Cities take penpalling to a whole new level. As a part of its unwieldy sounding Sister City Agreements and Protocols of Friendship initiative, the District has partnered with more than a dozen capitals around the globe – plus Sunderland, England, the ancestral home of George Washington – to exchange ideas about everything from economic development and government administration to education and cultural projects.
Looking at the worldly list of BFFs made our mouth water as we started thinking about all the delicious dishes we would devour if we took the time to visit all these cities. Then we began considering the cost of all that travel. As much as we’d love to wrack up the frequent flier miles, we came up with a new plan. Here are restaurants in the Capital Region where you can sample the cuisines of D.C.’s sister cities – without buying thousands of dollars worth of plane tickets.
Bangkok, Thailand: Thai X-ing
Vibrant, deeply complex food that takes you on a journey that touches every taste bud – and probably a few you didn’t know existed. The five- to seven-course tasting menu of homespun food changes nightly, though it’s a good bet that the iconic pumpkin curry spiced with plenty of red chilies will be served.
Dakar, Senegal: Chez Dior
This supremely satisfying West African fare deftly balances spicy and smoky components with fermented funk and bright acid. Case in point is the beloved chargrilled yassa chicken served with lemon-brightened onions and a firecracker of a hot sauce.
Beijing Municipality, People’s Republic of China: Peking Gourmet Inn
As the eatery’s name implies, Peking duck is the house specialty. Carved tableside, the bird’s crackly deep brown skin parts to reveal juicy dark meat, which goes well with the plethora of pancakes, hoisin, and spring onions that are its accompaniments.
Brussels Capital Region, Belgium: Et Voila!
Snuggled in the heart of the Palisades, this charming bistro boasts warm vibes, congenial staff, and a robust menu. Don’t leave without trying their famed mussel burger bound together with a creamy scallop mousse.
Paris, France: Mirabelle
A gorgeously appointed, high-end French restaurant with an enviable view of the White House from its see-and-be-seen patio. James Beard Award winner Frank Ruta puts out classic French fare with a playful flair, complemented by artful desserts from pastry chef Aggie Chin.
Athens, Greece: Kapnos
Executive chef-partner George Pagonis puts out plates that charm with their sophisticated rusticity and deep flavors. Though you will find some longtime Greek favorites on the menu – spanakopita (spinach pie), saganaki (fried cheese), and taramosalata (carp roe spread) – they all feature twists on the classic preparations.
Seoul Metropolitan Government, Republic of Korea: Lighthouse Tofu & Barbecue Restaurant
Dishes weave together searing spice, fearless funk, and rich umami tones. Whether you’re feeling adventurous or are looking for something a little more restrained, the friendly staff can point you in the right direction.
Accra, Ghana: Appioo African Bar & Grill
Once you try the fetching food of this West African nation, you’ll be hooked for life. Rounds of dumpling-like fufu surrounded by a pool of peanutty soup and chunks of succulent goat, aromatic jollof rice, and flavorful okra stew with a ball of banku (slightly fermented corn and cassava) are all great gateways to the Gold Coast’s culinary heritage.
Sunderland, United Kingdom: Duke’s Grocery
Come for the award-winning burger, stay for the sarnies, vegetarian tikka masala, and the epic avocado toast topped off with a runny egg. The vibe is relaxed, the portions are beyond generous, and the drinks are strong, so plan on hanging out for a while.
Rome, Italy: Osteria Morini
Michael White’s D.C. debut soars. To be convinced, just try a single bite of executive chef Ben Pflaumer’s cappelletti stuffed with truffled ricotta and gussied up with plenty of butter and prosciutto.
Ankara, Turkey: Ottoman Taverna
Istanbul native Ilhan Erkek offers a greatest hits of Turkish cuisine, so his recipes are sourced from the width and breadth of the country’s 81 provinces. A selection of meze is a must, especially the haydari (thick labneh yogurt enlivened with dill and mint), Carcashian chicken (chicken salad with mashed up walnuts), and muhammara (ground eggplant and walnuts).
Brasilia, Brazil: The Grill from Ipanema
Chef Alcy De Souza offers an epic menu, encompassing a broad swathe of his home country’s cuisine. He makes a mean feijoada – Brazil’s national dish – a thick black bean stew fortified with plenty of protein, including beef, pork sausage, and smoked meats.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Ghion Ethiopian Restaurant
Prepare to get your hands dirty, because you won’t find any forks here. Instead, you rip off scraps of spongy injera bread and use them to pick up dabs of wats (spicy stews), kifto (beef tartare), and saucy lamb tibs fired up with jalapeños.
Nevin Martell is a D.C.-based based freelance writer focused on food, travel, and parenting. Follow him on Twitter @nevinmartell and on Instagram @nevinmartell.