Hungry? Make Like a Local and Follow the food trucks
“Meet you at McPherson Square—lobster rolls!” “Time for a cupcake break—corner of 3rd and D.” All day long weekdays and somewhat on weekends, D.C. workers of all trades and echelons text, tweet, e-mail, or phone friends to arrange a food-on-the-move rendezvous. They track the routes of favorite “food trucks,” that most unappetizing name for the legion of mobile cook-and-serve vendors, each hocking its own irresistible specialty: gourmet macaroni and cheese, empanadas, Philly cheesesteaks, Maine lobster rolls, all sorts of desserts—you get the idea.
Traditional sidewalk and roadway merchants selling hot dogs and T-shirts still abound in all the usual sightseeing places, including in clusters around the National Mall. These are not them. This next generation of food trucks switches up street fare, tweets its location so hungry patrons know where to go, and still manages to keep prices reasonable (generally ranging from $3 for a Curbside Cupcake to $15 for a Red Hook Lobster Pound lobster roll). These days, close to 200 different trucks roll around town, setting up shop at designated spots before driving on to their next location.
For a complete list of D.C.’s food trucks, go to www.foodtruckfiesta.com, which also displays a map in real time of food-truck stops and messages. The website includes links to each truck’s website, where menus, travel routes, and prices are posted.
Laws prohibit gourmet food trucks from parking and serving on federal property, so you won’t find these trucks parked along the inside roads (Jefferson and Madison drives) of the National Mall (though the aforementioned stationary vendors selling hot dogs and T-shirts are allowed, for some reason). They’re never far away, though.
Chocolate Lounges & Cupcake Shops
Busted! Washingtonians are finally exposed for what we are: chocoholics and sweet-cake addicts. An explosion of chocolate lounges and cupcake shops has forced us to come clean. Outposts of Sprinkles and Crumbs keep popping up around town, as do those of Paul Bakery. But let’s talk about excellent homegrown sweet shops, shall we? If you answer to the same passion for something desserty, join the queue at one of these four personally vouched-for places:
Co Co. Sala, 929 F St. NW (www.cocosala.com; tel 202/347-4265): This chocolate lounge and boutique is a sweet refuge in the heart of the Penn Quarter, dispensing coffees, cocoas, pastries, and small plates of light fare throughout the day. Dessert cocktails and chocolate-spiked liqueurs are on tap into the wee hours.
Dog Tag Bakery, 3206 Grace St. NW (www.dogtagbakery.com; tel 202/407-9609): Both bakery and work study program for disabled vets, this sunny Georgetown café makes my favorite cinnamom bun. It also serves up superb breakfast breads and pastries, bundt cake, apple pies, and non-bakery items, too, like sandwiches and soups.
Georgetown Cupcake, 3301 M St. NW (www.georgetowncupcake.com; [tel] 202/333-8448): Two sisters, 12 daily flavors, darling designs and packaging, and perfect baked goods. Locals vote the chocolate ganache the best cupcake in the city; I love the lemon cupcake with lemon cream cheese frosting. Georgetown Cupcake is so popular that the TLC network developed a reality TV show featuring the lovely cupcake makers, Sophie LaMontagne and Katherine Kallinis. Georgetown Cupcake now has locations in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Boston.
Rare Sweets, 963 Palmer Alley NW (www.raresweets.com; tel 202/499-0077): CityCenterDC is full of chi chi shops and big names: Dior, Hermes, David Yurman, Carolina Herrara. And then there’s this tiny gem tucked away on little Palmer Alley, where pastry chef Meredith Tomason concocts variations on classic cakes, as well as seasonal specials: German chocolate, lemon and rhubarb, and lavender and buttercream, to name a few flavors. At $5 or $5.50 a slice, it’s the best deal in the upscale complex.
Red Velvet Cupcakery, 505 7th St. NW (www.redvelvetcupcakery.com; tel 202/347-7895): Located in the heart of the Penn Quarter, Red Velvet stays open until 11pm nightly, happy to accommodate the bar and club crowd when a yen for a sweet something hits. It also serves hot chocolate to go.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.