It's easy to stick to the cobblestone-lined Georgetown bubble while in school here, but then you'd be missing out on so much of what D.C. has to offer. The Ethiopian food and jazz scene on U Street, the lively Eastern Market on weekends, the pupusas in Mount Pleasant.
But, hey, it's not always easy to escape campus when you have papers to write and parties to crash and every season of the West Wing to watch. Not to mention the lack of a Metro station in Georgetown proper, which can make leaving campus a bit more of a hassle. This guide primarily sticks to the Hilltop, but check here for all the latest in the rest of D.C.
Pizzeria Paradiso on M Street is a quick stroll away from the front gates. It's a civilized pizza experience (e.g. no Ranch dressing for crust-dipping here). There's a wood-fired oven popping out tasty pies plus they have a nice craft beer list, especially by college Natty Light-drinking standards, at the downstairs Birreria Paradiso. Also, cheaper happy hour prices!
Or, if you're feeling more serious, hop on one of the 30 buses up Wisconsin Ave. or find a friend with a car and head to 2 Amys. They have a VPN seal of approval, which basically means a guy from Naples blessed this as real-deal Neapolitan pizzeria, following all the holy rules and manifestos of the pizza gods. And, indeed, it is some nice pizza. The puffy edged-crust is soft and chewy with a smoky char and an almost soupy center of fresh tomato sauce. You can't go wrong with the simple Margherita with mozzarella di bufala but they also have plenty of toppings (arugula, olives, cured meats, and more.
The first sandwich you'll meet as a Hoya, probably as early as freshman orientation, is from Booeymonger's ("Booey's") or Wisemiller's ("Wisey's"). The truth is, they're fine in a sloppy way, and you're bound to run into someone you sorta recognize there, but stellar sandwiches these are not.
Much better ones can be found at Jetties, a scenic walk away behind the GU hospital to Foxhall Road. Jetties gets so many points for having a Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich ("The Nobadeer") on the menu year-round. Layers of hand-carved turkey topped with stuffing, jellied cranberry sauce, and mayo, on toasted sourdough. Snag a wooden table under an umbrella on their front lawn. It has a very Nantucket-in-DC feel.
Since graduating, my classmate Luke Holden has opened another Luke's Lobster, his lobster roll shop that started in NYC but now has a branch on Potomac Street. These are some of the best lobster rolls outside of Maine (and I'm not just saying that because Luke is my friend!). A buttered split-top bun is filled with fresh-off-the-Maine-boat lobster (knuckle and claw meat) then a splash of melted lemon butter and a dash of spices on top.
Frankly I don't remember eating many burgers in college. There were a few from GUGS, the Georgetown University Grilling Society—some guys in flip-flips and aprons would set up grills on Healy Lawn. That was fun on whatever days they did that, but off-campus wise, there's Five Guys on Wisconsin or a decent one from Clyde's [see AHT review] on M Street that. Or, if you can handle crossing the Key Bridge, head over to Ray's Hell Burger [see AHT review] for one of the best, juiciest, beefiest burgers you'll ever put in your mouth.
Best Pastries and Other Sweets
If you want exquisite croissants, fruit tarts, quiche and people speaking French, then Patisserie Poupon. If you want donut muffins, "Bee Sting" honey shortbread, "Hippie Crack" granola, and other fun baked goodies, then Baked and Wired, what started as a print-shop-slash-cafe (now just a cafe) near the C&O canal towpath. They also have great cupcakes if you don't want to wait in that obnoxious Georgetown Cupcake line.
That's a cinch. Dolcezza. Savor each spoonful of the carefully crafted and mouth-exploding gelato flavors. The Dolcezza owners have a close relationship with all the farmers they work with to source the best herbs, stone fruits, melons, berries, chocolate, squash (they do amazing fall flavors) and more for their always-rotating flavor list. They're constantly experimenting with new ideas, so part of the fun is just walking inside to see what's on the menu. If they have the blood orange, get it.
If you just need a quick caffeine fix and/or a comfy couch to bang out a paper, then Uncommon Grounds in the Leavey Center. But if you want some serious coffee, then walk back over to Dolcezza, Patisserie Poupon, or Baked and Wired.
In Need of Serenity
Entering Ching Ching Cha is like walking a zillion miles far, far away from campus to a tranquil teahouse. They serve glass pots of tea, whether the pungent pu-erh or the more delicate chrysanthemum blossoms, which perk up in hot water.
If you want to see everyone you know, head over to the Tombs. It's a Georgetown institution, open all day in a subterranean space festooned with crew memorabilia. At night there's a vigilant ID-checker at the door who will stamp your hand if you're of age (this isn't a place to try flashing any fakes, not that anyone reading this would have one) or they'll stamp your forehead if it's your 21st birthday (my head was stamped obviously). Pitchers of cheap beer flow from the tap like the Journey does from the speakers.
There are many fratty bars in Georgetown, but the least annoying one is Mr. Smith's. "The friendliest" saloon in town" it says out front, and the claim probably isn't untrue. There's a sing-along piano bar inside and a garden with seating out back.
If you'd rather a more esoteric beer selection, Birreria Paradiso has a moody, cozy basement bar and a rotating beer menu they keep interesting (and pizza: see above).
Eat More Salads
Because 89% of what you put into your body in college is far from virtuous, it's important to make room for happy veggies. SweetGreen started in Georgetown in 2007 when three of my classmates/buddies (Nic, Jon, and Nate) opened the small salad and fro-yo shop just after we graduated. The mini-chain has since expanded, quite a bit; they now have 11 locations in the DC-area, another two in Philly, and they even throw an annual summer music festival (we were there!). But the reason it all started—the salads—are fresh, colorful, and never boring. All of the greens, the nuts, the cheeses, the proteins, and the seasonal toppings are thoughtfully sourced and mixed in a big bowl. So much better than the dinky, depressing salad-chain-salads out there. I try to stop in here every visit back to D.C.
Ah geez, brunch is tough. Everybody wants to eat brunch every weekend in D.C. (seriously, this city is brunch-obsessed), and I can't think of a great recommendation in Georgetown. Once again, the Tomb's is always an option (open all day, every meal). Classic brunch fare and convenience.
Another place to have in your back pocket: Kafe Leopold, a sleek Austrian-inspired space with outdoor seating. The menu includes salmon hash, Belgian sugar waffles, dainty pastries, and some German words you probably can't pronounce, like "Kaiserschmarrn mit Zwetschgenröster" (scrambled souffle with plum-compote and currants).
Frankly the more interesting places are outside Georgetown, like my longtime favorite Cafe St. Ex on 14th Street.
Take the Bus or Metro
Get out of Georgetown and eat some Ethiopian! The D.C. metro area has the largest Ethopian population in America, which means you should absolutely try the spongy, slightly sour injera with wats (stews) and tibs (veggies and meats). I always liked Mama Etete off U Street. There's also Lalibela near Logan Circle.
If Someone Has a Car
Head to Falls Church, VA and experience the Eden Center, a Vietnamese shopping center wonderland. You'll find the real-deal bowls of pho, fresh soybean milk, banh mi (for around 3 bucks, the way it should be) on fresh-baked baguettes, and so much more. If you're looking for a big jar of shrimp paste or various types of mint, do your Asian grocery shopping here.