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Where to Find Black Chefs and Black-Owned Restaurants & Bars in Washington, DC
From local favorites to Creole and Caribbean cuisine, these trusted restaurants define the District’s dining scene.
DC’s strong African American history and its status as a popular landing place for talented entrepreneurs and chefs from all over the world has added to the city's already thriving community of black chefs and black-owned restaurants and bars. There's so much you can experience with each visit. Savor all the stellar dishes and support the community with each reservation through the EatOkra app, retrace the footsteps from a day in the life of a local black chef and mark your calendar for the annual Black Restaurant Week, when you can take advantage of great dining deals and exclusive programming.
Below, we've compiled more than 20 restaurants, bars and cafes that recognize some of the talented chefs and local business owners of color who call DC home. Some will take you on a journey to far-off nations, others will provide local DC vibes and tastes no other place can. What they all share is that they define DC's restaurant scene and they invite you to dig in.
Few people have witnessed as much change in the District as Virginia Ali, who, along with her husband Ben, opened up the DC institution Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street in August 1958. Purveyors of DC’s signature take on a hot dog, the half-smoke, the Ali family played a unique role during the 1968 race riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, as they stayed open past curfew to serve both activists and local police and firemen. The restaurant has stood the test of time, persevering after the late 1960s riots that led to decay in the 1970s and 1980s, the construction of the Metro's Green Line in the late ‘80s and the eventual revitalization of the U Street neighborhood as a dining and nightlife mecca. To say Ben’s has been a success is an understatement, as the quaint shop has hosted President Barack Obama and countless celebrities.
Before the age of 30, chef Kwame Onwuachi achieved things chefs everywhere can only dream of. He released his critically acclaimed memoir, Notes From a Young Black Chef, which is now being turned into a feature film and Onwuachi also received the James Beard Foundation's Rising Star Chef of the Year award. If that wasn’t enough, he also reigns over the kitchen of the waterfront Afro-Caribbean concept, Kith/Kin. The modest-yet-sophisticated spot celebrates the chef’s heritage, from West Africa to the Caribbean and from New Orleans to New York. Pro tip: make sure you try the goat roti.
Chef Peter Prime has shown he’s ready for primetime at Cane, which he founded along with his sister, Jeanine. Chef Peter has transported the cuisine of Trinidad to Washington, DC after honing his skills at Spark at Old Engine 12 and at the French Culinary Institute, where he worked with well-known chefs like Todd Gray and Michel Richard. Cane’s name hearkens back to the sugar cane fields where enslaved Africans toiled during British rule in Trinidad. From this tragedy, Prime has conjured a menu that additionally features Spanish, French, East Asian and Indian flavors, with dishes like cumin-spiced pork belly and pimento-smoked jerk wings. Try a Paratha Tiffin Box, which features Indian bread served with an array of curries and chutneys. Cane was named a Bib Gourmand in the 2020 Michelin Guide for DC.
Recognized both locally and nationally for its classic rendition on soul food, Ooh's & Aah's is led by Oji Abbott, an acclaimed chef who was born and raised in the District. The no-frills restaurant dishes out Southern comfort; you will feel as if you’ve stepped into grandma’s kitchen. The whiting fish is beloved, as are the wings (choose from barbecue, Buffalo, lemon pepper and teriyaki), while sides like the macaroni and cheese and cornbread cannot be ignored.
DC has often been referred to as “Little Ethiopia” for its plethora of restaurants that offer the delicious cuisine from the African country. Dukem Ethiopian has stood above the rest for more than a decade, its take on specialties like kitfo (minced raw beef marinated in chili powder-based spice blend and clarified butter) and tibs (sauteed meat that can be served hot or mild) endearing it to the U Street neighborhood. Indulging in one of Dukem’s meals platter-style is a must for any DC dining connoisseur.
Billed as the oldest soul food restaurant in the world, Florida Avenue Grill opened its doors in 1944 and has been treating customers with kindness and lovingly prepared food ever since. Entrepreneur Imar Hutchins purchased the Grill in 2005, which was owned and managed by the Wilson family for 40 years prior. Hutchins has kept all the charm and flavor of the restaurant intact. You can enjoy breakfast all day, or stop in for one of their popular home-style dinners, served with a corn muffin and two sides – like it should be.
Calabash’s roots go back to 1976 in New York City, where a young Sunyatta Amen learned the medicinal value of teas, foods and spices from all over the world while working at her parents’ health food shop and juice bar. Now Amen, who has stated a commitment to creating jobs and encouraging wellness in her community, offers 100 tea and coffee blends across her two shops – one in Shaw, the other in Brookland. You can also purchase aromatic tonics, baked vegan treats, kombucha and much more.
The popular Sweet Home Café at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, helmed by chef Jerome Grant, will take you on a historical culinary journey as vast, spellbinding and complex as the museum’s collection. The restaurant serves up food that represents four distinct regions: the Agricultural South, the Creole Coast, the North States and Western Range. Grant’s from-scratch cooking and use of local ingredients makes for a mouthwatering catfish po’ boy or beef brisket sandwich on a sweet potato bun.
For more than 20 years, this unadorned but adored carryout spot has excited taste buds just off of H Street NE. Sadly, that legendary location recently closed, but you can still savor Horace & Dickie's soulful flavors at their spot in Takoma and from their food truck that bounces all over the city. Locals rave about the fried fish, the crab cakes, the mac and cheese, the hush puppies, the bean pie ... it’s hard to go wrong.
Owners Vernon and Lynn Woodland cook up a 100% vegan menu at NuVegan Café, which has two locations in DC, one in College Park, Md. and another in Richmond, Va. The Woodlands aim to make vegan food that appeals to everyone, crafting creative takes on the fried chicken sandwich and cheeseburger, but also serving up herbed quinoa, chick peas and ginger-spiced tofu.
Inhabitants of Adams Morgan know all about Bukom Café, a neighborhood staple that dazzles diners with its outstanding West African cuisine. There’s goosi, a milk rice dessert that originated in Senegal, as well as fufu, a sticky dough that you consume by hand. We’ve also heard the jollof rice is a must-try. Bukom also doles out strong cocktails and Kenyan beer and hosts live reggae music on weekend nights.
Did you know that Capitol Hill is home to a boutique bakery owned by an MIT-educated engineer with a sweet tooth? Well, you do now. The Sweet Lobby, based in Barracks Row, is owned by Dr. Winnette McIntosh Ambrose, a self-taught pastry chef who concocts internationally inspired sweet treats. Winnette won Food Network’s Cupcake Wars within months of opening The Sweet Lobby, turning her into a star and turning the store into a must-stop shop for those craving macarons, shortbread and éclairs that are to die for.
Negril was founded 40 years ago by Jamaican native Earl Chinn, who saw an opportunity to bring his native cuisine to the nation’s capital. The eatery now has four locations in the area, so one could say Chinn made the right call. Negril’s menu is populated by a mélange of signature Jamaican and Caribbean mainstays, from the coco bread to the jerk chicken to mouthwatering desserts like rum cake and coconut custard tart.
Filmmaking couple Haile and Shirikiana Gerima founded this endearing bookstore and cafe in 1998 and named it after their acclaimed 1993 film. Inside, you will find books and videos focused on the African diaspora, as much of the Gerimas work has been. A community outpost that also offers a cafe featuring breakfast items, paninis, wraps, smoothies and even pizza, Sankofa frequently hosts events, including film screenings and poetry readings.
This family-owned bar and grill now sports two locations in DC – one on H Street NE, the other in Shaw. Caribbean recipes are interpreted with a Cajun flair on the robust menu, which features signatures like the District Po Boy (sirloin steak, bacon, provolone, shrimp, remoulade sauce) and the Gumbo on H (andouille sausage, shrimp, Cajun-style chicken, scallion rice). Po Boy Jim also offers brunch and late-night dining, meaning it should be on your list of late Saturday night AND early Sunday morning destinations.
Co-owner and executive chef of The Caged Bird, Meshach Cisero, turned a passion project into a successful restaurant and neighborhood gathering place. Initially a data scientist, Cisero began a food blog that showcased recipes and the author’s thoughts on a range of topics. The blog’s notoriety led to an appearance on Good Morning America, where Cisero was judged by the famous Gordon Ramsay. Before long, The Caged Bird was born, where you can savor authentic soul food during weekend brunch, dinner and late-night services (the restaurant is open until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday). The locale also doubles as an entertainment venue, featuring open mic nights, spoken-word poetry, DJ sets and trivia.
While DC has put the half-smoke and go-go music on the map, another hometown hero is mumbo sauce. This spicy-sweet concoction goes well on wings, pizza and, well, just about anything. At the MLK Deli in Congress Heights, the signature sauce adorns Mr. Luke’s fried chicken sandwich, which is served on a brioche bun. The deli also delivers on all kinds of classics, from hearty Reubens to weighty crab cakes. Pair one of those with a homespun lemonade and you’re in heaven.
Feast on finger-licking smoked meats at DCity Smokehouse, where barbecue perfection from pitmaster Shawn McWhirter awaits. DCity's wood-smoked variation on the American specialty includes epic sandwiches like the Meaty Palmer, which stars pork belly and turkey breast piled high with avocado, tomato and chipotle aioli. We’re also big fans of the pit-smoked chicken wings, the brisket, the rib tips ... look, just go and try everything.
Your next hidden bar experience awaits in Shaw – all you need to do is take an elevator downstairs from the neighborhood’s Sugar Shack doughnut shop. That’s where you’ll find Nocturne, a funky-yet-intimate space from the mind of beverage director Hakim Hamid. Expect a menu that jet sets around the globe. Hamid takes you to Scandinavia, where savory cocktails include fennel and pine, or you can travel to Appalachia, where bourbon is the star.
Howard University alum Miles Gray III’s outposts – Smith Public Trust in Brookland and Smith Commons on H Street NE – are devoted to approachable dining fare and promoting the arts in a communal space. The tri-level Smith Commons pairs craft beers with seasonal favorites and cuts loose on the weekends with a DJ, while Smith Public Trust frequently hosts live performances on its stage.
The latest creation from the Fried Rice Collective (the team that brought the District a new breed of fast-casual Asian dining with CHIKO) is Anju in Dupont Circle. Executive chef Angel Barreto, who previously worked with Fried Rice Collective chef/partner Scott Drewno at The Source and CHIKO, takes Korean cooking to levels not previously seen in DC. Modern cooking melds with traditional Korean flavors, resulting in tantalizing delights like the fried chicken complemented by jujube mole, white barbecue sauce and spicy gochujang sauces.
Entrepreneur Karin Sellers is behind Here’s the Scoop, which opened to great acclaim in Columbia Heights. The menu is packed with goodies: 12 ice cream flavors to choose from (including salted caramel, butter pecan and birthday cake), an array of pies and cookies and signature milkshakes. Sellers is also from the area and works to make Here’s the Scoop a community hub, where students from nearby Howard University can mingle and the city’s next entrepreneurs can be born. She also hires and mentors emerging bakers.