Visiting the sprawling capital of the United States and planning where to get food? You’ll find it’s a hurried affair. Nearly a third of its population of 670,000 works in the federal government, and if you’re imagining people in suits too busy to sit down for lunch, you’d be bang on the money.
Fast-casual eateries are a booming business in DC – but if you’re tearing though for the first time on a sightseeing deadline, you might be feeling resigned to eating all the unhealthy things. Thankfully, there are better choices available. Some of these grab-and-bite restaurants are designed to provide good food at great speed, with the emphasis on “good”. They pride themselves on making healthy, sustainable and above all delicious meals and drinks that residents and visitors would want to stop and savor (if only they had the time).
Here’s my pick of ten of the absolute best places to get healthy food in Washington D.C.
800 22nd St NW
The name’s intentionally ridiculous – this restaurant is all about putting vegetables first. Technically it’s neither vegetarian nor vegan, but Beefsteak’s love of green, leafy things infuses every dish they prepare, with a killer line of steamed vegetables over base grains accompanied by sauce or crispy toppings.
Find Beefsteak in three locations around DC: George Washington University (at the corner of 22nd & I. St. NW), Tenleytown (4531 Wisconsin Ave.) and Dupont Circle (1528 Connecticut Ave.).
888 17th St NW #104
This homegrown chain is obsessed with salad – not the limp, uninspiring kind you usually see cowering under saran wrap, but a riot of color and freshness that makes you salivate just by looking at it. It started with three Georgetown University students who went straight to farmers’ markets for their stock – and now sweetgreen’s all about using local, sustainable produce, much of it delivered that morning.
Find it in six locations across the city, including Capitol Hill and Georgetown – and expect long queues at peak times.
Busboys and Poets
2021 14th St NW
Designed as a community gathering place for artists and other people with Big Ideas, Busboys and Poets has also carved out a reputation for great food – especially the sweet potato pancakes. Come for the eclectic ambience (the website is a good indicator), and stay for the healthy, locally sourced food – and the in-house bookstore, Politics and Prose.
There are six Busboys across DC, including its flagship location at 14th & V Streets NW.
2009 R St NW
As you’d guess, Teaism serves tea, more than 50 varieties – but it’s also concerned with the wider world of simple, beautiful Asian-based cuisine. Alongside the bubble tea, greens, chai, oolongs and tisanes you’ll find bento boxes, salty oat cookies, stir-fry and sandwiches – and even more tea to wash it all down with.
Find a Teaism at Dupont Circle (2009 R Street NW), Lafayette Park (800 Connecticut Ave NW) and Penn Quarter (400 8th Street NW).
Triple B Fresh
If you’ve never tried the super-healthy Korean bibimbap – described in The Guardian as “the champion of comfort foods” – then Triple B Fresh is an excellent choice for lunch or dinner, especially at the weekend (it’s open from 11am, seven days a week). If you hanker for a little more protein, try the bulgoli (fire meat), a dish centred around grilled marinated beef.
Find Triple B Fresh, complete with outdoor seating, at 1506 19th Street NW.
1314 9th St NW
A sandwich shop with a difference, SUNdeVICH is built into a converted garage – and doesn’t have a freezer or walk-in cooler. This means their bread is incredibly fresh, baked that day by a local bakery, and once it’s all used up, they stop serving. You’ll find sandwiches paying homage to the cuisine of different countries – the Istanbul, the Buenos Aires, etc. – and they locally source their ingredients. It’s popular, so expect a queue every day but Sunday (the only day it’s shut).
Head to 3210 Grace Street NW and look for the painted wall pointing you down a side-alley.
Khepra’s Raw Food Juice Bar
402 H St NE
This is a raw food and natural juice outlet that takes a firm line on sourcing products it agrees with. From the website: “carrots are a man created food that you will never find growing wild in nature and wheatgrass is for four legged animals.” Okay then.
Khepra’s Raw Food Juice Bar is part of a health & wellness store, giving it a rough & ready feel and showcasing their mantra of quality over appearance. Find platters, sides, entrees and desserts on the food side, along with bottled juice & juice cleansers – the latter available as 7 and 14 day programs to give your health a positive kick.
Find Khepra’s at 402 H Street NE.
3207 Grace St NW
Tacos! Delicious. Much-loved. Not always so healthy. Enter Chaia, a vegetarian and vegan gluten-free restaurant that offers seasonal, plant-based tacos stuffed with potatoes, mushrooms, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and the like. Everything’s impressively streamlined and minimalist (the menu, the service and the surroundings), and it’s both popular and compact, so if you’re wanting a seat, skip rush hour.
Find Chaia at 3207 Grace Street, off Wisconsin Ave and parallel to the C+O Canal.
1400 K St NW
Brand new (established in 2015), Skwr specialises in “exotically seasoned proteins rotated over an open flame”, better known as kabobs – and has a tasty, experimental line of healthy Mediterranean dishes. Pick your grains, protein, spread and topping, and once the heap is high enough, head for your table. (Make sure you try the unusual falafel, made with white beans instead of chickpeas.)
Find Skwr at 1400 K Street NW.
Sticky Fingers Bakery
1370 Park Rd NW
If you’re eating healthily and you’re avoiding dessert, you’re doing it wrong. Sticky Fingers is run by Doron Petersan, the “punk rock queen of vegan cupcakes” (Washington Post), and its range of cupcakes, cookies, brownies and pastries are a credible attempt to please everyone’s sweet tooth, whether they’re vegan or not. Would you try out a peanut butter fudge cupcake that’s good for your health? Yeah, who wouldn’t?
Find Sticky Fingers Bakery at 1370 Park Road NW.