Food in the city


Asking a local eatery in the nation’s capital to top off your roast beef sandwich with a heap of French fries will certainly raise a few eyebrows. But in Pittsburgh, you may not even have to ask. French fries in the Steel City are used almost as a condiment rather than a side, garnishing everything from sandwiches to salads.

Food rules are different, however, in Washington, D.C. — as many discover when they move to the capital area.

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That move often means leaving behind friends, family and maybe a dog. Few people, however, consider how much they’ll miss their favorite foods. 

Members of Congress are no exception.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) likes to indulge in Graeter’s ice cream (no word on whether their signature black raspberry chip is his favorite flavor), Montgomery Inn BBQ and Skyline Chili when he’s back in his district.  

Western representatives bemoan the lack of authentic Mexican food in D.C.

“It is a national travesty, the level of quality Mexican food here,” Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) lamented.  

Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) notes the way his state does beans and rice in the truly Arizonian Native American tradition is something he’s seen “nowhere other than New Mexico and Arizona.”

Pepperoni rolls hailing from West Virginia are hard to find without crossing state lines.

“The pepperoni roll is such a unique part of the Mountain State’s history and culture,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). 

Mountaineer expatriates may be secretly hoping for a pepperoni roll pop-up shop to open in the District, but until then, Manchin extends an invitation for “everyone to come to West Virginia to enjoy the full flavor of the pepperoni roll.”

Some members of Congress import items from their home states for others to enjoy here.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) served Missouri’s famous toasted ravioli the last time he was in charge of the menu at the Republican policy luncheon. He takes pride in the Show-Me State’s reputation for Italian food, saying, “A couple of senators told me when I had several things from Italian restaurants in St. Louis, it was the best Italian food they had ever had.”

Gardner said that he’s been to several events where he’s arranged Rocky Mountain oysters to be served. The oysters aren’t seafood — they’re bull testicles.

Louisiana Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond says he gets requests for pralines (a pecan candy) and king cakes.

“We bring two things back: pralines or a king cake,” said Richmond. “In the first year we got here, we sent king cakes around. Whenever we bring up pralines we send them around to different offices.”  

Be it pizza, pierogies or chili, the District is slowly gaining ground in bringing your hometown favorites here. 

The Hill has compiled a guide for finding some of your regional jewels and bringing a slice of home to the capital.

Pizza

Several lawmakers from New York and Chicago told The Hill there is nowhere to get good pizza in D.C. 

We’ll let those cities duke it out over whose is supreme, but New Haven-style pizza can be found in the area. Pete’s New Haven Style APizza might sound like a mouthful, but Connecticut natives know to pronounce APizzas as “ah-beets,” which lessens the name by a syllable. 

“New Haven-style” refers to the type of cooking — the thin-crust pizzas are cooked to give some edges a bit of char from the high heat of the ovens. You can get New Haven’s signature white clam pie, topped with local Chesapeake clams, olive oil, garlic, Pecorino Romano and oregano, at multiple locations throughout the area, including Columbia Heights.  

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who calls himself a “pizza guy,” says he hasn’t tried Pete’s yet.

“I am in denial that they can recreate New Haven pizza in D.C., but I have heard very good reviews,” said Murphy. “I am stunned D.C. can make good pizza, but I’ve heard Pete’s pizza may be the exception. I’ve got to try it.”

Reindeer meat, Alaska

Forget any reservations about eating Rudolph. Reindeer meat is one of the leanest meats, and Alaskans are not shy about putting it on their plates. It’s available online, but if you want to avoid the shipping costs, Thunderurger in Georgetown occasionally serves reindeer burgers on its Wild Wednesdays.

Navajo tacos/fry bread, Arizona

Fry bread is a traditional (and delicious) Native American dish, though Arizona takes it to the next level, topping it with chilies, cheese and meat to form a “Navajo taco.” 

The Mitsitam Café at the American Indian museum offers fry bread, but only plain or topped with cinnamon and honey. They also offer an Indian taco piled with buffalo chili, pickled chiles, pinto beans, lettuce, tomato and shredded cheese. Or you can try the grilled chipotle chicken version.

However, for any waistline-watchers, Schweikert warns: “One Navajo taco is about the carb load for the week. It has to be off the scales in terms of calories and carbs. … It’s like a different world.”

Emily Goodin contributed

Part II of the series continues the quest for regional favorites in the nation’s capital. 

— This story was updated at 9:55 a.m.