Best time to go: 10/01 - 12/31
Washington, DC’s international heritage goes well beyond the many embassies along Connecticut Avenue, and although many of its cultural centers (such as U-Street’s Little Ethiopia) are within the city limits, you may need to drive outside the city proper to experience the most authentic foreign communities.
Take Arlington, for example. Just across the river from Washington, DC, Arlington has one of the highest concentrations of foreign-born residents in the United States, and the diaspora of DC’s suburbs span many different cultures, from the Salvadorian community along Columbia Pike to the proud Korean community of Annandale. Here are just a few of our family discoveries:
The “Little Saigon” of Eden Center
One of DC’s best kept secrets is the Eden Center cultural center, where you can experience Vietnamese traditions, food and culture, just outside the DC city limits. The largest Asian-themed mall on the East Coast, Eden Center’s offerings go far beyond the restaurants that Anthony Bourdain visited in 2009. From inexpensive nicknacks to hand out at your next dinner-party, to the exotic produce and live seafood at the Good Fortune Supermarket, the offerings are nearly as endless as a bazaar in Saigon.
Although there is a standing argument over whether the best Chinese food in the area is Rockville’s Bob’s 66 (the old Bob’s Noodle House) or that Panda Gourmet in the Day’s Inn (2700 New York Ave NE), you can still find a decent noodle in DC’s Chinatown (near the Capital One Arena). And there are also some tiny shops that offer tourists the same inexpensive goods you’d find in its larger counterparts in New York, LA or San Francisco.
If you’ve never had Korean Barbecue, start at Honey Pig BBQ, our favorite spot for bulgogi and K-pop. But don’t stop there. More adventurous foodies find comfort at Nak Won and Yechon Korean. Somewhere between the lavish platter of fermented veggies that comes with every meal and your last order from the Soju menu, you’ll find yourself transported to another land.
Arlandria / Chirilagua
This private low-income neighborhood in Northern Alexandria was settled by immigrants from El Salvador’s Chirilagua in the 1960s. The population exploded in the 1980s as refugees from El Salvador’s civil war sought safety among their relatives and friends. You can visit the beautiful mural outside the Arlandria-Chirilagua Community Center (which is both a cultural center and a place for civic activism) or grab a Plata Tipico or Pupusas at one of the many Salvadorean restaurants just south of Four Mile run. Two favorites are Señora Lola Taquería and El Pulgarcito (known for its tongue tacos).
With over 200,000 Ethiopian immigrants (and counting), DC is home to the largest Ethiopian community in the world (outside Ethiopia, of course!). Like the Salvadorean community, the Ethiopian community was built by refugees: in this case from Ethiopia’s military coup in the 1970s. The community and best restaurants are spread throughout the region (Meaza on Columbia Pike is our favorite), but the biggest concentration are in DC’s Shaw neighborhood (9th and U) and the Build America Plaza, a strip mall and cultural center near Bailey’s Crossroads.
Abrams, Amanda, Capital melting pot? Not when it comes to food, Boston.com, 2010.