By Esther Hidalgo and Charlotte Sturm, Host Committee Members
Fast Casual Food
Two intrepid diners. One a carefree omnivore who likes her vegetables as much as she likes her proteins. The other, a food lover whose dining experiences are impacted by dietary restrictions owing to a range of food allergies and sensitivities.
One urban setting: Washington, the District of Columbia. Growing in reputation as a city for foodies, DC offers something to appeal to every palate.
Their mission: to taste their way through just a few of the multitude of DC dining options and find restaurants that serve delicious food while still being able to accommodate special dietary needs. In this 2 part blog post, the diners will first cover some fast casual options, and later they will move on to more leisurely (and yes, pricey) sit-down options.
Located in Dupont Circle at 1528 Connecticut Aveneu NW, Beefsteak is a fast-casual restaurant by Jose Andres. It is almost 100% vegetarian in its culinary offerings; the optional add-ons of chicken sausage, poached egg, or salt-cured salmon may appeal to non-vegetarian dining companions. The menu is clearly marked to identify dishes which contain gluten and dishes which are vegan. Limited edition dishes like the Santorini Special highlight seasonal produce. And the Make Your Own option lets you build the exact meal that you want to, and can, eat. The full ingredient list for menu items is not apparent, so diners with extensive restrictions may have to ask questions about specific offerings. When presented with one such question, the staff member thoughtfully admitted to not being knowledgeable about those ingredients and promptly called a manager to assist. The manager easily and confidently responded to such questions, leading to a tasty and safe meal experience for both diners. One diner especially liked the Gazpacho Bowl, which was savory and refreshing, and paired nicely with the bag of Jose Andres signature potato chips, which were crumbled over top.
Cava serves up fast-casual Mediterranean-inspired salads and grain-based bowls. They have locations all over the city, including in the Dupont Circle area at 1222 Connecticut Avenue NW. The a la carte ordering system begins with the customer declaring their “base,” and then moving, assembly line-style, through a selection of dips/spreads, proteins, vegetables, and toppings. Cava partners with local farms to source fresh and seasonal ingredients. The staff are knowledgeable and friendly about questions relating to dietary restrictions. Some stores have printed menus with dietary information for Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Vegetarian, Vegan, and Soy Free diners. This menu is also available online at https://cava.com/menu/allergens. Even if you are a carefree omnivore, you may have questions about the array of options for your salad or grain bowl. Don’t be afraid to ask, so you don’t find out the hard way that the crazy feta spread might just be a little too crazy for your taste.
The Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe, located within the National Museum of the American Indian, offers a wide variety of dishes from the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Open from 11 am – 3 pm daily, this lunch spot is set up cafeteria-style, so diners can customize their meals from the huge assortment of a la carte options. Food offerings are organized into five different regional stations – Northern Woodlands, South America, the Northwest Coast, Meso America, and the Great Plains. Using ingredients such as bison, turkey, and salmon; green chiles; white and black beans; quinoa; and plantains, the resulting dishes such as ceviche, posole, soups, and seasonal salads are delectable and one-of-a-kind in the DC dining scene. Dishes are well described and pictured on cards (which also display the prices), but not every ingredient is listed, and there is the potential for cross-contamination in food preparation areas. Gluten-free dining should not be an issue at Mitsitam, but those with other food allergies should consult with staff or the restaurant manager before indulging.
Also of Note
If you’re joining your colleagues for baseball at Nationals Park on Friday night, rest assured that you can and will eat well at the game. The Gluten Free Grill, on the Main Concourse (section 100), serves exactly the celiac-friendly food its name suggests, and it also offers gluten-free wine and beer. A housemade veggie burger from the Georgetown Grill (section 130), fries topped with vegetarian chili from the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl (sections 110, 141, and 317), or dishes like veggie cheesesteaks, mushroom sandwiches, or a vegan crab cake at Field of Greens (section 136) could be just the ballpark food you’ve been searching for.
Although our diners did not make it to these two bakeries, they are highly rated on the Find Me Gluten Free app or website, and they may also suit other special dietary needs.
- Rise Bakery, 2405 18th Street NW (Also Egg, Nut & Dairy Free, Vegan Friendly)
- Olivia Macaron Bakery, 3222 M Street NW
And so our diners have come to the end of their fast casual dining adventure. Stay tuned for part two tomorrow, at which time our diners will spend a little more time to sit and savor their meals.