U.S. National Bonsai & Penjing Museum at the National Arboretum: Can I admit I’m not the biggest fan of museums? Between the stolen artifacts and questionable historical information, I just can’t enjoy the experience. But an outdoor museum featuring Bonsai and Penjing? Sign me up! You might catch the caretakers tending to the trees and a little frog here and here. Be sure to leave time to explore the Arboretum as well, something we wish we did. Oh! There are koi fish, too. 

Shop Made in DC:Trying to squeeze some shopping into your vacation? Definitely stop by the Shop Made in DC, which has four locations in the DC area. The shop features over 200 creators and 5,000 items, all made by artisans, small businesses, artists, and creators in the DC area. 

Get on the Water - Some folks are beach people, and some, including myself, are water people. Get me on the water in a boat, canoe, tube, or literally anything else that floats, and I’m a happy camper. Sea Suite Cruises offers many different ways to get on the water, from pontoon paddle boats and Tiki boats, which are good for a group, to retro boats with an electric engine you can man all on your own,perfect for couples. The customer service is phenomenal, and it’s just a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

ARTECHOUSE: Need to get out of the rain or hide from the sun for a little while? Stop by ARTECHOUSE for a mesmerizing experience, mashing art and technology. Entering the exhibit, you find yourself in a room blanketed with a digital screen that doesn’t stop moving. You’re literally in the middle of the art, and your perspective changes a bit, and you shift where you’re looking. People sit on the floor, walk around, lie down like they’re sunbathing, and just take in the experience. It’s a little hard to explain, but if you like immersive experience, tech, and art, give ARTECHOUSE a try. 

By Chaya Milchtein

Chaya Milchtein is an automotive educator and journalist who writes about cars, plus size fashion, queer life and love, and sometimes, food and travel. Her work has in Real Simple, Parents Magazine, Xtra Magazine, Al Jazeera, Shondaland and others.

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