Animal Appetites: Dining & Cub Spotting at the National Zoo

Meet Carmelita & Justin! Photo courtesy of The National Zoo website

Meet Carmelita & Justin! Photo courtesy of The National Zoo website

Last month, the world was in awe after the debut of two ridiculously adorable cheetah cubs at DC’s very own National Zoo. The two cubs, named Carmelita and Justin, after US Olympic sprinters Carmelita Jeter and Justin Gatlin, have captured the hearts of many Washingtonians. The new darlings may be the cause of an increase in visits to the zoo. Unfortunately, most of the food and alcohol options at the zoo are underwhelming, and many people are unfamiliar with the sundry of restaurants in the area.

So where does one go before or after a trip to the zoo? Great question! Luckily Dining in DC is here to your rescue! Like a jungle safari, we recently set off on a culinary adventure to match your weekend brunch option or post-safari dinner with the pair of cuddly cheetahs you are off to see. We chose establishments that piqued our interest, then categorized them as best for “Before” and “After” spots.


Open City:  Getting up early and walking around the zoo can be hard. Sometimes you need a great cup of coffee and a complete breakfast to get you moving. Open City provides all this and more. This Woodley Park neighborhood diner is well known for their coffee (anyone who is familiar with their sister restaurant Tryst understands why) and offers a number of menus highlighted by their All Day Breakfast. What to order: The Croque Madame and Cuban Coffee. Location: 2331 Calvert St. NW (Woodley Park Metro)

Medium Rare’s Famous Benedict

Medium Rare: After a rough weekend night (and a morning hangover ), nothing beats a leisurely Sunday brunch with all the fixings.  Medium Rare provides a menu of both sweet and savory options, including warm bread, full entrees, and bottomless breakfast booze for the reasonable price of$23. Spend time on the outdoor patio people watching or indoors watching your meal prepared through the open kitchen. Wherever you sit, you’re sure to leave feeling a little better than when you arrived. What to order:  The French Toast or Eggs Benedict with “Secret sauce” and (as much or as little as you like) of their mimosas. Location: 3500 Connecticut Ave. NW (Cleveland Park Metro)

Woodley Café:  Looking for comfortable, relaxed dining with simple, yet well-prepared ingredients? Try Woodley Café to fuel up before your day at the zoo. Served until 3pm on weekends, brunch includes traditional favorites, like Buttermilk Pancakes, Steak & Eggs, and a series of omelettes, leaving both bellies and wallets full. With the most expensive item on the menu at just $11.95, Woodley Café provides reasonably priced fare with large portions for the whole family (they have a kids menu, too!) What to order: For something a bit different, try the Woodley Mashed Potato Omelette. Location: 2619 Connecticut Ave. NW (Woodley Park Metro)

Sugar Magnolia: If you’ve behaved all weekend, indulge a little before heading into the wilderness (ok, it’s not really that wild except for the thousands of tourists).  Skip brunch and head straight to dessert at Sugar Magnolia, located just moments from its parent restaurant, Ripple. Featuring scrumptious baked goods and bacon-infused ice cream sandwiches, Sugar Magnolia provides a quick snack on the go to quell your hunger and provide a distraction from the uncaged “animals” at the zoo. What to order: Go for this bacon lover’s favorite – Waffle Cookie with Maple Bacon Ice Cream. Location: 3417 Connecticut Avenue (Cleveland Park Metro)


Grilled White Peach & Crispy Braised Truck Patch Pork Belly

Dino:  No trip to the zoo is complete without a stop Cleveland Park’s neighborhood gem, Dino. This authentic Italian restaurant, (and a  favorite in DC), features an ever-changing menu (taking advantage of seasonal items and local ingredients) and perhaps DC’s most stellar wine cellar (forty six pages, but maybe my eyes were just crossing after 40). Since the menu regularly changes, it is hard for me to make a recommendation for just one dish. What to order: The Grilled White Peach & Crispy Braised Truck Patch Pork Belly and Dr. Joe’s Duck Neck Confit. Location: 3435 Connecticut Avenue NW (Cleveland Park Metro)

Palena:  Chef/Owner and James Beard Award winner Frank Ruta has received so many accolades that Michael Phelps looks unaccomplished next to him. His Cleveland Park establishment, Palena, is a wonderful example of a great chef delivering great cuisine. Ruta, a former White House Chef, offers French and Italian influenced fare in one of two intimate dining options. You may dine in The Dining Room or The Café, but make sure to check the hours as the schedules vary.  What to order: While every menu page will make you salivate, a newcomer must, in my opinion, order the Palena Cheeseburger. This burger is on so many “Best Burgers” lists that…well… I go back to my earlier Olympic comparison. Location: 3529 Connecticut Ave.NW (Cleveland Park Metro)

Ripple: If you’re making a full day at the zoo, grab a drink and hang around until 10:30pm when Ripple opens its Grilled Cheese Bar until midnight (if you’re cutting things short, drop the kids or a date gone awry and head back from 5 – 6:30pm). While you may feel the need to get creative, stick with pre-designed sandwiches, including the Swiss Bank Account – thin, hand-sliced prosciutto, challerhocker, & truffle butter – and the cause for a declined goodnight kiss, Stinky Pete – smelly epoisses cheese, asparagus, & anchovy. Practice does make perfect, so maybe a return trip for several create-you-own concoctions is in order. Location: 3417 Connecticut Ave. NW (Cleveland Park Metro)

Nanny O’Briens: Sometimes at the end of a long day (especially if you were walking around the Zoo’s Asia Trail) demands an ice cold beer and a chance to rest your feet. Plopping down at a bar stool with a brewsky at Nanny O’Briens will satisfy that demand. This neighborhood Irish pub is not a glitzy or flashy establishment; however, the wide variety of beers and the $8 everyday shots of 12 year Jameson will make you comfortable and help you relax after a long day strolling through a packed zoo. If you need any further reason why I suggest you go to Nanny O’Briens, please scroll further down and look for the name of a particular contributor (shameless plug, Sean!). Location: 3319 Connecticut Ave. NW (Cleveland Park Metro)


Written by Dining in DC’s contributors, Lindsay Hovermale & Sean O’Brien


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