A funny thing happened when I was looking for suggestions of places to eat in DC. A cafeteria came recommended not once, but a few times.
I do love cafeterias (not for the usually sub-par food, but for the associations and memories), so when Mitsitam Café, a cafeteria-style eatery at the National Museum of the American Indian in DC, came highly suggested, I was game.What's intriguing about Mitsitam Café is that they present traditional and contemporary native cuisine from five regions across the Western Hemisphere, with dishes changing seasonally. The five areas of the Americas represented are Northwest Coast, Northern Woodland, Great Plains, South America, and Meso America. My plan of action was to grab an item from each area.Lines were long, particularly at the South American station where totopos with toppings (nachos) were served, and at the Great Plains station where bison burgers were served. Silly Americans, sticking with the familiar.While most of the mains are not vegetarian, there are a wide variety of vegetarian sides (clearly marked, along with other dietary info) that are healthy, varied, and interesting. You'll never see a larger variety of grains and vegetables in a cafeteria, I'm sure. Tip: go with the most exotic ingredients, unless you are a fan of bland, simple vegetables. From the South American station, I got a tasty, but grainy, cup of peanut soup with sweet caramelized plantains and chili oil.A nutty and earthy wild rice and watercress salad came from the Northern Woodlands station.From the Great Plains came a chewy and slightly sweet wheatberry salad. The most interesting dish of the day was a slightly sweet and puckery pickled acorn squash and seabean salad from the Pacific Northwest. My very last stop was at the Meso America station for sopes topped with pinto beans, stewed vegetables, lettuce, and avocado. Large enough for an entire meal for one person, when the plate of sopes landed on my tray, I had then grossly over ordered.
But we can't forget dessert! So, a plate of churros with dark chocolate sauce from the Meso America station was ordered. Now my tray was obscene.
My entire order came out to about $32, but I ordered enough food for at least two starving people. More reasonable is their deal of four sides for $12.50.
While not the most elevated dining experience in DC, it's worth eating at Mitsitam Café if you are going to spend a day on the Mall sightseeing, not only because the dishes and ingredients from the five different Western Hemisphere regions get the ol' noggin' thinking about native foods of the Americas (food as education!), but, also, how often do you get to sample such a wide array of Native American foods?
Don't you dare reach for the nachos or burger!
4th St & Independence Ave SW
Washington, DC 20560