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Posted at 5:31 PM ET, 02/29/2008

I Know You Get This All the Time: Restaurants by the Mall

By Julia Beizer

"I know you get this all the time..." is itself a common refrain in Got Plans? Sure, we talk about new clubs, just-opened exhibits and hot restaurants in our weekly chat, but we also get many questions from readers who are looking for places to take visiting relatives, ideas for a first date or destinations for a bachelorette party. This occasional blog feature attempts to answer some of those recurring questions. We know our suggestions in these more general posts won't fit every specific case, so please join us for Got Plans? at 1 p.m. on Thursdays if you need help with a specific scenario.

We start this series with a common question that went unanswered in Thursday's chat:

Old Town Alexandria, Va.: I have family coming in to town to see the sites of D.C. They are staying in Bethesda, but will be visiting the National Mall during the day. I'm looking for unique-to-D.C./interesting lunch and dinner suggestions in the National Mall area (or easy to get to from there) and in Bethesda. Someone suggested Pacific Grill. Any other suggestions? Thanks GOGs!

Sweet potato & banana soup at the Mitsitam Cafe. (Lois Raimondo/The Washington Post)

The Mall can be a pretty barren place for diners: there's lots of green parkland, but not a lot of fresh greens. For out-of-town visitors looking for a quick bite between exhibits, the Mitsitam Cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian is the only real reliable eatery within the museums. Delicious soups, buffalo burgers and fry bread are highlights on the menu, which features dishes inspired by Native American cultures.

The National Gallery's many cafes aren't wholly disappointing for light fare. Paninis and delicious gelato are perks in the underground plaza between the East and West buildings.

But once you're done museum-hopping, it's better to venture away from the Mall for good eats. That usually means hoofing it at least a half a mile toward downtown unfortunately, but after a long day at the museums a good meal is worth it. I usually stroll up to the cozy Bistro d'Oc for a French dish, Zaytinya for fresh Greek tapas or Matchbox for its inventive pizzas, most recently the spicy Fire and Smoke.

This chatter was also looking for something distinctively Washington and for that, I think Old Ebbitt fits the bill. Raw oysters and classic American fare pair nicely in this clubby dining room on 15th Street.

When I want the cheaper end of the dining spectrum, I'll also dip into Harry's for a juicy cooked-to-order burger and a cold, domestic beer. The circus-y sports bar isn't exactly known for its ambience, but the half-pounders are worth it for me.

Readers, where do you nosh after a long day on the Mall? Let us know in the comments below.

(I obviously didn't focus much on the Bethesda part of the question here, but for a Maryland-bound group, I like Mon Ami Gabi or Grapeseed.)


By Julia Beizer  | February 29, 2008; 5:31 PM ET
Categories:  FAQ, Restaurants  
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Please do not waste money on Pacific Grill in Bethesda! I don't care what Donnie Simpson says, it's an awful restaurant. May family went for my father's birthday and the food was a small step up from a cafeteria. Their claim to fame is an assortment of seafood meals that you can cook yourself on a hot rock slab. The seafood came with no seasoning and a choice of 2 sauces. And every meal came with the exact same side dishes (veggies & potatoes). I would go almost anywhere other than there.

Posted by: Sweetie | March 3, 2008 12:13 PM | Report abuse

For quick, tasty counter service, the Penn Quarter Teaism is a quick walk up from the Mall.

Posted by: Julia | March 3, 2008 2:55 PM | Report abuse

You all seem to forget Taqueria Nacionale at 400 North Capitol, and Johnnys Half Shell, at the same location.

Posted by: Hillman | March 4, 2008 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Oyamel on 7th NW is great. Wolfgang Puck's Source just opened at the Newseum on Pennsylvania and 6th NW.

Posted by: BD | March 4, 2008 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Another good, lesser known but unique choice is the Market Inn, just south of the Mall. It is a Washington institution, family owned and run for 50 years and has truly delicious seafood. You won't find anything like it elsewhere, with its completely old-school decor and environment, live jazz/piano in the lounge - very DC.

Posted by: amanda | March 6, 2008 2:27 PM | Report abuse

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