Photo by Bi Yoo

Wait! Before you reach for those Lay’s potato chips, consider scarfing down some of these District-born snacks instead. Not only are they more nourishing, they’re also packed with local pride. Express put them to the test and determined our favorites based on a very unscientific factor: how eager we were to grab another handful.

Chiqs

What do you do after you’ve founded a law firm? Make chickpea chips. At least that’s what husband and wife Mike and Kaitlin Forster did. Kaitlin was seeking a creative outlet and started experimenting with chickpea recipes in their Logan Circle apartment. The result was Chiqs, crackers made with blended chickpeas, organic sunflower oil, salt and organic spices, depending on the flavor. The non-greasy, gluten-free snack falls between health food and junk food. “I’m from the Midwest,” Kaitlin says. “If it’s something I can get my family in Michigan to eat, it’s a success.”
Snackability: The chips lack the signature crunch of most crackers, but the balanced seasonings make up for it.

Fruitcycle

One woman’s trash is another woman’s ingredients. Fruitcycle founder Elizabeth Bennett takes excess, bruised or misshapen apples and kale from local farms and spins them into delicious grub. Apples are dusted with cinnamon and dehydrated until chewy, while the kale chips are made with a cashew sauce that gives them crunch. Both are produced in Northeast D.C. and are gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan. Additionally, Bennett — formerly the director of outreach and communications for the U.S. Healthful Food Council — employs disadvantaged and formerly incarcerated women.
Snackability: Opt for the kale. The cashew sauce mimics Parmesan cheese and adds flavor.

Black Pug Smokehouse

Ted Wanstrath and his wife, Katie, are avid grillers who wowed friends with their smoked meats. They wanted to start a BBQ business, but since the smoked meat scene is crowded, they focused instead on snacks. Black Pug Smokehouse launched this year out of Union Kitchen, where the couple sell smoked cheeses, nuts and peanut butters. Ted’s latest creation is smoked candy pecans cooked in a smoker beneath a pork shoulder. “The drippings get all over the nuts, and it caramelizes them,” he says. To avoid an overwhelming flavor, Ted limits the amount of time food spends in the smoker.
Snackability: We could eat the BBQ peanuts by the bagful.

Cajun Meets Asian

We thought nuts dusted with Cajun and Asian spices made for an unlikely combination, too. But then Cajun Meets Asian owner Ross Perkins broke it down for us. “There’s a lot of crossover with the two cuisines. Both cook with a lot of rice, pork and heat. It wasn’t too hard to make that leap.” Perkins makes his snacks out of Mess Hall, a shared kitchen in Northeast D.C. His pecans are rubbed with cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, black pepper and a few other spices. His pralines, traditionally a Southern snack, are made of peanuts with toasted sesame seeds, vanilla, sugar and butter. Be on the lookout for a trail mix soon.
Snackability: The pralines are delicious but decadent. Go easy.