Laura Hayes

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Next time you’re standing in front of a chain eatery that serves the cuisine you’re craving, consider walking a few blocks farther to find the locally owned version. It may be more important than ever to open your wallet at small, District-born businesses. National and international chains are rapidly learning that D.C. has one of the fastest growing food scenes in America, and a sizeable population that seems averse to eating a single meal at home. 

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (1925 14th St. NW) —> Ice Cream Jubilee (1407 T St. NW)

Walk 0.1 miles.

Jeni Britton Bauer calls herself “the founder of the American artisan ice cream movement” in press materials. Don’t tell two dudes named Ben and Jerry. The first Jeni’s opened in Ohio in 2002, and there are now more than 30 shops nationwide. Practically within earshot of the D.C. Jeni’s, though, is Victoria Lai’s Ice Cream Jubilee. Don’t miss Lai’s creative flavors; some, like Chocolate Barley Beer and Banana Bourbon Caramel, fold in booze. 

RPM Italian (650 K St. NW) —> Centrolina (974 Palmer Alley NW) 

Walk 0.4 miles. 

Sure, Giuliana Rancic has D.C.-area roots, but RPM Italian comes to the District via Chicago. Try Centrolina from Chef Amy Brandwein instead. Her pastas fall in the same price range as RPM Italian, but Centrolina boasts a market so you can stock up on provisions before you leave. Don’t miss Brandwein’s squid ink pasta topped with tuna crudo that gently cooks when it touches the warm noodles.

Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen (3200 Bladensburg Road NE) —> Mason Dixie Biscuit Company (2301 Bladensburg Road NE) 

Walk or drive 0.9 miles. 

Popeyes has history on its side. The chain was born 45 years ago in New Orleans and now has 2,600 restaurants in the U.S. and around the world. But local fried chicken and biscuit slinger Mason Dixie Biscuit Company has some accolades of its own, including winning “Best Biscuit in America, Critic’s Choice” at the 2015 International Biscuit Festival. Its classic fried chicken thigh sandwich is made from hormone-free chicken.

Nobu (2525 M St. NW) —> Kaz Sushi Bistro (1915 I St. NW)

Walk 0.7 miles. 

Nobu has more than 35 locations worldwide and spent $10 million on its D.C. buildout. You’ll pay a high price to eat at one of the 250 seats in Nobu’s 11,000-square-foot D.C. space because the lion’s share of dishes contain lobster or caviar. Two pieces of octopus nigiri sushi will run you $14. Down the street at sushi stalwart Kaz Sushi Bistro, the same two pieces of octopus over rice cost $7.50. Nagoya, Japan native Kaz Okochi opened his restaurant in 1999 and has helped set the standard for sushi in D.C.

Dunkin’ Donuts (801 Pennsylvania Ave. SE) —> District Doughnut (749 8th St. SE ) 

Walk 0.3 miles

The Saturday Night Live Dunkin’ Donuts skit might be one of the best non-political sketches Lorne Michaels’ troupe has rolled out recently, but the chain’s Boston Kremes don’t hold a candle to what’s happening at District Doughnut. Their chocolate peanut butter doughnut packs in more flavor than a Reese’s cup, and they even experiment with an everything bagel flavor filled with cream cheese.