Celebrate America in our Nation’s Capital
Having lived in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. for the past 15 years, I’m convinced our nation’s capital is one of the best places to visit for plenty of safe and wonderful gluten-free dining choices. Squeeze in some great meals between stops at our nation’s most popular monuments and museums, and you’ll have all the makings of a perfect long-weekend getaway.
There are gluten-free friendly restaurants in virtually every neighborhood of Washington, D.C. (you’ll find hundreds of places reviewed if you do a search by town/zip code on glutenfreetravelsite.com). But one area in particular – Penn Quarter – has become a haven for gluten-free diners. In fact, it’s our family’s favorite spot when venturing from the Virginia suburbs into D.C.
Over the past 20 years, this area of Washington, D.C. has undergone a transformation into a dining and entertainment mecca. Located in the northwest quadrant of the city, it loosely encompasses the area north of Pennsylvania Avenue and south of Chinatown, between 5th and 10th streets. Restaurants have sprung up in this newly redeveloped area anchored by the Verizon Center sports and entertainment arena. You’ll also find museums, theaters, and art galleries, as well as farmers markets and food and wine festivals.
My personal favorite museum nearby is the Newseum, which is a relative newcomer to the city (it opened in 2008). Here you’ll find seven levels of interactive displays focusing on news, photojournalism, and artifacts from historic events. There’s a 9/11 Gallery, as well as a section from the Berlin Wall, including an East German guard tower. Nearby Ford’s Theatre is another must-visit – the site of President Lincoln’s assassination in 1865 and now a renovated theater and historic site.
Kids of all ages will love the fascinating International Spy Museum, which happens to have a Pi Pizzeria (with gluten-free pizza) on the same block. The National Archives Building, home of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights is also nearby.
Restaurants in Penn Quarter that offer gluten-free menus – or items designated gluten-free on their regular menu – include Clyde’s, a local chain of All-American restaurants, each with its own character. Rosa Mexicano is another personal favorite. This authentic Mexican restaurant is lively, fun, and offers quality Mexican food, including the best tableside guacamole I’ve ever had!
Nearby Jaleo is the place to go for Spanish tapas, with many choices that are naturally gluten-free. Another tapas venue and relatively new arrival to the area is La Tasca. We discovered La Tasca and its gluten-free menu several years ago, when visiting London, so we were thrilled to see it has started expanding into the U.S. Both Jaleo and La Tasca are great places to sample many different offerings with a group of people.
For Italian food at its best, head to Carmine’s. This is the same Carmine’s that put family-style Italian on the map in New York City. You’ll leave feeling happy and stuffed – and pleasantly surprised with the range of gluten-free choices, including delicious gluten-free pasta. (I highly recommend the Chicken Contadina with sausage and peppers and the gluten-free pasta with white clam sauce.)
If you like seafood, Legal Sea Foods is a standout and was one of the first chains to offer a gluten-free menu to guests over a decade ago. Even Lucky Strike bowling alley in nearby Gallery Place has gluten-free options.
If you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous, consider Rasika, one of the hottest restaurant openings in recent years. Even if you’re trying Indian cuisine for the first time, I think you’ll agree that Rasika’s flavorful offerings make your taste buds sing with joy.
We consulted with the owner and our server before ordering, as gluten-free items are not marked on the menu. However, like many Indian restaurants, almost the entire menu at Rasika is naturally gluten-free. They also take great care to avoid cross contamination. Just let them know you are following a gluten-free diet for medical reasons. (And that goes for any of the restaurants mentioned here.) We ordered a nice variety of entrees to share, along with the house specialty appetizer, Palak Chaat – crispy baby spinach dusted in garbanzo bean flour and lightly fried. Although you won’t be able to enjoy the traditional tandoor oven-baked naan bread, you can order pancake-type bread made from rice and garbanzo bean flour, which is a nice alternative and reminded me a bit of the injera bread used in Ethiopian cooking.
Other notable hotspots I haven’t personally tried – but that have been favorably reviewed – are Oyamel Cocina Mexicana, Rustico, and Zaytinya.
If you still have room for dessert after dinner at any of these amazing restaurants – or if you’re looking for a mid-afternoon treat, head to Red Velvet Cupcakery. They offer both chocolate and vanilla gluten-free cupcakes, which also happen to be vegan. (But you’d swear their icing is true buttercream.)
Penn Quarter is also a good base for your stay. Along with having all these dining options, you’re just north of the National Mall, making many monuments and museums very accessible. There are nice hotels in a range of prices, including Hotel Monaco, Courtyard Washington Convention Center, or Fairfield Inn and Suites.
In addition to Penn Quarter, the city has so many other thriving neighborhoods to explore like Georgetown, home to my alma mater. Some of the restaurants and bars have been around since I went to school there back in the late 80s/early 90s, while new venues spring up all the time. Filomena Ristorante and Il Canale are Italian spots in the heart of Georgetown that offer gluten-free options.
Old Town Alexandria, down the Potomac River in Virginia, is another similar historic enclave with cobblestone streets, shops, cafes, and galleries. Here, The Happy Tart is the gluten-free star. This traditional French bakery is 100 percent gluten-free and offers everything from éclairs, macarons, and quiche, to pies, cookies, and special occasion cakes. They have another location in Falls Church, Virginia, too – just outside the city.
Rise Bakery is another blessing for the gluten-free community in the D.C. area. Located in Adams Morgan, a culturally diverse neighborhood with different types of global cuisine, Rise Bakery is currently Washington D.C.’s only gluten-free bakery. They have apparently mastered the gluten-free croissant and bagel, which we have yet to try. You may even find their breads and sweets on local restaurant menus, as they also have a wholesale business.
Restaurants aren’t quite as prevalent around the National Mall (the area between the Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Capitol building, flanked by monuments and museums). However, the National Museum of the American Indian has a reputation for wonderful cuisine, much of which is noted as being gluten-free. Consider visiting around lunchtime.
Clearly, you won’t be able to take in all that Washington, D.C. has to offer in one trip, unless you stay for a month! The spring, summer, and fall are all beautiful times to visit, although it can get crowded at times. It’s a pedestrian-friendly city that gives you the opportunity to stroll among the glorious monuments and soak in the history and culture of its unparalleled museums. So, pick a weekend, and get ready to fall in love with our country all over again!
Lovers of history, politics, museums, and art will never be bored in Washington, D.C. Here are some of the most popular sites:
Arlington National Cemetery
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
International Spy Museum
Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin
Korean War Veterans Memorial
Library of Congress
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
National Air and Space Museum
National Archives Building
National Gallery of Art
National Museum of African American History and Culture
National Museum of American History
National Museum of Natural History
National Museum of the American Indian
United States Capitol
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
White House and Ellipse
World War II Memorial
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Karen Broussard publishes glutenfreetravelsite.com and the free DINE GLUTEN FREE mobile app. Both contain thousands of GF dining and travel reviews from around the world. Karen is also the publisher of the Gluten Free Travel Blog (glutenfreetravelblog.typepad.com) and two e-books available on Amazon: Gluten-Free in London and Gluten-Free in Italy.