Washington, DC – Good Food on 7th Street

Visitors to Washington quickly notice the total absence of good food around the monuments and museums. The only options on the Mall are vending trucks selling hots dogs and other junk at outrageous prices. Fortunately, the situation is not as bleak as it first appears. Good food is not far away up Seventh Street.

Seventh Street runs through the Mall between the West Building of the National Gallery of Art and the gallery’s new sculpture garden. The restaurants are a few blocks up the street into Northwest Washington. You are walking the right way from the National Gallery if you go towards the National Archives and the U.S. Trade Commission. If these buildings don’t stand out from the other hulking federal buildings, look further up the street for a red-bricked, gold-domed building on the right.

The Manhattan Deli is located beside the Naval Memorial at the intersection of 7th and Pennsylvania Avenue. The restaurant tries to keep the office workers who are its regular customers happy by serving up a wide variety of food. There’s a traditional deli counter with hot and cold sandwiches, a large prepared food bar and even a small pizzeria. The pizza ($1.85 a slice) is some of the best in a city without much good pizza.

The Naval Memorial with all its fountains is a pleasant place to sit down and eat. In the summer, Navy drill teams conduct drills at the memorial. Depending on your timing, you can either watch the sailors drill or see them smoke and pick up young women aside the monument during their break.

Seventh Street once served as the main street through historic downtown Washington. The old downtown sat neglected for decades but is now the sight of frenzied redevelopment involving the renovation of old buildings and the construction of new ones on vacant lots. The blocks of Seventh Street just north of Pennsylvania Avenue are the chief beneficiaries of the area’s rebirth.

The Markette (403 7th St.) and the adjacent Saffron Deli (407 7th St.) are two blocks from the Naval Memorial. Fairly upscale, the Markette offers atmosphere and creative cuisine tending toward the light and healthy. Entrees include Saffron Fettuccini ($13) and Tempura Calamari ($9) and average between $10 to $15. A fancy sandwich shop, the Saffron Deli seems a little on the expensive side. Sandwiches costs around $6 but are enough for two. The smoked salmon club ($5.50) is a personal favorite.

Jaleo sits on the corner of E and 7th Street. The first fine restaurant to venture into the rundown area five years ago, Jaleo specializes in tapas, small servings of rich Spanish food. Tapas run between $5 and $9. Two per person is usually enough. Gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp), calimari a la romana (fried squid) and pattatas bravas (a filling cheese potato mix) are smart choices.

The District Chop House between E and F street attracts those who like to eat steak, smoke cigars and swagger. Even if this doesn’t exactly describe you, you will probably enjoy the food which averages around $15 an entree. Defiantly order the french fries. The best happy hour drink special in the area happens here from 5 to 7 with $2 pints of beer brewed on the premises.

Legal Seafood between G and H comes through on its promise of delivering fresh and good seafood (entrees starting at $10). Fuddruckers at the corner of 7th and H is a hamburger and fries place and is better than Legal Seafood for those looking for a quicker meal.

Washington’s China Town should really be called China Street. The restaurants along H Street between 7th Street and 5th Street are all that make up China Town. I work near China Town and have eaten at almost all of the restaurants. None of them are that fantastic, though most have adequate food and service. Go-Los on the right coming from 7th Street has never disappointed me. Taishan, the second restaurant on the right coming from 7th Street, is one of the more authentic places and is patronized mostly by Chinese. I’ve never had a bad meal there either.

Between H and I, CoCo Loco, a Brazilian restaurant/dance club, and Mehak, an Indian restaurant, are the last restaurants along 7th Street worth walking to. CoCo Loco offers a mix of South American dishes and an under $7 lunch special menu. The restaurant’s happy hour each Friday between 5 and 7 features $3 Coronas or Margaritas and free nachos, pasta and sauteed chicken, more than enough for a hungry traveler looking for a free dinner. Mehak, which serves small portions on large steel plates, is more educational than filling.

Several small art galleries operate on the same stretch of 7th Street. The building at 406 7th Street houses five galleries. At least two of the galleries have an interesting exhibit at any given time. Zenith Gallery at 413 7th St. always has an first-rate painting or sculpture exhibit.

Visitors to Washington are better off because of the relatively new restaurants and cafes along Seventh Street. The next time you’re here and a vendor on the Mall calls out for you to buy an overpriced, overcooked hotdog, say no thanks and head up Seventh Street.