Imagine you've been roaming the National Mall for hours, when America's front yard can feel like America's front line, and your kids suddenly hit the wall. Not the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall, but the invisible wall of hunger, the one that leaves young ones crankier than a one-eyed purple Minion hankering for a banana.
Now imagine you don’t have bottled water or Goldfish snacks to calm your savage preteen. Where near the vast Mall would you turn, when even a short walk with a famished child can feel like a Lewis and Clark expedition over the Great Divide? The Mall, after all, is a contradictory landscape: It's packed with food options, most of which reveal nothing about the D.C. scene.
Sure, you could duck into the National Air and Space Museum and quiet those rumbling tummies with a Happy Meal from McDonald's in the Wright Place Food Court. Or you could follow our advice.
Quick bites and sips
Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken is great if you just need a sweet to hold you till dinner. Its ingenious creme brulee confection earned the top spot in the Food Section's best doughnut contest in 2013. 1308 G St. NW, 202-809-5565.
L’Enfant Plaza Metro station, where many fine food trucks gather during the weekdays, is the site of some serious street fare. 600 Maryland Ave. SW.
Mitsitam Cafe in the National Museum of the American Indian is hands-down the best of the museum cafeterias, dishing up interesting indigenous foods in a pleasant setting. Fourth Street and Independence Ave. SW.
National Place food court has lots of seating, with fare from local burger and fries favorite Five Guys and Korean taco joint TaKorean. 1331 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
Teaism is great for a quick, healthful meal or pot of tea, plus kids love the koi pond in the eatery's lower level. 400 Eighth St. NW, 202-638-6010.
Pitango sells excellent gelato far better than the packaged treats hawked from carts around the museums. 413 Seventh St. NW, 202-885-9607.
Red Apron has some first-rate sandwiches that will keep you satiated for hours. 709 D St. NW, 202 524 5244.
WTF (stands for Woodward Takeout Food, thank you very much), where you can dig into the freshly made flatbreads, sandwiches (including grilled cheese for the wee ones) and desserts, all overseen by Jeffrey Buben, one of the most demanding and discerning chefs in the District. 1426 H St. NW, 202-347-5355.
With more time and money
China Chilcano is chef-and-restaurateur José Andrés's ambitious take on Peruvian, Chinese and Japanese fusion fare. 418 Seventh St. NW, 202-783-0941.
Oyamel, a Mexican Andrés property that prepares tight, ingredient-focused small plates, can be ideal for curious palates with more fixed budgets. 401 Seventh St. NW, 202-628-1005.
The Partisan, Red Apron's sister restaurant, serves meats of various ages and heat treatments, from the raw to the dry-cured and everything in between. 709 D St. NW, 202-524-5322.
Old Ebbitt Grill, speaking of history, is a saloon and oyster slurptopia that can trace its origins to 1856. 675 15th St. NW, 202-347-4800.
[This story was originally published Sept. 16, 2015, and has been updated. Becky Krystal contributed to this report.]