Food & Drink

DC's best Southern food, according to actual Southerners

Published On 10/15/2014 Published On 10/15/2014
Laura Hayes

Want to get a real taste of the South, sans roadtrip? Trust these 14 recommendations from bonafide Southerners living in DC. We assembled a hungry panel of folks hailing from Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Louisiana. They may live in DC, but they know Southern charm when they see it. 

Florida Avenue Grill

Florida Avenue Grill

U Street/Cardozo
Florida Avenue Grill has been getting soul food right for 70 years. Damn straight, they were making that killer sweet potato pie back in 1944! Arkansas native Brock Thompson says, "It’s a great place, frozen in time." Their home-style dinners include fried pork chops, chitterlings, and baked chicken with cornbread dressing. But that’s not all. Get in on their all-day breakfast with options like fish & grits, a spicy half-smoke sausage with two large eggs, and their "world famous hotcakes". It’ll fill you up with good feelings.

Marvin

Marvin

U Street
Our Southern experts pegged Marvin for the best iteration of chicken & waffles. Crispy free-range chicken sits on a golden waffle and a mound of collards. Gravy completes the dish. Georgia native Tom Hayes says, "You have to get this dish right to pass as Southern." You’ll find it on the brunch menu. Marvin combines the best of the Belgian world with the best of the South, based on Marvin Gaye's two years in self-imposed exile in a small Belgian town.

Scott Suchman

Southern Efficiency

Shaw
Kentucky native Tara Gabaldon fell in love with this Derek Brown bar when it hosted a "Kentucky Society of DC" dinner. But dining isn’t limited to Bluegrass State fare. The menu captures all sides of Southern cuisine, which is important to Brown. "Southern food is shorthand for regional foods coming from geographically and culturally diverse places," he says. "There are rich, poor, Black, White, Hispanic, and multicultural Southerners — their food traditions shape Southern cuisine into the wonderful trove of recipes that it is." Try the biscuit brunch!

Laura Hayes

Oohh’s and Aahh’s

U Street
Oohh’s and Aahh’s are the sounds Southerners make when they feel right at home at this U Street soul food authority. "You have to get their mac and cheese and BBQ chicken wings, but from there you can play around." This sage advice is from Georgia’s Lukas Smith. Arkansas’ Brock Thompson agrees, but says, "Try the fried pork chops, fried catfish, and collard greens -- oh gosh, those collard greens." Oohh’s and Aahh’s has received visits from Allen Iverson, Jay-Z, Kevin Durant, LaVar Arrington, Lebron James, and other big names who get good food.

Kyle Martell

Evening Star Cafe

Alexandria
Let’s be real. When it comes to Southern food, shrimp and grits are hard to top. Not only are they delicious, but a well-executed version says "yeah, we know what we’re doing". Tennessee’s Elizabeth Parker proclaims that Evening Star Cafe gets it. "The shrimp and grits are wonderful, because they actually use Tasso ham, and okra, which any good Southerner will tell you is the best vegetable," she says. Also try Chef Jim Jeffords’ fried chicken sliders on the lounge menu.

Laura Hayes

Vidalia

Downtown
"The shrimp and grits and the lemon chess pie are the real deal," according to Louisiana native Ryan Rupe. He’s crushin' on the Chef Jeff Buben restaurant. "Vidalia is still far and away the best Southern-style restaurant the city has; everything is consistently stellar and worthy of its higher price point." One next-level treat is the restaurant’s chicken-fried veal sweetbreads, served with a kabocha squash waffle, bacon fondue, and lemon caper veal jus. Just forget that it’s thyroid and dig in.

Michael Harlan Turkell

Jackson 20

Old Town Alexandria
Three words: pimento cheese ravioli. These pure bliss bundles are topped with charcoal slow-roasted goat, making it a must-order at Jackson 20. Bring your appetite, so you can also try country ham & corn fritters, Vidalia onion soup with bone marrow toast, and pickled fried okra. As far as deviled eggs go, they nailed it, according to Kentucky’s Tara Gabaldon. "They’re hard to mess up, but the mayo ratio has be on point," she says.

Laura Hayes

Acadiana

Mt Vernon Sq
Head to Acadiana for a blast of the bayou. Chef Jeff Tunks not only worked in New Orleans for a number of years, but he also continues to do research. The guy managed to hit 20 restaurants in four days in NoLa, and followed with another 10 on the Bayou. A bowl of Acadiana’s Louisiana seafood gumbo is like gulping the gulf, because it’s loaded with jumbo lump crab, shrimp, crawfish, oysters, redfish, and Mahatma long-grain rice. Go for lunch to try six different po’ boys, all on bread flown in from Leidenheimer Bakery in New Orleans.

Laura Hayes

Beuchert’s Saloon

Capitol Hill
Tennessee native Elizabeth Parker digs Beuchert’s, and loves the hospitality and the portion size, too: "Sometimes you just want a frickin' entrée in this town." For brunch, opt for the Eggs Benedict, because Chef Andrew Markert replaces English muffins with fried green tomatoes. If you’re like Elizabeth, the dish will "make your whole world explode." The spot has history — the original Beuchert’s Saloon was built back in 1880, and served as a speakeasy during prohibition.

Laura Hayes

Barrel

Eastern Market
"It’s an atrocity that there are so few properly prepared biscuits in this city; we’re afraid of lard, shortening, and butter it seems," says Georgia native Lukas Smith. "Barrel on Capitol Hill gets it right. They also fry chicken the right way." The bourbon bar has a Charleston, SC chef in the kitchen cranking out what Lukas calls "modern touches on classy Southern food." He even likened Barrel to Hugh Acheson’s 5 & 10 in Athens, GA. Don’t miss the fried chicken with smoky sausage gravy, biscuits, and blood orange jam.

Laura Hayes

DCity Smokehouse

Bloomingdale
Finger-licking good BBQ is Southern food at its best for some of our experts, and DCity Smokehouse was name-dropped left and right. Grab some meat by the pound paired with a side of hushpuppies, or explore the between-the-bread masterpieces like the "Meaty Palmer", named for its half-smoked turkey, half-pork belly composition. The smashed avocado & jalapeño aioli make it way better than Arnold's version.

Eatonville

Eatonville

14th Street
Louisiana’s Ryan Rupe says do not miss the giant hushpuppy filled with rock shrimp at Eatonville. The ball of love is the perfect appetizer. He hearts other nods to Who Dat land, including a gumbo brimming with crab, rock shrimp, Andouille sausage, fried okra & white rice, as well as jambalaya. The expansive Southern restaurant is inspired by Zora Neale Hurston, a trailblazing African American author. Their Eyes Were Watching God was probably on your summer reading list.

Jelila Mohammed

IOTA Club & Cafe

Arlington, VA
You know Iota for their live music, but don’t be afraid to bring your appetite. Tennessee’s Elizabeth Parker says it reminds her of Nashville. She digs their Carolina fried chicken and collards, plus any of their "smashers", aka sandwiches. They also do brunch, and the star of the show is their "Generous Breakfast Bread Pudding." It’s capable of soaking up the previous night’s shenanigans.

Georgia Brown’s

Georgia Brown’s

McPherson Square
Bring four friends to this soul food staple. That way, you can spring for the Ma Brown’s appetizer sampler, boasting fried green tomatoes, cornmeal-crusted cat fingers, bacon-wrapped blue cheese-stuffed dates, and truffled deviled eggs. It’s a culinary tour of the South on one platter. Chef Jim Jeffords from Evening Star hails from Georgia and gave a glowing recommendation of the Charleston Perlau: a pile of Carolina red rice, Andouille sausage, duck confit, scallions, jumbo shrimp, and cornbread crumble. But be ready to tackle head-on shrimp, head on.

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1. Florida Avenue Grill 1100 Florida Ave NW, Washington, DC 20009

When Lacey and Bertha Wilson opened Florida Avenue Grill way back in the 1940s, they envisioned a home-style cafe where you could get a meal any time of the day without selling out big bucks for it. With heaping plates of Southern dinners like smothered fried pork chops and all-day breakfast with options like fish & grits, smoked sausage, eggs, and hotcakes, their vision is still living on past their era of ownership.

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2. Marvin 2007 14th St NW, Washington, 20009

This DC mainstay is exactly what you think it is: a bistro that pays homage to Marvin Gaye and serves up Belgian and Southern cuisine. OK, maybe it's not exactly what you thought. A little history lesson: the legendary soul singer-songwriter was born in DC and later spent a period of self-imposed exile in Belgium to rehabilitate and reflect. At Marvin, you'll find dishes like Belgian moulles-frites and southern-style shrimp, plus grits and fried chicken over Belgian waffles. There's a roof deck perfect for sipping cocktails on, too.

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3. Southern Efficiency 1841 7th St NW, Washington, 20004

James Beard Award nominated bar owner Derek Brown’s Shaw’s Southern Efficiency specializes in southern whiskey and eccentric southern recipes. Inspired by the concept of lazy southern Sunday afternoons with bourbon in hand, the beverage program encompasses seasonal whiskey cocktails, julep concoctions, beer, cider, and wine. The food roster is separated into appetizers and mains, boasting southern classics like a fried chicken sandwich, buttermilk biscuits, and Louisville chips and dip, which are accompanied by charred peppers, pickles, caramelized onions, and roasted garlic.

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4. Oohh's & Aahh's 1005 U St NW, Washington, DC 20001 (U Street)

Conveniently located on U Street and open until 4a on weekends for your late-night soul food satiation, Oohh's and Aahh's (cash-only) delivers on delicious fried chicken, wings, and mac n' cheese.

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5. Evening Star Cafe 2000 Mt Vernon Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22301 (Alexandria)

The most Judas Priest-inspired restaurant name since You've Got Another Wing Coming Chicken Shack, Evening Star (third track on Hell Bent for Leather, look it up) is now back after renovation with a 60-seat dining room done up 1950s diner-style, and serving mod American entrees like buttermilk fried chicken with braised collards, crispy black drum and sautéed Brussels sprouts, dry-aged duck breast, and dirty rice with chicken livers.

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6. Vidalia 1990 M St NW, Washington, DC 20036 (Downtown)

This upscale Southerner's helmed by James Beard Award-winner Jeffrey Buben, who is dressing up Southern cuisine with his famous shrimp and grits and re-imagined dishes like chicken-fried veal sweetbreads, which sit atop a waffle with bacon fondue and a lemon caper veal jus.

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7. Jackson 20 480 King Street , Alexandria, VA 22314 (Old Town)

Fuel up for a romantic King St stroll by first hitting J20's sidewalk seating for a 64oz pitcher of Port City Optimal Wit or Porter, and/or a 32oz pitcher of cane rum, peach schnapps, bourbon, assorted fruit, and a Cabernet float. If you're looking to coat your stomach as well, you'll never go wrong with their chile-lime cracklins or three-day ribs.

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8. Acadiana 901 New York Ave NW, Washington, 20001

Head to Acadiana for a blast of the bayou. Chef Jeff Tunks not only worked in New Orleans for a number of years, but he also continues to do research. A bowl of Acadiana’s Louisiana seafood gumbo is like gulping the gulf, because it’s loaded with jumbo lump crab, shrimp, crawfish, oysters, redfish, and mahatma long-grain rice. Go for lunch to try six different po’boys, all on bread flown in from Leidenheimer Bakery in New Orleans.

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9. Beuchert's Saloon 623 Pennsylvania Ave SE , Washington, DC , DC 20003 (Eastern Market)

A reborn western saloon with the upscale hipness of Eastern Market, Beuchert’s takes “farm-to-table” fare to the next level. Everything on the market-driven menu is sourced from local coops and farms, resulting in an abundance of fresh flavors. We suggest you sip on a specialty cocktail and order the roasted bone marrow -- a verdant combination of pickled pistachios and mustard seed, served with a parsley salad -- to fit in with the local herd, providing the taxidermy Buffalo (mounted above the cherry wood bar with lifelike expressions) haven’t done so already.

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10. Barrel 613 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington, DC 20003 (Capitol Hill)

If you're in Capitol Hill and you like bourbon, this Southern bar is for you. The bar menu features two full pages of bourbon varieties, and if brown water is too strong for you, there are also 16 domestic beers on tap, and a few wines. The two-level space includes a downstairs hideaway called Elixir Bar, where you can scan shelf after shelf of the impressive whiskey collection. Though Barrel is definitely a drinking spot, the kitchen serves a menu of Southern comfort-inspired food like fried chicken, mac & cheese, and bacon fried rice.

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11. DCity Smokehouse 8 Florida Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001 (Noma)

DCity Smokehouse hosts a four-seat BBQ joint led by pitmaster Rob Sonderman. You’ll find menu items like the chicken and red velvet waffles and Sondermans’ smoked meats, and you can get a protein grand tour with a smokehouse meat platter. As far as we are concerned, DCity is one of the best places to get BBQ in Washington DC.

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12. Eatonville 2121 14th St NW , Washington, DC 20009

Inspired by author Zora Neale Hurston, Eatonville brings classic Southern food (like gumbo and jambalaya) to DC.

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13. IOTA Club and Cafe 2832 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA 22201

IOTA is great for live music, and of course, their classic Southern-style food. Must-try items include Carolina fried chicken and collards, plus any of their "smashers", a.k.a sandwiches. They also do brunch, and the star of the show is their "Generous Breakfast Bread Pudding".

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14. Georgia Brown's 950 15th St NW, Washington, 20005 (Downtown)

They do Southern fare right at GB's, which such fine foods such as ham, shrimp, grits, bacon, home fries, and more, which are all available in their delectable buffet.

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