When people hear that I work on the National Mall, they always suggest that I try Mitsitam Café for lunch. Many claim it’s the best food option in the area, if you’re willing to pay a little bit more for a meal. I recently revisited this museum cafeteria with some friends after first exploring some of the exhibits.
I’ve been to the Museum of the American Indian several times before and will admit, it is not my favorite of the Smithsonian Museums. I would encourage a visit because it contains a lot of very relevant and interesting art and information; however, I do not think it is as well curated as it could be. I did recently enjoy the Sculpture of Abraham Anghik Ruben, on exhibit until January 2, 2013 (so hurry up to see it!). His sculptures contrast the ancient lives of Norse adventurers and Inuit whale hunters. Here’s a few images to whet your appetite…
I digress. Back to Mitsitam. The Café offers a variety of Native American cuisines divided by region: Northern Woodlands, South America, Northwest Coast, Mesoamerica, and Great Plains. The menu changes seasonally, and each region has a few entrees and side dishes from which you can pick and choose. The restaurant is designed as a cafeteria style eatery, so grab your tray, pay at the register and have a seat at one of the tables in the large dining area.
I’ve been to Mitsitam a few times and generally feel that it’s hit or miss (the sides are usually tasty, but the entrees don’t always deliver). This time around, the Sweet Potato, Celery Root Hash; Wild Rice and Watercress Salad; Pumpkin Soup (excellent, rich flavor…almost like pumpkin pie but not as sweet); and the Butternut Squash & Bartlett Pear Gratin (delicious and sweet dessert) were all hits.
The Grilled Swordfish Tacos with Mole Manchamanteles were a miss. The meat was way too dry, and the taco was pretty tasteless. The Adobo Chicken Tacos were better. The flavor was nice and the meat was tender. However, in general, these were not very memorable. I enjoyed the Calabacitas Con Huitlacoche—sautéed squash, aji peppers, and huitlacoche (mushrooms)—and the Pureed Camote Blanco (white sweet potato) with Chipotle Butter. The sweet potato mash had a nice little kick to it.
One of my friends ordered the Buffalo Burger (not pictured). I’d call this a miss as well. The burger is not bad if you’re comparing it to McDonalds, but with a price tag of over $15 for a burger with fries, it should be a damn good, thick and juicy piece of meat.
All in all, I think people like to talk up Mitsitam because it used to be one of the more interesting food choices in the area. It definitely offers variety in a part of town that was a food desert in the past. Now, with all the food trucks stopping by L’Enfant Plaza these days, I see little reason to go out of my way to eat there. With that said, if you do find yourself at the Museum of the American Indian, you probably won’t be dissatisfied with the tastes and flavors of the many side dishes offered, although you might be a little frustrated by the price.