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Not so touristy food in touristy DC

Hi, I'll be in DC checking out museums (smithsonian art, history, newseum, spy museum). I'm hoping to grab lunch at some not-awful/touristy places. I'm a big sandwich fan and I'm also interested in finding places that do "manageable" (not overstuffed, not sloppy) sandwiches that I can bring to the museums and snack on without having to leave.

Feel free to note non-sandwich spots...I'll probably stop in for a sit-down lunch once or twice.


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  1. You can pick up a very neat sandwich at Pret a Manger near Metro Center, and walk over to the Mall. It's all fresh made that day and delicious. They're all neatly packed in little boxes and very tea-sandwich-esque. Could fit your needs quite nicely.

    I've also heard good things about the take-out sandwiches at Cowgirl Creamery, also near the Mall.

    One more sandwich recommendation, though not neat, would be to go to Taylor Gourmet (multiple locations, closest to the Mall is the one at Mount Vernon Square). Try the roast pork and broccoli rabe, outstanding.

    Taylor Gourmet
    1116 H St NE, Washington, DC 20002

    2 Replies
    1. re: hamster

      I'm with hamster re: Taylor Gourmet and Cowgirl Creamery. I've never had a sandwich from Pret a Manger; they look unappealing to me because they are pre-made and pre-wrapped -- but for your purposes, that may be just the thing.

      Taylor Gourmet
      1116 H St NE, Washington, DC 20002

      1. re: woodleyparkhound

        You really should give Pret a chance. They make all the sandwiches in store that day, they are no ordinary sandwiches.

    2. I think you will find that most of the museums do not allow you to bring in food and beverages, other than bottled water. The National Zoo encourages picnicking, but that would not be much fun on a cold winter day.

      If you want to dine in the Smithsonian museums, there are a variety of options. None are outstanding, so far as I know, but here are a few interesting ones:

      1. Mitsitam Cafe - Museum of the American Indian - advertises "authentic Native foods" from around the Western hemisphere

      2. Courtyard Cafe - National Portrait Gallery - has seasonal menus in a pleasant setting

      3. Castle Cafe and Coffee Bar - Smithsonian Castle - espresso, cappuccino, gelato, panini and more in one of DC's coolest buildings

      You can see more at http://www.gosmithsonian.com/dining/S...

      The Newseum has a Wolfgang Puck restaurant called "The Source" as well as a food court,
      See http://www.newseum.org/plan-your-visi...
      and http://www.newseum.org/plan-your-visi...

      You can see Spy Museum's dining recs at http://www.spymuseum.org/dining

      Hope that helps!

      1. Be careful with food in the museums. I've had food confiscated (leftovers packed in boxes) during the bag check process at one of the Smithsonians. You might plan to enjoy your sandwich before going into the museums.

        1. I worked in federal buildings on the Mall for six years, the cafeteria in the National Gallery of Art back then was good enough that I would meet friends there for lunch rather than in a restaurant. There are two buildings that are the National Gallery of Art, the cafeteria is in the newer one, with the interior waterfall/sculpture thingy. It is adjacent to the gift shop which is really good for a museum gift shop, I got some nice prints there at very reasonable prices.

          You can find reviews of it on the web, apparently it is still good, I guess the official name is "Cascade Cafe"


          I'm a big fan of the National Gallery of Art in general, never cared much for the other museums. They rotate exhibits pretty often and have a great permanent collection, it is a very serene place. I spent countless happy hours there.

          1. The Garden Cafe at the National Gallery of Art (West Building) has a $20 buffet with a menu devised by noted French chef Michel Richard. It's an amazing deal. Especially that the faux gras, charcutie, cheese course, chocolate mousse (and a very good one at that) included. Sensational.

            If you are near the White House midweek, then you could check out the sandwiches at Breadline. The cubano on Thursday, the bbq on Friday, the Philly cheesesteak on Monday, or the Italian Sausage any day of the week are absolutely great.

            The Pattison Ave sandwich (roast pork, broccoli rabe, sharp provolone) at Taylor Gourmet is the stuff dreams are made on.

            If you want to sit down somewhere, then I love the tapas at Jaleo. Especially the spinach with raisins and the baby wrinkled potatoes.

            1. I included neither the Cascade Cafe nor the Garden Cafe in my first post because I was not clear that the OP intended to stop at the National Gallery. If he does, he will find good choices at both cafes, per Steve and redfish62.

              1. You can definitely bring your own lunch to the central courtyard at the Portrait Gallery. It is one of my favorite spaces in DC. You could get a pizza to go from Matchbox or maybe noodles from one of the few really Chinese places left in Chinatown - the noodle place that's just south of H street on 6th st.

                If the salad craze hasn't hit your hometown yet, you could also try Chopt, which is right across from the Gallery Place metro. They custom-make salads w/ dozens of ingredients to choose from and have great home-made dressings. I'd probably do that over Pret a Manger if you don't come from a salad-loving town.

                2 Replies
                1. re: melissalane4730

                  are you sure they'll let you? the way the OP phrased it, I would caution that food would be quite frowned upon in the galleries proper (but I agree the NPG courtyard is about the most successful and downright sexy interior spaces in DC - just could use more seating) for later readers in better weather, the bldg. has great steps outside for snacking too.

                  1. re: hill food

                    I've taken a half-smoke with everything (messy) from the corner vendor into the Portrait Gallery courtyard -- it was wrapped and probably in my bag when I walked in, though. The food they sell there is perfectly good, too. (and of course it's a beautiful space -- with wifi.)

                    OP: I agree with Mitsitam at NMAI (just be sure to look around at all the offerings before deciding what to order) and the Michel Richard buffet at NGA -- and I agree that some of the other museums have perfectly decent food and pleasant places to eat. NMAH cafeteria is nicer after the remodeling than I remember (I like it better than NMNH). Air & Space is awful though. And amen to Just Visiting's point about paying for food in FREE museums.

                    As a completely different take on this question, the cafeteria at the Department of Labor building is open to the public -- you have to provide a govt-issued id -- and it has a fantastic, truly fantastic, view from the terrace. It's just a normal cafeteria (big though, with lots of stations), so not a food rec, but not touristy, either -- a fun DC thing to do.

                2. You might want to check this very recent thread that answered a similar question:


                  Among the choices for nontouristy (i.e., not eating at the museums): Oyamel or any of the other dozen or so restaurants in Penn Quarter).

                  Is your goal to save time by not having to leave for lunch and yet not having to buy the food offered in the museums (too expensive? too lousy?)? That seems to be what you are getting at here. Well, some of the museums actually have decent-to-good food, as noted by others (particularly Mitsitam Cafe) and though prices can be high, realize that part of the money is going to help support the museums, which are FREE AND IN DESPERATE NEED OF THE MONEY. If you went to the natural history museum in New York, you would pay $16 just to walk in the door. The Metropolitan Museum of Art? - shell out $20 for entry. Add extra $$ for special exhibits, audio tours, etc.

                  As for healthy/general quality: There is some healthy food in the museums, even good sandwiches or at least on a par with anything you would buy nearby. As others noted in the related thread. I eat lunch at the NMNH from time-to-time and I've never had a problem finding something tasty and healthy. My bigger problem is avoiding the things that I know I shouldn't eat!

                  1. Zola Wine and Kitchen

                    No, I am not affiliated with them in any way, even though this is my 3rd (or 4th?) post recommending it. I just really loved the lunch I had there over the summer. I don't think you will find "manageable sandwiches" there, however.

                    Zola Wine and Kitchen
                    505 9th St NW, Washington D.C., DC 20004

                    1. Consider going to the cafe in the Museum of American Indian, I just had a lunch of pumpkin seed tamal and a glorious hot smoked green apple soup. Both were a very pleasant surprise. They vary the food regularly and they have regional selections every day -- included today were fry bread with honey, a beautiful pheasant with cherry sauce, and an amazing looking stew.