Starting school in a new city can bring out a feeling of homesickness in your heart – and stomach.
Dishes that live up to family recipes can be difficult to find, but restaurants around the District serve up homestyle food that neatly aligns with fare from regions across the country. From Southern comfort food within walking distance of campus to companies replicating bagels with a tri-state finesse, you’re bound find a strong replacement.
Here are the best restaurants serving traditional dishes from across the country for when you have a hankering for food from home:
Tex-Mex may be more emblematic of the Southwestern region than cactuses, and Cactus Cantina, located in Cleveland Park, could become your hybrid taco joint away from home.
Cactus Cantina, a friendly restaurant that is no-frills and all flavor, serves up Tex-Mex fare at 3300 Wisconsin Ave. NW. Immerse yourself in the rich spices of chiles rellenos stuffed with either beef or cheese ($15.95) or chile con queso ($7.25). Or dive into melted cheese on nachos ($10.95) loaded with queso, refried beans, guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo to really feel at home.
The restaurant also offers more mainstream dishes like a taco platter ($13.95) with the option of ground beef or chicken with lettuce and diced tomatoes, cheese and vegetable quesadillas ($9.95) and chicken enchiladas ($12.95) filled with melted cheese and chile ancho – more commonly known as poblano – sauce that is light and mild to taste.
If you find friends who are also from the Southwest region, feast with them on Cactus Cantina’s plato gordo, which serves up to four people. Split the pricey $72.95 meal four ways, and you and your crew will quickly rip through beef and chicken fajitas, costillas – BBQ pork ribs – and camarones diablo, a spicy shrimp dish. The platter lets you dress your own food with flour tortillas, rice, guacamole, pico de gallo and beans.
Poke, a raw fish salad that is native to Hawaii, has been trending across major cities over the past few years, and D.C. is no exception.
Even District House’s basement food area has caught on with the trend, adding Onolicious Poke earlier this year.
Abunai Poke, another D.C. shop not far from campus, brings traditional Hawaiian poke and dishes to the District through its storefront at 1920 L St. NW and food truck.
The restaurant’s menu consists of signature and build-your-own bowls. Abunai’s signature bowls include options like the garlic ahi ($12.95) with ahi tuna, garlic, green and white onions, mixed greens, seaweed salad and rice in Abunai’s house sauce. Abunai also offers shrimp poke ($11.95) with shrimp, green onions, mixed greens, avocado, cucumbers, wasabi aioli and rice.
For vegetarians or vegans, go for the tofu poke ($9.95) with white and green onions, cucumbers, mixed greens, sea asparagus and miso dressing with rice and still get a taste of familiarity.
New York Tri-State Area
Anyone from the New York, Connecticut and New Jersey area knows that bagels just aren’t the same in other places. However, D.C. bagel company Call Your Mother Deli will remind you of mom and pop shops with its light but filling dough and heavenly cream cheeses.
The Call Your Mother team has been making bagels at farmers markets across the District since the end of March before opening their storefront at 3301 Georgia Ave. NW later this year. Bagels can typically be found at District farmers markets like Dupont Circle FreshFarm market and the USDA farmers market on the National Mall, where they sell individual rolls, along with half-dozens ($15) and dozens ($25).
Sink your teeth into Call Your Mother’s wood-fired bagels in plain, sesame and everything flavors, with spreads of cream cheese ($4.50), butter ($4) or the sweetly savory bacon peanut butter ($7). For those who grew up on bagels and lox, add smoked salmon ($3.5) for a classic salty bite.
If the trek to a farmers market isn’t for you, Wawa, which opened early this year, is a casual yet beloved 24-hour convenience store loved by those in the tri-state area who need a bite on the run with a taste of home. They have sizzli breakfast bagels that you can pick up at the checkout desk, or kiosks to make your own gourmet breakfast hoagie.
If you’re from the South or just love Southern food, you’re in luck. The District has an abundance of Southern food options – especially when it comes to fried chicken.
Venture from Foggy Bottom to enjoy a top-notch fried food cure. Oohh’s & Aahh’s on U Street is a D.C. treasure with multiple food awards and a featured appearance on the television show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
Head to its location at 1005 U St. NW for fried chicken ($9.95 to $13.95) accompanied by classic soul food sides like macaroni and cheese ($3.95), collard greens ($2.95) and cornbread ($1).
No matter how full you may be after your meal, dessert is a must at Oohh’s & Aahh’s, even if you take it to go. Get a slice of hummingbird cake ($5.95) – a pineapple cake with banana cream cheese frosting – or apple pie ($4.95).