The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

14 dishes you need to try before you can call yourself a D.C. foodie

Palak chaat is a signature fried spinach dish at Rasika. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Every year, The Washington Post publishes 40 Eats, a guide to the area's best dishes. So far, the total list includes more than 150 options. But what are the most essential among these many, many options? Here's a compilation of some of the city's must-try dishes, as featured in 40 Eats and other roundups. Let's dive in, shall we?

Palak chaat at Rasika and Rasika West End

You may never find a more delightful way to eat your greens. The base is a pile of paper-thin, almost translucent flash-fried spinach, tossed in tamarind chutney and yogurt and garnished with red onion. It's crispy, tart, sweet and perpetually popular. You'll see it on almost every table, so follow suit. 633 D St. NW; 1190 New Hampshire Ave. NW.

Khachapuri at Compass Rose

This boat-shaped creation is one of the most beloved dishes around Washington. Sometimes referred to as butter pizza, the Georgian specialty is a decadent combination of ricotta, feta and mozzarella, baked in a doughy crust and served with a pat of butter and an egg. Just make sure you have some friends to share it with. 1346 T St. NW.

Pork sausage, habanero and litchi salad at Rose's Luxury

There's plenty of turnover on the menu at Aaron Silverman's ever-buzzing Capitol Hill restaurant, but this spicy dish is a staple. Chili-heads will appreciate the heat imparted by the pork sausage and habanero pepper-infused broth. To counteract the spice, the salad includes litchi and a variety of herbs. Also making an appearance: coconut powder, peanuts and garlic chips. (A vegetarian version of the dish is available.) 717 Eighth St. SE.

Fried chicken at Central Michel Richard

The late Michel Richard was known for his high-low mash-ups that combined his French sensibilities and training with a love of American food. Perhaps there's no better example than his fried chicken, which remains on the menu with his protege, David Deshaies, at the helm of the downtown restaurant. When a two-day-brined chicken is cooked sous vide and fried to order with a crust made from bread crumbs, the result is perfection. (Pro tip: Get it by the bucket with sides on Caviar.) 1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.

Margherita pizza at 2 Amys

This Northwest spot prides itself on the fact that it was the first D.O.C.-certified pizzeria in the area. D.O.C. (denominazione di origine controllata) means this pie meets standards developed by the Italian government for authentic Neapolitan pizza. In other words, this pie is at the heart of the 2 Amys ethos. What does that translate to on the plate? Buffalo mozzarella cheese, Italian plum tomatoes, basil and a characteristically blistered crust thanks to the wood-burning oven. 3715 Macomb St. NW.

Creme brulee doughnut at Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken 

The doughnut inspired by the timeless French dessert has become synonymous with this local shop. It was declared the best doughnut in Washington as winner of The Post's Doughnut Wars, so no wonder the treat is one of four permanent flavors on the menu. Sink your teeth into its layers of flavors and textures, from a crackling torched sugar top to the fluffy dough and silken vanilla custard filling. 1308 G St. NW; 7511 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church.

Pupusas at La Casita

The influx of Salvadoran immigrants has helped make the pupusa one of the Washington area's most iconic dishes. With a crisp masa (corn) shell and oozing cheese-filled center, these pockets are impossible to resist, especially at La Casita. Tim Carman, pupusa aficionado and The Post's $20 Diner, says that “if any place comes close to the archetypal pupusa, it's this ambitious operation in Silver Spring.” The restaurant's pupusa menu has a variety of fillings, including shredded squash, pulled chicken and diced beef. 8214 Piney Branch, Silver Spring; 18058 Mateny Rd., Germantown.

Where to find the best pupusas in the D.C. area

Cupcakes from Baked & Wired

Sure, its rival Georgetown Cupcakes gets a lot of attention, but this more chill (read: shorter lines) bakery is a cupcake powerhouse, too. Wrapped in parchment paper, Baked & Wired's “cakecups” have a rustic, homemade look. But make no mistake, these are professional-grade sweets. They're also huge. Still, you might not want to share them. 1052 Thomas Jefferson St. NW.

Sapporo style miso ramen at Ren's Ramen

The magic elixir of this bowl is its tonkotsu broth. The rich and creamy brew takes at least 18 hours to make, and the result is slick with tiny globules of pork fat and pungent with garlic. More porky power comes from slices of roast meat on top, as well as ground pork. Wavy, medium-thick noodles from Japan, bean sprouts, scallions and bamboo shoots round out the picture. 11403 Amherst Ave, Silver Spring.

Veggie combination special at Bete

If there's an international cuisine synonymous with the nation's capital, it's Ethiopian. But some of the best spots these days are outside the city limits. You'd be well served to take a trip to Maryland to visit Bete. One must-order: a vegetarian combo, especially as the colorful array includes dishes not available a la carte. One highlights is the azifa, a cold green-lentil salad that’s still relatively rare on local menus. 811 Roeder Rd., Silver Spring.

The 10 best Ethiopian restaurants in the Washington area

Charcoal-broiled chicken at El Pollo Rico

This is the gold standard of Peruvian chicken around Washington. Also known as pollo a la brasa, these birds, seasoned with a secret dry rub, have crispy skin and juicy meat. The sauces, some creamy and some spicy, are a necessary part of every meal. And the double-fried thick-cut steak fries make a great accompaniment. 2517 University Blvd. W., Wheaton.

Falafel and frites at Amsterdam Falafelshop

The homegrown chain has a reputation for late-night eats, though the falafel-stuffed pita is delicious any time of day. The fried-to-order chickpea balls and frites are irresistibly crunchy, but the greatest allure of Amsterdam Falafelshop is the toppings bar — a spread of Middle Eastern relishes, pickles, spreads and condiments. Just be careful how much you fill your pockets. You don't want to wear your food. Various locations.

Burger Américain at Le Diplomate

The perpetually popular French spot does justice to this fast-food favorite. Made with two slim, seared patties tucked into a golden bun baked in-house, the burger is astonishingly simple, draped with American cheese and topped with a few tart pickles, plus its own mystery sauce. The burger comes with pommes frites — or, yeah, fries. 1601 14th St. NW.

Pho with steak at Pho 75

Sure, the place is no-frills and paying in cash seems unusual these days, but this Rosslyn staple has stuck around for a reason. Or more than a dozen, really, which is how many varieties of the Vietnamese soup you'll find on the menu. The best are topped with steak, brisket or meatballs. Then you get to pile on bean sprouts, basil and jalapeño for a customized bowl. 1721 Wilson Blvd., Arlington.