America may run on Dunkin’, but the heart of Washington D.C. beats to Chinese carryouts. These dingy Far East establishments may look like your typical fast food joint to the untrained eye, but true Chocolate City natives know what’s up. Carryouts (pronounced “curry-out” in that almost-Southern-but-not-quite D.C. drawl) serve all the typical American Chinese dishes—beef and broccoli, dumplings, all that good stuff—but these guys can also chef up anything from pizza pies to cheese steaks. Just don’t expect to pop a squat and enjoy your meal; these spots have ample standing room, but rarely are there seats. You really do have to carry that food out. And chances are that when you hit your neighborhood carryout, you’re gunning for their signature dish: fried chicken wings with mumbo sauce.

What’s mumbo sauce? It’s the flavor of D.C., with each carryout boasting their own secret recipe full of ingredients never released to the public. Ketchup, barbeque, sweet and sour, paprika, hot sauce...you’ll never know what’s really in it, but it’s so good you won’t really care. As local comedian Leon Scott once asked, “How else can you explain the way that mumbo sauce makes those raggedy carryout chicken wings and soggy, crinkled french fries taste so good?” The locally renowned reddish-orange sauce is so ridiculously addictive that in ’09, Villanova’s basketball team’s D.C. contingency declared it the thing they missed most about home.

For a week I darted around Obama’s backyard, stuffing my face with hard-fried wings drenched in this special sauce and conversing with residents on every street corner to compile a solid list of the D.C. area’s favorite carryouts. Read on to figure out where to grab your carryout when you hit the nation’s capital.

Follow Modi at @DCtoBC

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