The Perfect DC Museum Cafe: Mitsitam

DC Museum cafe: MitsitamSomewhere between pointing at planes at the Air & Space Museum and browsing the day’s headlines at the Newseum, my baby fell asleep. We had a small window of time to eat and maybe even have an adult conversation, and a McDonald’s inside a food court didn’t seem appealing. There are a lot of great Washington, D.C., museums that are free and world-class, but not many great food spots amidst the tourist spots. FourSquare didn’t find much, save a hot dog truck, but a Yelp search yielded a “glorified cafeteria” listing for the Mitsitam Cafe. It turned out to be inside the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, and specializes in indigenous foods from the Western Hemisphere.

Dishes change seasonally and are arranged by region: Northern Woodlands (think Thanksgiving-y foods like roast turkey and corn bread), South America (spicy ceviches), Northwest Coast (wild salmon and bison), Meso America (lots of yucca and corn) and Great Plains (lots of fried goodness). We chose chicken mole tacos with a wild rice and watercress salad, plus beans and sweet potatoes. I also had a venison mincemeat pie with whole grain mustard, pumpkin and blueberry fritters, and a parsnip puree soup. There was a wide selection of local beer and wine and a large variety of tempting desserts.

The cafeteria itself is large and airy, if crowded (we lucked into an empty table quickly at 2 p.m. on a Saturday). The downside is the prices: entrees can run over $20, and sides around $5 each (you can get a sample of 4 for $14). I blanched handing over my credit card to pay $50 for lunch, especially when I had to carry it myself on a tray. Still, the food was delicious and we left sated and ready to take on the next museum. If you are heading to D.C. this month for the Cherry Blossom Festival, it’s a great way to eat locally without leaving the museum district.

For more on good museum cafes, check out our guide to the best food at museums across the country.

[Photo credit: Meg Nesterov]