8 Great Historic Restaurants in Washington, DC

Washington DC is full of history—and we’re not just talking about the monuments. There’s history in every corner, and today’s topic is historic restaurants in DC.

This city of 700,000 denizens has seen some major historic events. And it’s also brimming with excellent historical restaurants, places where politicians have struck some serious backroom deals while tucking into a steak. 

If you like your restaurant fare served with a generous side of history, here are eight historic restaurants in DC that you’ll love.

United States Capitol Building
There’s lots of history to discover in DC, including historic restaurants. Photo credit: eGuide Travel

Our favorite historic restaurants in DC


Located in Georgetown, 1789 is not a French restaurant named for the year of the French Revolution. It’s an elegant American restaurant named for the year nearby Georgetown University was founded. The antique-strewn dining room is the perfect place to dig into some wagyu tartare, sauteed scallops (wading in a coconut-lime sauce), a Berkshire pork chop or a luscious rack of lamb. In 2011, President Obama dined here with German chancellor Angela Merkel.

A view of Georgetown University in the distance
Georgetown University was founded January 23, 1789. Photo credit: Billy Wilson

Ben’s Chili Bowl

There is a tradition among American presidents: that they have to come to eat at Ben’s Chili Bowl at least once during their tenure in the White House. Barack Obama broke that tradition. He couldn’t wait to come so he ate at Ben’s when he was still president-elect. Donald Trump also broke the tradition by not coming at all to the U Street Corridor. 

But if you’re in DC, you don’t have to be president of any country to love Ben’s half smokes—a taut and tasty sausage that is an iconic DC food. Speaking of iconic, come just for the famous mural on the side of the building where some legendary Black celebrities are featured: The Obamas, Dave Chappelle, Prince, and Muhamed Ali, among others. It’s one of the most famous and historic restaurants in DC that you don’t want to miss.

Ben's Chili Bowl restaurant facade
Ben’s Chili Bowl has been a hit with locals, tourists, celebrities since 1958. Photo credit: Ted Eytan

Florida Avenue Grill

Billing itself as the “oldest soul food restaurant in the world,” Florida Avenue Grill has been flipping pancakes and double-frying chicken since 1944. Known to regulars and northwestern DC locals simply as “The Grill,” this no-frills edible institution is the place to go when you have a hankering for breakfast for dinner. Or you can chomp into some fried pork chops smothered in rich gravy, steamed pigs’ feet, or cajun-fried catfish.

people inside a restaurant working
The “oldest soul food restaurant in the world.” Photo credit: Ted Eytan

Iron Gate

Supposedly DC’s oldest continually operating restaurant, Iron Gate has been cooking up delicious fare for nearly a century. The Dupont Circle spot melds ingredients from the nearby coast with the flavors of the Mediterranean. Start with some mushroom arancini and then move on to Atlantic swordfish steak or bison flank steak.

red booth inside a restaurant
The Iron Gate’s historic building dates back to 1875. Photo credit: Kurtkaiser

Martin’s Tavern

A Georgetown drinking institution, Martin’s Tavern is run by the fourth generation of Martins, currently under the helm of Billy Martin, Jr. Since the Great Depression, Martin’s has been shaking up classic cocktails and serving a menu of hearty American classics like colonial Brunswick stew, Chesapeake fried oysters, Maryland crab cakes, fish and chips, and slow-roasted pot roast. Nearly every president since Harry Truman has sipped a beer here and it’s reportedly the place where John F. Kennedy proposed to Jackie in 1953.

people crossing the street in front of a restaurant
Rumor has it that JFK popped the question to Jackie O. here in 1953. Photo credit: David

Old Ebbitt Grill

Located a block from the White House, people go to Old Ebbitt Grill just to sit at the bar and hear the political gossip. Since 1856, this tavern has been slinging beers and martinis and Wasington’s elite have been coming here to feast on Maryland crabcakes, raw oysters, and hearty steaks. The 19th-century Beaux Arts building is a stunner. The interior is clad in moody dark wood and bedecked with taxidermy and old paintings.

Old Ebbitt Grill entrance
Old Ebbitt Grill is a beloved landmark in DC’s dining scene. Photo credit: APK

Old Europe

This German restaurant near Observatory Circle has been breading schnitzel and pouring beer since the Truman Administration. Old Europe (2434 Wisconsin Ave) is so old even its website looks like it hasn’t been updated since 1998. So order a large German beer and stick a fork in some hearty Teutonic fare. Naturally, there are all manner of sausages on offer—even curry wurst, the Berlin street snack that marries sausages, curry powder, and ketchup. The beer selection is excellent, including the four types of smoked beer from the beer-mecca town of Bamberg.

inside restaurant with many art pieces, paintings, ships, hanging on the walls above the tables
Heade to Old Europe Restaurant for an authentic Bavarian beer hall experience right in DC. Photo credit: Streets of Washington


If you want to break bread with senators or your favorite congressman or woman—or at least in the same room with them—point yourself to The Monocle. Since 1960, this elegant spot has been hosting hungry diners and politicians, thanks to its location on Capitol Hill. The menu—no surprise here—focuses on all-American fare, including variations of the theme of steak, as well as calf’s liver, burgers, jumbo crab cakes,and fried chicken.

a matchbook
A vintage matchbook cover of The Monocle. Photo credit: Streets of Washington

Hungry for more history? Join us on a tour of Washington DC and get to know this city with the help of our expert guides.


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About the author

David Farley is a West Village-based food and travel writer whose work appears regularly in the New York Times, National Geographic, BBC, and Food & Wine, among other publications. He’s the author of three books, including “An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town,” which was made into a documentary by the National Geographic Channel. You can find Farley’s online homes at https://www.tripout.online/ and https://dfarley.com/index.html

More by David Farley

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