Paul: A lunch spot that needs only one name

Though they work in the hub of American politics, Capitol Hill staffers can find a little bit of France during their lunch hour at Paul, a Parisian-style café in Penn Quarter. 

Located across the street from the United States National Archives at 801 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, this European eatery offers an array of coffee, brunch and lunch options.

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Customers can select from generous hot and cold sandwiches (most are about a foot long), including the light Sandwich Atlantique — made with smoked salmon, fresh tomatoes and a creamy lemon spread on a sesame baguette. The hot chicken sandwich is a more indulgent option, with Bechamel sauce, cheese and mustard stuffed into a traditional baguette. 

The bread on this sandwich is the immediate standout, made with flour that rubs off on your fingertips, chewy dough and crispy crust. The meat is fresh and the cheese is sharp, and Paul’s special sauce adds an extra punch. 

For a healthier option, the Farmhouse Salad offers a pleasing mix of tastes. Grilled chicken, Granny Smith apples, raisins and walnuts lie on a bed of greens, topped by shredded carrots, mozzarella and a simple vinaigrette. 

But the stars at Paul are undoubtedly its desserts. The chocolate almond croissant is moist and flaky, dusted with powdered sugar and sliced almonds. The Napoleon — soft pastry on the outside, sweet cream filling within — is a mouthwatering indulgence. Kept refrigerated and coated with a sugary glaze, it’s refreshing and decadent all at once. 

Though Paul has locations all over Europe and in Florida, the Penn Quarter shop is the only one in the area. 

During the lunchtime rush, the café’s line is long and steady, though it moves quickly, thanks to a lineup of friendly staff. Plus, every plate is available “to-go” for those in a rush to get back to work. 

There is abundant indoor seating, yet virtually every spot fills quickly during mealtime. Tables also dot the outdoor patio, which is shaded from the heat by oversized umbrellas. 

The café is full of tributes to the restaurant chain’s native Paris — romantic chandeliers dangle from the ceiling, French-style curtains partition the dining area and European art adorns the pale walls. 

With its savory dishes, lavish desserts and sophisticated décor, this Penn Quarter café is a delightful spot for Capitol Hill diners seeking a casual yet upscale — and certainly tasty — break from work.