Anthony Bourdain in Washington DC: 8 Spots Where Tony Ate

Visiting the nation’s capital in 2009, Tony Bourdain finds Washington DC to be a city of contrasts, though it’s through this diffracting lens that some amazing food options come into focus. While this city often makes headlines for every other reason, whatever inspires you to visit the District of Columbia will be well-complimented by the food and drink you can find there.

Anthony Bourdain visited Washington DC to film season 5 (episode 3) of No Reservations; it was his only visit to the nation’s capital but he packs plenty in thanks to the city’s density of great restaurants and bars.

Anthony Bourdain in Washington DC Hero

If you’re planning to visit DC and want to eat at the same places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Washington DC, this guide can help. Below you’ll find details about each spot where Tony ate, and what he ate there. Use it to strike out and sample the incredible diversity of the U.S. capital, and maybe even make a visit to the Capitol too.

Want to watch the episodes where Anthony Bourdain visits Washington DC?
The No Reservations episode is available on Amazon, Hulu, and Apple TV.

In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Piscataway and Nacotchtank (Anacostan) peoples, among others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present peoples of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

Busboys and Poets

Beginning first at this cafe named after one-time busboy poet, Langston Hughes, Bourdain meets with owner Andy Shallal, and George Pelecanos, writer for The Wire, at Busboys and Poets to discuss how establishments like this are inextricably linked with Washington’s modern-day development.

Though Bourdain is not shown consuming anything specifically, several coffees and cakes are shown.

Ben’s Chili Bowl

Anthony Bourdain in Washington DC - Chili Dog

An historical landmark, and an establishment so widely revered it was considered hallowed ground during the 1968 DC riots, Ben’s Chili Bowl is home to the greatest chili dogs in the world, according to George.

Here they specialize in the half-smoke dog, a type of breakfast sausage that is half pork, half beef smoked sausage, found only in the DC area. Served on a steamed bun, with chili, mustard, and onions, this is indeed an otherworldly experience as Bourdain remarks “that’s not a hot dog, that’s another creature entirely”.

Chadwicks

Anthony Bourdain in Washington DC - Big Mick

Chadwicks is the kind of place to go for cold beer and a good burger, and Tony meets with Peter Earnest, former CIA case officer and manager of the International Spy Museum, a fitting dinner partner given Washington’s status as one of the most heavily observed and scrutinized cities in the world.

As Peter and Bourdain discuss CIA counterintelligence officer Aldrich Ames, who was arrested and convicted of espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union, they order the burgers that Chadwicks is known for, with their standout being the ‘Big Mick’ – two all-beef patties, thousand island, American cheese, lettuce, pickles, red onion, all served on a potato kaiser.

El Pollo Rico

Taking a trip next to the DC suburbs inside The Beltway, Bourdain makes an unscheduled stop at El Pollo Rico, a Peruvian chicken joint in Arlington that is on everyone’s lips.

The chicken here is exquisite. First marinated in an unknown blend of Peruvian spices, it is then tied on a rotisserie spit and slowly roasted over charcoal. The result is crispy, moist meat, best served with a can of Inca Kola.

Song Que (CLOSED)

Anthony Bourdain in Hoi An - Bahn Mi

For his next stop, Tony visits the Eden Center in Falls Church, a 120-store complex that caters to the area’s sizable Vietnamese community where steaming bowls of pho are everywhere and there is a hint of airborne fish sauce.

Alongside Washington Post correspondent Tim Carmen, the pair Song Que for a bahn mi, the classic Vietnamese take on the sandwich. Marrying French baguette with Vietnamese fillings, Bourdain goes for the traditional pork, whilst Tim goes for the combo with head cheese, both options served together with carrots, pickled radish, coriander, chilis and fish sauce.

Abay Market

Anthony Bourdain in Washington DC - Kitfo

From the familiar to the unfamiliar, as Bourdain next samples some Ethiopian food in Falls Church, Virginia. The dish served at Abay Market is a raw meat platter of tartar known as Kitfo, an Ethiopian traditional dish that originated among the Gurage people. It consists of minced raw beef, marinated in mitmita (a chili powder-based spice blend) and niter kibbeh (a clarified butter infused with herbs and spices)

The meat is served with homemade cheese and a fiery dipping sauce called Awaze, made by mixing pepper, ginger, garlic, wine, and a small amount of Coca Cola then fermented. Spicy and familiar, this is a delicious take on traditional tartar, even if the largest chunks of meat take some serious jaw muscles.

Minibar

Tony’s next dinner guest is a familiar one, as he visits Jose Andres – a great chef and even greater friend.

Andres runs seven restaurants and bars in the DC area, and Minibar is his most innovative and exclusive, housing just six very special seats at this very special establishment.

Though the dishes here bear the hallmarks of scientific experiment, Andres is quick to point out that they’re not molecular gastronomy in the strictest sense of the term – these are dishes that don’t try to impose themselves, instead offering the diner to go with the flow.

The creativity on display here is staggering. Gravity-free mojito starters, cream cheese, and salmon lox in a cone reminiscent of the traditional bagel style of serving, followed by a deconstructed New England clam chowder, where each of the classic components is prepared and treated separately and then assembled next to each other on the plate.

A dish next mimics the taste of the classic Philly cheese steak, served with a mousse of aged cheddar cheese and truffles, and Kobe beef, an experience designed to be messy, delicious, and comforting. There is a unique take on guacamole, as avocados, tomatoes, cilantro, and lime are rolled and served in a tube form., as well as steamed dumplings of brioche, served with caviar and topped with lemon foam.

To finish, a cotton candy of eel flavored with wasabi, ginger, pickle, and sesame seeds, topped with miso seeds known as ‘chasing the dragon’, and finally a single caramelized popcorn dipped in liquid nitrogen.

Jessie Taylor Seafood

Anthony Bourdain in Washington DC - Chesapeake Crabs

For his final stop, something decidedly simpler. Jessie Taylor’s Seafood is situated at the Maine Avenue fish market, known to locals as the fish wharf, and whilst it is only a 15-minute walk from the Jefferson Memorial, you’ll never see tourists here.

The out-of-towners are missing out though, as on offer here are heaps of Chesapeake Bay crabs, freshly caught, seasoned, and steamed, then served right there out of a brown paper bag.

As Bourdain is instructed, “open the bag, grab your mallet, and get up in there.” Tony wisely opts for a mix of male and female crabs, with the female carrying delicious roe eggs in addition to the incredible meat.

Washington DC Food Tours to Try

While most of the places Bourdain visited are still open today, you might want to sample a bit more – or have a more formal experience with a guide that will show you the best spots (like Tony’s fixers used to do for him). Food tours are a good option in this case, and here are a few Washington DC food tours that look good:

Have any questions about these places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Washington D.C., or what he ate there? Let me know in the comments below!

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Valerie is a travel writer currently based in Cleveland, but her favorite destinations are Alaska, London, and Jordan – only one of which Bourdain ever visited! You can find her writing on Lonely Planet, Forbes, and her travel blog, Valerie & Valise.

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