If you were were to put together a list of your dream things to do in Washington, DC, hitting a diner might not be right at the top. DC museums? Sure. You know you have to check them out. Fancy French DC restaurants? They're probably in your tourist guide. But DC's diners are worth a look, particularly if you're on the go—they're pumping out great burgers, delicious shakes and fries to die for. Here are the city's best.
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Best diners and burger joints in DC
The team behind Matchbox and Ted’s Bulletin have another crowd-pleaser in DC-3, their hot dog joint on Capitol Hill. Named for the Douglas DC-3 air plane from the 1930s—which explains the giant vintage propeller on one wall—the counter-service restaurant dishes up a roster of regional hot dogs from around the US, from the famous DC half smoke to the New Jersey bacon-wrapped ripper, the Chicago 7 with pickles and tomatoes, and even a version of the standard New York dirty water dog. And then there’s the not so classic. The Bay Bridge pretzel dog nods to the mid-Atlantic with crab dip heaped on the hot dog. Fried pickles, cotton candy and soft-serve ice-cream round out the playful menu.
One of DC’s few 24-hour joints, the Diner is brought to you by the same folks who own coffee lounge Tryst just two doors away. True to its name, there’s home-style chow such as home-made meatloaf with gravy and mash for lunch and buttermilk pancakes for 4am. The Diner is constantly packed with neighborhood hipsters and night owls, but we don’t think it’s the food that keeps people going back for more. It’s those long counters, great for flirting, sipping coffee and playing with your food behind the Sunday paper.
The Duplex Diner, or the 18th & U as it’s also known, has the casual feel of the 1950s eateries it emulates and a reputation for au courant cocktails. Some nights attract more patrons than others; for instance, the Thursday night bar and club crowd often relies on the Duplex as its opening act. The menu lists diner favorites—burgers and fries, natch—but the real draw is the neighborhood feel.
After the Federal Government and the Smithsonian, Five Guys is fast becoming DC's third national institution. The burger devotees opened their first store in Alexandria, Virgnia in 1986 and their commitment to fresh-as-humanly-possible ingredients has endeared them to Metro Area beef aficionados ever since (if not to healthy-eating watchdogs). Having been accruing best-burger status in American cities East to West, the franchise is expanding to Europe, and now has 12 outlets across its hometown. This branch is closest to the White House though. Just like we said: National institution.
DC claims several stars from the popular Top Chef tv cooking competition, and one of the most recognisable is Spike Mendelsohn. His fun, laid-back burger joint on Capitol Hill (right next to his We, The Pizza restaurant) is a favorite of Hill staffers and First Lady Michelle Obama. The Michelle Melt, a free-range turkey burger with Swiss cheese and a wholewheat bun, is named after her. Grab your order at the counter and don’t miss the dipping bar where you can doctor up your handcut fries with flavored mayonnaises and sauces. The delicious toasted marshmallow milkshake is the stuff of legend.
The only problem with Capitol Hill’s go-to comfort food spot is that you’ll have to get your hung-over arse outta bed early to beat the Barrack’s Row brunch crowd. But of course the place is crowded: At Ted’s you’ll find breakfast served all day and plates that will make you feel like a kid again without any judgment about overindulgence from your ma. Slip into one of the cozy leather booths, zone out to whatever old school movie the projection screen is playing, and order up a Mark on an Off Day—two eggs, a choice of bacon or sausage, toast, and pile of hash browns that will change your life. Ted’s grilled cheese and tomato soup is always a staple, and Nana’s beer biscuits and sausage gravy will have you saying, “Diet? What diet?” Speaking of dieting, there are house-made poptarts that are a must (the peanut-butter-bacon is a favorite). If you haven’t slipped into a calorie coma by the end of your meal, note that Ted’s serves up a long list of old-fashioned milkshakes with a grown-up twist: booze! Shakes are prepared in a steel can and served in a tall glass with toppings and a straw. The grasshopper (Kahlua and crème de menthe) or the Nutty Professor (hazelnut liqueur) can turn any day around. Stretchy pants are recommended, but not required.