Until recently, Washington, D.C., wasn’t exactly known as a culinary destination. Sure, there are a couple of established standout D.C. restaurants, such as Rasika—the Indian hotspot favored by the Obamas. And anything that bears the José Andrés name; the Spanish chef has opened nearly a dozen restaurants in the greater DMV area. But aside from those select few, D.C. has remained relatively under the radar in the food world.
That’s all changed. In 2016, D.C. was named the Restaurant City of the Year by Bon Appétit magazine and received its first Michelin Guide. While these accolades and accomplishments indicate that fine dining options are more abundant than ever in the District, there are still plenty of hidden gems worthy of a visit (or two). Check out these five restaurants owned by people of color who have developed a cult following among Washingtonians. One by one, they’re helping to put the nation’s capital at the top of every foodie’s road map.
Calabash Tea Bar & Cafe
1847 7th St NW
Some places are just plain magical. Calabash Tea Bar & Cafe is one such place. Located in D.C.’s booming Shaw neighborhood, Calabash features more than 100 tea and coffee blends that are concocted specifically to fit your mood. Needing to relax and unwind? Go for My Last Good Nerve, a decaf tea that helps relieve stress and tension. Looking to get lucky? Love Potion #10 Chai—based on an aphrodisiac recipe by the grandmother of owner Sunyatta Amen—is sure to help make that happen. Locally baked vegan treats and kombucha on tap round out Calabash’s delightful offerings. Swing by the African American Civil War Museum or catch a show at the historic Lincoln Theatre—both are just a short walk away.
3322 Georgia Ave NW
Esencias Panameñas serves up authentic Panamanian cuisine in a relaxed, family-friendly environment. It’s hard to go wrong with anything on the restaurant’s extensive menu, but must-haves include the empanadas de maíz and the carimañolas (fresh mashed-yuca balls stuffed with beef, turkey, or veggies and served with tamarind dipping sauce). The bar menu is equally impressive: the Chichita Panameña—the restaurant’s signature cocktail made with mango rum and other fruity elixirs—is sure to transport you to a hammock somewhere along the Panamanian coast.
243 K St NE
Who goes to Indigo? Everyone goes to Indigo. At least, everyone who’s in the know. What started out as a humble pop-up stand has since evolved into a 1,000-square-foot brick and mortar that is almost always busy. But don’t let the lingering lines scare you away, because what Indigo has to offer is more than worth the wait. The family-run restaurant features a rotating menu that changes daily, so you’ll always have the chance to try something new. The daal makhani and cauliflower with potatoes are personal faves, along with the paneer paratha (cheese bread) and the Indiroll, which is your choice of meat or vegetables served sizzling on a hot plate with spinach, cilantro, onions, and roti bread. Top off your meal with a mango lassi for dessert, and you’ll be all set.
1000 3rd St SE
This unassuming bodega is home to some of the tastiest sandwiches this side of the Potomac. They’re generously portioned and made with super fresh ingredients that get delivered daily—no frozen lunch meats or stale bread here. Vegetarian options include the Green Line—named after the train line located closest to the storefront—and the Spicy Veggie Monument, which includes roasted red peppers, tomato, lettuce, onions, and hot peppers with olive tapenade and balsamic vinaigrette. The only downside? Unlike a typical bodega, Cornercopia has limited hours: it’s open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (closed on the weekends), so be sure to allot time for a stop—it’ll definitely be worth your while.
Po Boy Jim
709 H St NE
If you love a good po’ boy, look no further than Po Boy Jim. Nestled in the heart of D.C.’s burgeoning H Street corridor, this spot is home to more than a dozen varietals of the traditional Louisiana sandwich. For the adventurous, there’s the Asian Teriyaki Salmon po’ boy served with or without sesame seeds. For the vegetarian, the Rasta po’ boy is a solid pick: it’s a house-made vegan patty consisting of tofu, coconut, mixed vegetables, and black-eyed peas served with vegan rémoulade. But there’s more to Po Boy Jim than its namesake dish. The entrées are just as stellar—the shrimp and grits, for example, is made with cheese grits and Cajun BBQ shrimp, a winning combination that can only be described as heaven-sent.