It’s only taken nine months, but President Trump has apparently learned that his new home city has restaurants.
“In Washington you do have some great restaurants, and I’m going to start going to them,” he told the Larry O’Connor Show earlier this week. “I was accused the other day, well, when I leave the White House, which is seldom, I always go to my hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue and they say, ‘He should go to other places.’ And I never thought of it, and I’m going to start doing it.”
While I’m not exactly eager to start competing with the Trumps for restaurant reservations, I do have some ideas of where the president should eat if he wants good food that will also acquaint him with Washington’s cultural and culinary scene. These places aren’t likely to serve Trump a steak well-done with ketchup, but I hope he’ll find them delicious nonetheless. And if not, well, maybe Melania and Barron will enjoy a nice night out.
1. Jaleo: José Andrés is one of the most important restaurateurs in Washington for a number of reasons: His company has a comparatively large number of outlets in the city, he’s mentored other important chefs such as Mike Isabella, his restaurant minibar helped push the city’s dining scene forward, and he’s also a leading activist chef in the city. That’s brought him into conflict with the president. Andrés pulled out of a planned restaurant in Trump’s downtown hotel after the then-candidate made his infamous comments about Mexican immigrants, and he’s supported actions like the Day Without an Immigrant strike. Currently, he’s feeding victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, in efforts that have dwarfed those of actual disaster relief nonprofits. To my mind, Jaleo is the most approachable of Andrés’s restaurants, and one of the tastiest. Trump should start there, both as a gesture of reconciliation and as an attempt to broaden his palate.
2. Rasika or Rasika West End: Sure, there are flashier entrants in the D.C. restaurant roster. But Ashok Bajaj’s flagship Indian restaurants in downtown Washington are consistently excellent and welcoming. And given Trump’s preferences and generally parochial eating experiences, it’s probably better for him start on new cuisines in a setting where he’ll feel comfortable — we can save a trip to Peter Chang and a tour of local Ethiopian joints until he’s at least made his way through this list. It’s true that the Obamas loved Rasika, which might be a turnoff. But maybe Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley can reassure Trump; she had dinner there earlier this week.
3. Lapis: Trump’s ruminations on the rest of the world can often veer off into abstraction. To broaden his horizons (and also to eat some really delicious dumplings and kebabs), he should check out this terrific, family-run Afghan restaurant in Adams Morgan and get a sense of some of the many contributions Islamic tradition has made not just to the world, but to D.C.’s food scene. (The Popal family, which previously ran a French restaurant in the same space, came to America during the Soviet-Afghan war, and Shamim Popal picked up French cooking techniques during visits to family in Europe.) Lapis uses only halal meat, and in a gesture to visitors who don’t drink either because of their faith, or because, like Trump, they have a family history of alcoholism, they also have a very nice non-alcoholic drinks menu.
4. Taqueria Nacional: I’m still mourning the loss of my beloved Cashion’s Eat Place, in part by eating all the tacos from Ann Cashion and John Fulchino that I can get my hands on. Cashion has been a fixture of D.C. dining for decades; even before she went out on her own, she cooked at Restaurant Nora, which helped advance the organic food movement in Washington. Trump could go the sit-down route and visit Cashion’s Johnny’s Half Shell, which relocated to the old Cashion’s Eat Place location in 2016. But to my mind, his best bet is to grab a big order of tacos, some yuca fries and an agua fresca. Even a president accustomed to white tablecloth dining has to eat in a rush sometimes, right?
5. Mirabelle: Admittedly, I’ve used this list to nudge Trump out of his culinary and cultural comfort zone. So in the interest of giving him a recommendation where he’d probably be totally at home, he should check out this very high-end, very good French restaurant that is one of the newer additions to D.C. It’s lovely, delicious, formal and pricey. It would be a shame if that’s where Trump’s dining experiences in Washington ended, but there’s no shame in having one completely classic splurge on your list.