The Spot: Mitsitam Cafe, National Museum of the American Indian, 4th Street & Independence Avenue SW, (202) 633-1000

The Cuisine: Native American

The Go-To Dishes: Chipotle chicken taco, fry bread with cinnamon and honey

The Scoop: The greatest attribute of Mitsitam Cafe is also its greatest detriment: It’s in a museum. Tucked inside the first floor of the National Museum of the American Indian, this eatery is anything but your conventional museum cafe. Sure, if you look hard you’ll find the generic hot dogs, chicken tenders, and hamburgers that most museums charge an arm and a leg for, but you’ll also find an entirely different take on an a la carte lunch menu.

Earlier this month, executive chef Richard Hetzler published his own cookbook, The Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook, which is filled with recipes that look beyond delicious. I was more than ready to have some of these pages come to life before me. Unfortunately, my visit was more akin to a trip to Chipotle than to this acclaimed cafe.

Even though Mitsitam is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, the kitchen runs on a limited menu from 3 to 5 p.m. I showed up just around 3 p.m. to find out  that when they say limited menu, they really freakin’ mean limited menu. Only one of the regional American Indian stations was available at the time, and it’s safe to say it was probably the least exciting. Sadly enough,  I found myself staring at the hot dog/chicken tender/hamburger section.

Making the best of what was available, I ordered the chipotle chicken taco, which comes with spicy grilled chicken, lettuce, cheese, tomato, and pickled chiles atop fresh fry bread. The chicken was tender, but the dish had virtually no spice. Rising up over the cloud of mediocrity, however, was the fry bread. It came out hot and golden, diverting my focus from everything else on the plate. On the whole, it was a pretty decent lunch for a museum cafeteria. Well, except for the cost.  The chicken and soft drink cost me just under $15.

I guess you get some atmosphere for your money, too, like a cascading waterfall as seen through a window and a great view of the gift shop. It was hard to shake the feeling that I was on a 5th grade field trip.

The Verdict: Obviously, I need to try far more of the menu before I render any kind of opinion on Mitsitam. A trip to the cafe wouldn’t be a bad idea for those who work near the Mall. Just get there early.

Photo by Kara Brugman via Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0