16 Essential Black-Owned Restaurants in DC You Need to Know
From West African dishes to southern favorites.
DC may be known as the nation’s capital, but there’s more to this city than just government centers, monuments, and museums. It’s also the home of one of the most expansive restaurant scenes in the country, where Black culture shines and a slew of eateries each bring something different to the table.
From the historic Ben’s Chili Bowl where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a loyal regular to a slew of Ethiopian restaurants that showcase the country’s cuisine, DC is home to a number of Black-owned restaurants where the cuisine is an extension of the owners themselves. “Food is a representation of who you are,” says chef Peter Opare, co-owner of the West African takeout restaurant Open Crumb. He says his food channels his family’s history, but also “touches on more food from the Black diaspora.”
Black restaurant owners all over the District are using their lived experience with different cultures as an integral part of the dining experience, and the resulting restaurants are as vast and diverse as the city’s residents. With so many options, we’ve narrowed down a list of 16 essential Black-owned restaurants to visit in the area, so be intentional with how you spend your dollars and support these businesses during Black History Month and beyond.
Ben's Chili Bowl
This spot has been a U Street staple since Virginia Ali first opened the doors with her late husband, Ben, in 1958. Now at 88 years old, Ali’s can still be seen behind the counter serving up food to tourists, locals, and celebrities alike. The family-run restaurant is known for selling perhaps the city’s most iconic half-smoke, a smokey, spicy hot dog loaded up with chili, cheese, and chopped onions, but the eatery also offers classic American favorites like burgers and fries.
Ben's Next Door
Right next door to the historic Ben’s Chili Bowl, this sit-down restaurant and bar serves as an extension of the DC landmark. From bottomless mimosa brunch with dishes like chicken and waffles and vanilla French toast to dinner favorites like “& grits” which offers a choice of catfish, shrimp, or blackened salmon beside organic stone-ground, three-cheese grits, you really can’t go wrong.
Calabash Tea & Tonic
Founder Sunyatta Amen drew inspiration from her Jamaican and Native American great-grandmother’s formulas to create more than 80 teas available at Calabash Tea & Tonic. Amen is a fifth-generation master herbalist and grew up behind the counters of her father’s herb shops and vegan juice bars in Harlem, so stop by to pick up tea and spices to bring home or sample tonics and light vegan food in the shop.
Cane serves Caribbean comfort food in the nation’s capital and is owned and operated by chef Peter Prime and his sister, Jeanine. The beloved Trinidadian spot blends flavors from India, Spain, and African countries to create unique dishes that span every part of the world. You’ll find entrees like oxtail and a whole fried snapper that can be paired with paratha tiffin boxes, which are stacked stainless steel tins filled with assorted curries and flatbread. Don’t miss the doubles, a street snack consisting of bread topped with cumin-spiced chickpeas, and pair it all with one of the restaurant’s signature caribbean rum cocktails.
Creole on 14th
Get a taste of New Orleans at Creole on 14th. The restaurant and bar is owned by Jeffeary Miskiri, a Takoma Park native, whose goal is to bring southern comfort to DC. He started out cooking fixtures like jerk chicken, plantains, and shrimp and grits at gatherings for his family, who have southern and Caribbean roots. So in addition to the favorites, you’ll find options like a panko-spiced lamb chop, oxtail stew, and a rotisserie chicken rubbed with a 12-spice blend of creole flavor.
Culture Coffee Too
A staple of the Riggs Park neighborhood since 2017, Culture Coffee Too is the perfect spot to grab a quick snack or a hot made-to-order coffee. Once you’re there, you can also explore products from local vendors ranging from skin care to accessories, and the shop also provides recreational activities and entertainment for the community.
DC has a swath of incredible Ethiopian restaurants, earning it the nickname Little Ethiopia. One of the oldest and most well-known spots in the District is Dukem owned by Tefera Zewdie. Inside the restaurant, patrons tear spongy injera and use the bread to pick up an array of dishes like lamb tibs, beef kitfo, and vegetable-based dishes. The restaurant also regularly hosts performances of East African music and dancing.
This casual cafe infuses Jamaican flavors into dishes for every meal of the day. From Jamaican food like spicy escovitch fish and jerk chicken platters to classic paninis and fruit smoothies, the menu achieves owner Caple Green’s goal of showcasing an eclectic mix of cultures and cuisines.
Florida Avenue Grill
Just three blocks from the U Street Metro Station sits Florida Avenue Grill, affectionately nicknamed “The Grill.” Its deep history with DC starts in 1944, when Lacey C. Wilson Sr. and his wife, Bertha, opened the shop. Now more than 75 years later and owned by Imar Hutchins, it still stands tall and is a local go-to for soul food and all-day breakfast, or to catch a glimpse of history any time of the day.
The Kitchen Jerk
From build-your-own rice bowls to signature pasta dishes, you can find it at all The Kitchen Jerk.
At the Caribbean soul food carry-out spot, owned by Samantha Lebbie-Adderley and China “Chef Chi” Adderle, you’ll be hard pressed to find an item on the menu that isn’t enhanced with the flavor of their special jerk seasoning. Since they both grew up eating meals with bold flavors and spices—Samantha’s parents are from Sierra Leone and China’s are from the Bahamas—they incorporate that influence into the restaurant's dishes with dishes like the six-cheese jerk mac ‘n cheese and the “Drip Too Hard” wings.
Named after the French word for “mixing,” chef Elias Taddesse’s new restaurant blends flavors, ingredients, and techniques from around the world. Taddesse was raised in Addis Ababa, the capital of the largest city in Ethiopia, trained in France, and now creates one of the best burgers in the District, so it’s clear the menu at this worldly fast-casual restaurant is true to its name.
Oohh’s & Aahh’s
This soul food staple has been featured in the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives with Guy Fieri and remains a favorite spot for fried chicken, blackened whiting, and sides like mac ‘n cheese and collared greens. Chef and owner Oji Abbott, founded the restaurant in 2003 as a safe space for the area’s Black community. While the storefront on U Street is carryout only, their Georgia Avenue location has a fully stocked bar and space to dine in.
For West African dishes with a soul food tilt, visit Open Crumb. The restaurant, which started as a bakery, is owned and operated by chef Peter Opare and his family. Opare prides himself on making most of his ingredients in house, from the homemade bread that completes his sandwiches to the hand-ground spices that bring flavor to his West African-inspired dishes. The menu includes dishes like like shrimp and grits, fried chicken sandwiches, and jollof rice, plus a slate of soups and stews.
Po Boy Jim
Po Boy sandwiches are a staple in Louisiana and Texas, and the southern favorite typically comes filled with either roast beef or fried seafood. Po Boy Jim Bar & Grill brings the southern delicacy to DC, thanks to Jeff Miskiri, who opened the establishment in 2014 with the help of his mother and cousin, Ian Reid. In fact, they inspired the restaurant's name as “Jim” stands for Jeff, Ian, and “mothers.” At Po Boy Jim, the menu goes far beyond the traditional sandwich fillings, and you can choose from more than 25 options including fried shrimp, oysters, roast beef, catfish, and more.
DC native and chef Nina Gilchrist is rethinking soul food for Northeast DC. The majority of her menu is made from locally sourced and organic ingredients, and the restaurant offers a broad spectrum of vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free options with dishes like cajun chicken and shrimp pasta, red snapper with coconut rice, and fried cauliflower bites.
Known for its Southern-style comfort food, Toyin Alli has been slinging bread pudding and gumbo from local venues and food trucks since 2010. Popular menu items include chicken and beef sausage gumbo, shrimp and grits, and red beans and rice. Of course, you can’t leave without trying Alli’s signature dish (and the inspiration for the eatery’s name)—the Brown Butter Bourbon Bread Puddin’. The eatery has expanded to include a Union Market location and two food trucks, so there are plenty of places to catch this must-try spot.