The National Mall is not known for gourmet dining. But there are some great options if you know where to look! The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Cafeteria is one of those spots. Plus unlike many federal government cafeterias, this one is open to the public.
USDA Cafeteria Location
The USDA has two buildings at their headquarters in Washington, DC. One building is on the north side of Independence Avenue. One is on the south side of Independence Avenue. For lunch, you will need to go into the south building.
For visitors, there is only one entrance on Independence Avenue between 13th and 14th Streets SW. Look for a sign that says “Visitors and USDA employees without ID entrance only”. If you do not see that sign, you are not in the right place. Once you open the door, there is a security check and a metal detector right inside. So, do not plan on bringing anything into this building that you would not bring into any other Federal building.
USDA Cafeteria Hours
The USDA cafeteria is open Monday-Friday from 6:30 am -3:30 pm. However, lunch ends at 3:00 pm. It is closed on weekends and holidays. So, you can come either for breakfast, if you’re an early bird and want to get a jump on the day. Or during lunch, while you’re out exploring the sites.
A bonus trip hack is to take advantage of the USDA happy hour from 2:30 pm -3:00 pm. During this half hour most items are 30%. It is a great way to save money, if you do not mind a late lunch. Just be aware that during the busy spring and summer season some stations can be pretty picked over.
What Foods to Expect
You will find food stations including hot foods, cold foods, salad bar, a deli, a sushi station, and many more. The food at the center station is sold by the pound. The prices are reasonable. Not cheap but less expensive than similar per pound options like Whole Foods. There is also a sushi station with a sushi chef, and a few other stations where you can get food made to order.
Coming to Washington DC, and interested in a tour after lunch?
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