Below, we’ve rounded up eight Washington, D.C. restaurants where you can try food from around the world, including Salvadorian pupusas, Azerbaijani honey cake, and more.
Laotian: Thip Khao
Thip Khao is the type of restaurant that’s always a good idea. The menu is unlike anything you’ll find at other Laotian restaurants, in D.C. and otherwise, with more flavors and textures than you could possibly try in one sitting.
The naem khao—a crispy coconut rice salad with peanut, lime, scallion, cilantro, and, for $2 extra, sour pork (it’s worth every penny)—is tangy, crispy, chewy, crunchy, salty, and cooling all at once. Also don’t miss the sticky rice (the sole dessert on the menu), especially if it’s being served with pumpkin on the day you visit.
Sichuan: Chang Chang
Owned by enigmatic local chef Peter Chang, Chang Chang brings authentic Sichuan cuisine to Dupont Circle. The range of the menu is impressive, but seek out the dry-fried vegetables and the tofu skin salad with doubanjiang dressing. Also don’t miss chef Pichet Ong’s desserts; he’s a master of the not-too-sweet but just-right meal ender, like soft chevre cheesecake and coconut mochi.
Salvadoran: El Rinconcito
El Rinconcito is the exact type of neighborhood cafe you want to find when you’re visiting a new city: it’s small, unassuming, and full of locals. The pupusas come in delicious varieties like revuelta (pork and cheese) and loroco con queso (cheese and a Central American herb that tastes like spinach), and are served with velvety smooth black beans and curtido (a Salvadoran cabbage slaw) with just the right amount of crunch.
El Rinconcito is walkable to downtown and the convention center, but far enough from the tourist fray that you won’t find many out-of-towners here.
Cane is a bright spot on H Street, which can sometimes feel like a revolving door of restaurants. Owned by Jeanine Prime, who grew up in Trinidad, the spot celebrates the street food of her home country, from fall-off-the-bone oxtail to cumin-spiced pork belly. There are no wrong turns here, just jerk wings and doubles (Indian fried bread topped with cumin-spiced chickpeas).
There are people who don’t like to share food at dinner. Don’t bring them to Lapis. Go to Lapis with the kind of folks who want to pass around plates and fight over the last saucy spoonful of buranee bademjan (stewed eggplant with tomato-garlic sauce). And be sure to get plenty of dumplings—they’re all stars, but if you only order one kind, get the mantoo shrimp with saffron cream sauce.
Lunch here is quiet and peaceful; dinner feels like you’re part of a large-yet-cozy gathering. There’s a reason for that: the Popals, who own the restaurant, really know what good hospitality means. The family works to support Afghan refugees in the D.C. area by gathering donations, volunteering their time, and cooking Thanksgiving meals for those in need.
Sharbat, a quiet café in D.C.’s eclectic Adams Morgan neighborhood, is the place to go when you’re craving cake. Honey cake with several layers of sponge and cream, specifically. Called medovik, it’s a treat to savor slowly with a mug of tea. Also worth trying here is the pakhlava—the Azerbaijani version of baklava, with 12 layers of syrup-soaked, flaky dough studded with chopped nuts.
D.C. is home to the largest Ethiopian community outside of Africa and, thus, tons of Ethiopian restaurants. One of the best is Chercher. Its deluxe vegan special is a small-group-dining hero, with 10 different vegetable and bean dishes served over perfectly squishy injera bread. All the components are delicious, but you’ll be clamoring for the fosolia be carote (slightly sweet string beans and carrots) and the ye’ater kik alicha we’t (yellow split peas with onions, garlic, curry, and ginger).