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From Jollof to Injera: African Dining Experiences in D.C.

The greater Washington, D.C., metropolitan area has long been on true foodies’ radars due to its status as a culinary melting pot. This includes a tempting array of diverse African cuisine. Discerning palates have a lot to taste around the nation’s capital and surrounding areas between the long-established communities infusing everything from Ghanaian to Gullah Geechee traditions.

Neighborhoods like the historically Black U Street Corridor offer the rich and spicy flavors of West Africa, aromatic dishes of North Africa, and far more. Or consider the incredibly diverse 16th Street Heights, where you can savor Ethiopian injera, Senegalese thieboudienne, or Moroccan tagines. The whole of the African continent is represented in these eateries, making Washington, D.C., a haven for gourmands seeking an authentic taste of the Motherland.

Sinking one’s teeth into the history of Washington, D.C.’s foodways is a journey through time going back hundreds of years, as found in Black-owned eateries. During the era of forced West African diaspora, thousands of people brought with them their own cultures, which not only resisted efforts to suppress them but even found expression in communities beyond their own. Recipes from the homelands left behind persevered, creating new culinary stories and preserving origin stories through the medium of recipes and family meals. Over time, freed African Americans would establish their own restaurants, exposing new palates to these great dishes. Add to that the international presence of the diplomatic sector within America’s capital, and you find new West African immigrants adding to the story with their own contributions. Stir all that up in the stew, and you can quickly understand why foodies questing for African dishes in the Washington, D.C. area discover a true Mecca for all manner of that continent’s cuisine.

So what exactly can your taste buds expect to encounter when it comes to African restaurants here? Well, Washington, D.C. tourism can amply fold in a circuit of African eating. Start with a Ghanaian restaurant in D.C. for a dish made of the native grain fonio with a peppery shito sauce, just like you would find in that nation today. Nigerian restaurants in D.C. could spoon you some cassava leaf stew with beef or fish. And if you’re feeling like some authentic Swahili goodness, the goat dish known as mbuzi mchuzi will give you an authentic taste of Kenya. Still not sure where to start on your tour of the best African cuisine in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and beyond? Keep reading!

Here are some of the best African restaurants to try in the greater Washington, D.C., area.

3809 Rhode Island Ave. Brentwood, MD 20722

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If you haven’t been to the miXt Food Hall in the Prince George’s County Gateway Arts District, your taste buds are totally missing out! This foodie hotspot is chock full of great eateries. Your first stop there should absolutely be The Spice Kitchen West African Grill.

First-generation Nigerian-American founder and owner Olumide Shokubi is on a mission of community building, and he’s using his family’s culinary traditions to bring people together. Fish lovers will love the special suya-styled blackened salmon, while those into poultry will want to sink into some of the spice wings. Vegetarians will be blown away by the spinach efo-riro and its mix of special spices, rice, and onions. And save room for some sweet puff puff if you adore doughy, sugary goodness.

1924 9th St. NW Washington, DC 20001

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One of the best places to get African cuisine in Washington, D.C. also happens to be one of the most welcoming. The Apipoo Bar & Grill prides itself on affording a congenial atmosphere that leaves diners relaxed and feeling at home. Located in the heart of the historic Black Broadway, Apipoo Bar & Grill serves excellent Ghanaian cuisine, and you can expect sports at the bar and live bands and DJs on the weekend. Kick things off with oxtail pepper soup, which has quite the kick of its own. Peanut butter enthusiasts are encouraged to venture into the fufu stew. But the hallmark dish here is the super-authentic waakye, a typical Ghanaian rice-and-bean dish served with red-dried sorghum. To quench your thirst, African cocktails like Mango Nyankpala and Appioo Ball will hit your adult-beverage happy place.

1427 H St. NE Washington, DC 20002

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Speaking of happy places that serve adult beverages, Lydia on H Street was designed to be equally awesome as both a restaurant and bar. Self-proclaimed chef and mixologist Victor Chizinga brings both his Malawian heritage to the dishes he serves and a proudly Black-owned-spirits-only offering in this spot’s speakeasy space. There’s even an upstairs scene where live African music plays to happily dancing patrons on weekends, plus some karaoke on Mondays. As for the menu, shared plates are the way to go in the communal-style options. For that, think jerk chicken, fried shrimp, and fried Oreos for dessert. If you prefer your own entrée, the mbuzi ndi masamaba is an excellent goat stew served with some nice jollof rice. Lydia also kicks an incredible Sunday brunch where you can go with chicken and waffles or whole fried snapper, complete with bottomless rum punch and mimosas.

2442 18th St. NW Washington, DC 20009

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Mixing a whole lot of West African countries into one of the most amazing local Black-owned eateries in Washington, D.C., Bukom Café is a wonder of the Adams Morgan neighborhood. With fantastic art hanging on the colorful walls and great live music from ska to funk playing just about every night, this lively joint delivers the goods to all the senses—especially the palate! Start off with the black-eyed pea glory of the moin moin. Spoon lovers should steer towards the ecowas okra soup. And if your idea of a good time is chicken and peanuts, you have to try the nkatenwan stew (vegetarians can go for a tofu version). If you’re here on a Sunday, the live jazz brunch will be a wonderful way to recover from Saturday night. No matter what you do, be sure to at least have a bite of the bukom rum cake. Your sweet tooth will thank you!

5. Moi Moi

1627 K St. NW Washington, DC 20006

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We all know that Southern cuisine finds heavy influence from its motherland roots. But here at Moi Moi, one of the best West African Restaurants in D.C., that connection is the whole ethos of the place. The son of a diplomat, Chef Howsoon Cham left the embassy life to bring all of his Gambian culinary know-how to the table. With a mission of fusing New American cuisine with his homeland’s cooking traditions, the result is a sublime dining experience like none other. The grilled suya spiked salad brings authentic spices to your tongue, while the jerk chicken lollipop makes for a more whimsical yet no less delicious choice. If you want to feel like a real rural yard flavor, the crispy-fired Cornish hen will delight you beyond words. And at the chef’s urging, cocktail lovers are advised to not skip the bar offerings. Think Mandingo Sidecar, Jungle Bird, and nice Smokey Negroni. One final fusion selection: the mango cobbler. It’s a slice of the South with the fruit of Africa.

6. Doro Soul Food

1819 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20001

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There will be no sitting in one of the best fried-chicken spots in the D.C. area—and that’s because this unbelievably great eatery is take-out and delivery only. But don’t let that lead you to believe that Doro Soul Food isn’t one of the top culinary experiences you will ever find. Ethiopian-born, French-trained, Michelin-starred Chef Elias Taddesse brings his high-end profile for some serious down-home victuals. Start off with the fried Doro plate for some buttermilk marinade goodness blessed with special Ethiopian spices. There’s a grilled version if you’re trying to cut down on the fat and even a vegan tender plate for the veggies in the group. The French fries here are tossed with berbere spices. Even the cornbread levels up with a little black cumin thrown into the mix. Bring it all back home or eat it in the car, but don’t skip the mango pudding!

7. Mansa Kunda

8000 Flower Avenue, Takoma Park, MD 20912

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With glowing reviews from outlets like The Washington Post, Mansa Kunda is one of Maryland’s premier Sene-Gambian restaurants. Proprietor Hatib Joof proclaims his goal to be for diners to “forget they are in America.” The result is an authentic West African experience down to the utensil-free eating style. While there are plenty of meat dishes here, Joof is a dedicated vegetarian, so you might want to walk into the garden section of the menu. Try the kotu potato and vegetable salad to get your appetite going. In the entrees, the afra will give you a village stew vibe, whether you go with the chicken or the lamb version. And Gumbo lovers need to check out the ebbeh, the Gambian version of the beloved dish, chock full of seafood. If you’re adventurous about your dessert, then finish things off with the zesty turmeric ginger cake.

8. DAS Ethiopian Cuisine

1201 28th St NW, Washington, DC 20007

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Located in the tony Georgetown neighborhood, DAS Ethiopian Cuisine isn’t just about the incredible food traditions, but also an elegant dining experience. We are talking about white-linen tablecloths and bespoke décor, which speaks of sophistication. Owner Sileshi Alifom has brought his decades of hospitality leadership to what is perhaps his finest establishment. Dedicated to being true to Ethiopian traditions, this is as genuine an experience as you will get in the District. Get chewing with a nice kaisa appetizer, enjoying this authentic cottage-cheese style treat. Beef lovers will want to taste the segana gomen, served up with collard greens. There are plenty of house specials on tap as well, from the chicken infillay to the shrimp tibs. And of course, vegetarians will have plenty of dishes to choose from, whether they go with the chickpea-based shiro wat or Ethiopian Harvest Vegetable Specialty.

4ooo Town Center Blvd, Bowie, MD, 20716

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If you are looking for more of an upscale African experience in Bowie then Aroma Ultra Lounge is the place to go. As you walk into the lounge you are greeted by a luxurious dining experience with plush seating, hookah and the atmosphere is set with Afrobeats, Caribbean and live music.West African menu filled with traditional and crafted dishes. Some of their fan favorites include the Aroma Suya and the Pitchfork Asun, which is goat marinated and roasted with bold spices. While vibing out, you are able to have a unique experience of having well known dishes like Egusi and Pepper Snail. To add even more luxury, they have their Asun on Pineapple that is sure to produce a beautiful Instagrammable photo.   

10. DC Capitol Square Bar & Grill

1500 East Capitol St NE, Washington, DC 20003

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Just moments away from the capitol building sits DC Capitol Square Bar & Grill. After the hustle and bustle of the political and vibrant scene of the Capitol City, end your evening with the Capitol Square Rum O’Range and a hearty plate of Nigerian Oxtails. Don’t just wait until evening to eat, this cafe has an all-day menu that includes brunch and happy hour specials. The owners, Ogay and Emannuel Irono wanted to enhance the area by bringing a sit down cafe that had better options for the local community. The menu is robust with Nigerian and Ghanaian classics like Nigerian Pepper Soup, Kenkey & Fried Fish, Goat, and Ghanaian Light Soup. 

11. Swahili Villages

1990 M St NW, Washington, DC 20036

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Expect a lively African fine dining experience when visiting Swahili Villages in Washington DC. The ambiance is filled with music, delicious African delicacies and a place when everyone can have a great time. Swahili Villages’s menu is carefully curated to include dishes that are spiced well and true to African cuisine. You will find items like KuKu Curry or Chicken Curry and Whole Red Snapper. If you are coming with a party of 5, try their group platter which has beef, chicken and goat with lots of sides that is sure to fill your party. If you need vegetarian options, you will also find dishes like the Red Beans which are also called Maharagwe. Their signature cocktails are also top tier. Diners love the Tropical Splash and the Flaming Margarita.  

1010 St Paul St. Baltimore, MD 21202

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Afro-fusion is one of the trendiest ways to satisfy one’s appetite in the Washington, D.C., food scene. But you’ll have to step out into Baltimore for the area’s best sampling of this favorite palate pleaser over at Posi’s Kitchen. Brothers Olamiposi and Dolapo Lawal take a hands-on approach with everything from sourcing to cook-order methods to churn out dishes that transcend traditional Afro-cooking. Start out by slurping some egusi soup, crafted from melon seeds. The jumbo peri peri tip will take your turkey wing expectations to the next level. And wash it all down with some homemade mint hibiscus tea. It’s a great casual dining Washington, D.C. style setting right here in Charm City!

Black Restaurant Week
Author: Black Restaurant Week

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