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Dig in to Bourbon Steak Lobster Pot Pie when you’re in Washington.

Politics and power brokers make for some buzzy gossip – and heady prices – at top restaurants. But thanks to the diversity of people who call the United States capital home, the D.C. dining scene is also a melting pot of eclectic flavours and international cuisines. From high-end to humble, there are some must-taste dishes, tastes and places to try.

Etete

D.C. is known for authentic offerings of Ethiopian cuisine. You won't do better than this room in the district's Little Ethiopia neighbourhood. Get the spicy house specialty, the tikul (marinated spiced ground beef), along with a vegetarian platter full of perfectly seasoned stewed lentils, peas, greens and string beans. Then dig in, mopping up every last bit with the spongy, slightly sour injera bread. 1942 9th St. NW, 202-232-7600, eteterestaurant.com

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Bourbon Steak

At chef Michael Mina's upscale American steakhouse, even the humble pot pie becomes a heady signature dish. Lobster cream, leeks, chopped truffles, truffle oil, mushrooms, potatoes and brandy nestle in a copper pot covered with a puff pastry lid, which is presented with a flourish at your table. No wonder the Obamas chose to celebrate their 20th anniversary here. At the Four Seasons hotel, 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 202-944-2026, bourbonsteakdc.com

Union Meats at Eastern Market

The so-called half smoke sausage is arguably D.C.'s only truly indigenous food, and the local go-to spot when the craving hits is the Union Meat stall at Capitol Hill's Eastern Market, the district's oldest continually operating food market. Essentially a cross between a hot dog and a sausage, the half smoke is traditionally made of equal parts pork and beef swaddled in a snappy casing and plopped in a warm bun. Get the spicy garlic version and load it up with onion, relish and mustard. 225 7th St. SE, 202-547-2626, easternmarket-dc.org

Jaleo

The flagship restaurant in celebrity chef Jose Andres's empire is everything a tapas bar should be: bright, bustling and cheerful, with an endless choice of tempting bites. Make sure to order the addictive Iberico de bellota mini hamburgers (made from the famous acorn-fed black-footed Spanish pigs), and wash them down with one of the signature gin cocktails. 480 7th St. NW, 202-628-7949, jaleo.com

Mitsitam Native Foods Café

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Museum cafés are usually passable at best, but this one, part of the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, is different. "We take native indigenous foods from the five regions we represent in the café and put a contemporary twist on them," explains executive chef Richard Hetzler. Try the buffalo duck burger (a house-ground buffalo brisket infused with duck fat), Hetzler's homage to the Great Plains. 4th St. & Independence Ave. SW, www.mitsitamcafe.com

Rogue 24

Executive chef RJ Cooper's ideal diner is a "freethinker who wants to appreciate the craft of cooking." No menu here; instead, you get a surprise progression of 24 inventive courses – think: dehydrated kimchi chips, steelhead trout cured with beet juice and coriander, a savoury celery cocktail. To help remember it all, you'll get a printed menu after the meal has ended. It's a must for any adventurous lover of the unexpected. 922 N St. NW (in the rear), 202-408-9724, rogue24.com

Fast Gourmet

Destination-worthy food at a late-night gas station? At the unassuming (but spotless) Fast Gourmet, located inside the Valero gas station at 14th and W streets, hungry locals line up for the specialty sandwiches and empanadas. The stand-out item is the chivito, a grilled Uruguayan sandwich loaded with beef, black forest ham, bacon, green olives, melted mozzarella, a hard-boiled egg, lettuce, tomato, escabeche and mayo. It's heaven between two slabs of glorious starch. 14th and W Sts., NW, 202-448-9217, fast-gourmet.com

Tacos El Chilango

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What began as a popular local taco truck evolved into this bright and cheerful tiny taqueria. Chilango, explains co-owner Juan Santacruz, is slang for someone from Mexico City, and the tacos here are as close to the real thing as you can get outside of Mexico's capital. Go for the al pastor (pork with pineapple and onions) and the spicy chorizo, and slather them with the homemade red, green and fiery habanero salsas. 1119 V St. NW, 202-986-3030, tacoselchilango.com

Oohh's and Aahh's

For genuine, rib-sticking soul food, check out this no-frills U Street spot. Lots of people come for the peppery, crispy fried chicken wings, says chef-owner Oji Abbott, but it would be a crime to miss out on the juicy blackened catfish smothered in onions and sweet peppers. Sides of spicy collard greens and the cheesiest, most decadent mac-and-cheese you will ever eat are musts. Wash it all down with homemade lemonade. 1005 U St. NW, 202-667-7142, oohhsnaahhs.com

Bombay Club

A stone's throw from the White House, this upscale spot is popular for a quick power lunch or a leisurely, elegant dinner. The menu has regional cuisines from all over India, but the must-order item for chili fiends is the fiery hara murgh, chicken with a perfect blend of onion, tomato, dill, cilantro and hot peppers. 815 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202-659-3727, bombayclubdc.com

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