A visit to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is an exercise in cultural and historical overstimulation. And there’s no better place to rest and reflect on the country’s history than at the Mitsitam Cafe inside the National Museum of the American Indian. Overlooking a curving pool and waterfall, the museum cafe has five food stations, each dedicated to serving food from the Great Plains, Mesoamerica, Northern Woodlands, Northwest Coast, and South America.
Enjoy a green chile–infused fry bread with a Puebloan posole. Or, indulge in bison burgers from the Great Plains, while watching chefs cook cedar-planked juniper salmon in a built-in fire pit in the cafe’s partly-visible kitchen. Thanksgiving comes early for vegetarians, who can enjoy cranberry-infused roasted gourds, mushrooms and cornmeal, and blueberry cheesecake. The cafe’s Navajo executive chef, Freddie Bitsoie, combines his background in cultural anthropology and art history with his expertise in the culinary arts to come up with a menu that features both Native American foods and contemporary dishes made with indigenous ingredients.
Many ingredients for the cafe’s dishes come from tribal food co-ops or companies. A large portion of the meat comes from the InterTribal Bison Council, a non-profit organization of 57 American Indian tribes that collectively tend to more than 15,000 bison in South Dakota. Mitsitam uses 250,000 pounds of the meat every year to make chili, burgers, and meatloaf, among other delicacies.
The interior design of the cafe follows the thoughtful architecture of the museum as a whole, keeping indigenous design elements in mind. A 20-foot totem pole carved by Nathan Jackson, a Tlingit artist from Ketchikan, Alaska, forms the cafe’s centerpiece. Mitsitam also contains a tribal newsstand where visitors can read the latest about indigenous tribes from Native-owned publications across the United States.
Update October 2020: Mitisam Cafe remains closed due to COVID-19.
Know Before You Go
The cafe is open daily between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. (except December 25). There is also an espresso bar that operates between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. daily (except December 25).