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<< back to foods in Washington, D.C.

Crab cakes

Crab cake sandwich from Market Lunch at Eastern Market

What: Sure, crab cakes are traditionally the domain of Maryland, but the general Chesapeake Bay area is ground zero for these fried (or broiled) rounds of lump crab meat, and D.C. is no exception. Here you won’t necessarily find them “Maryland style”—which tends to incorporate Old Bay seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, and mustard—and you may still have to go to Baltimore for one of those oversize jumbo lump crab cakes, but you will find the area’s crabs nicely contained in beautiful golden-brown orbs that are delicious in sandwiches, with eggs, or on a platter. 

Good to know: Coinciding with the last decade’s news of dramatically declining blue crab populations in the Chesapeake Bay (see blue crab entry), there has recently been news that much of the blue crab marketed as Maryland or Chesapeake crab is actually imported from Venezuela, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Mexico, and the Gulf Coast (Louisiana sends up a lot). According to the Washington City Paper, less than 2% of crab meat in this region is actually from Maryland. Given the ferocious demand for blue crabs and crab cakes around here, it makes sense: The local stocks have nowhere near the capability to keep up. The ruse is certainly misleading, but it’s not illegal. To help consumers find local crab, the state fisheries launched a voluntary program called True Blue to promote those restaurants and retailers that actually use it. The number of businesses in D.C. is shockingly small, though not necessarily complete.

Where: Our crab cake sandwich is from the ever-popular Market Lunch stand at Eastern Market (202-547-8444; 225 7th St. SE, map), where daily lines snake around the long counter inside that provides seating (you can bring your food to the picnic tables outside, too).

When: Tues-Fri, 7:30-2:30 (breakfast till 11); Sat, 8am-3pm (breakfast till 12:30pm); Sun, 9am-3pm (breakfast till 1pm). Go early, as there is always a line and these babies do sell out! Note: Market Lunch is cash only.

Order: The crab cake sandwich ($9.95) is a perfect example of the genre—the crispy exterior and pure crab taste of the crab cake, made with jumbo lump blue-crab meat and very little filler, gently encased in a soft white roll with non-distracting lettuce, tomato, and cole slaw—but you’ll want more crab cake than that. (We sure did.) Get an extra crab cake on the side, go for a platter, or consider the crab cake Benedict if it’s breakfast time (weekends only). In the non-crab breakfast department, you’d do well to also try the famous “blue bucks” pancakes here—fluffy, moist, incredibly delicious blueberry buckwheat pancakes, served with butter and real maple syrup (when requested).

Alternatively: At our other favorite markets in D.C., we loved the crab cake at Chris’ Marketplace (301-565-1681; 1500 20th St. NW, map)—spotted at the Sundays-only Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market—and have heard good things about the specimen at the fabulous Rappahannock Oyster Bar (multiple locations including 1309 5th St. NE, map) inside Union Market, where we regret eating only the (delicious) local oysters. (Bonus: Chris’ Marketplace usually offers a few gluten-free versions, too.) Beyond that, and still in D.C. proper, you might try the celebrated crab cakes at BlackSalt Fish Market & Restaurant (4883 MacArthur Blvd., map), which emphasizes sustainability in seafood, and/or Johnny’s Half Shell (400 N. Capitol St. NW, map), on Capitol Hill.


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