Soul food is much more than just food to black people — it’s a feeling. Black-owned restaurants are often seen as homey places to retreat to for a meal and a sense of community. One of the best places to experience this hospitality is the Washington, DC metro area, which includes the suburbs and nearby cities of Maryland and Virginia. Together, this area is known locally as the DMV, and it’s one of the most diverse regions in the United States. Maryland’s largest city, Baltimore, is over 60 percent black, while Washington, DC — formerly nicknamed “chocolate city” — has nearly 50 percent of black residents. You won’t have to look hard to find a black-owned restaurant in this region, and there’s a lot of variety to choose from. From Nigerian-inspired dishes to the flavors of the South, these are the seven best black-owned restaurants in the DMV.
If you visit Washington, DC, and don’t have a black brunch, you didn’t experience DC the right way. On any given weekend, black millennials flock to the cities to day party. Food is typically served around 1:00 PM, then the venue turns into a full-on party by 4:00 PM. One minute you’ll be devouring an omelet and the next the tables are pushed to the side and everyone will be swag surfin’ their food off. Additionally, the district’s black-owned restaurants also offer lunchtime and fine dining options, too.
1. Half Smoke
Located in the historically black neighborhood of Shaw, Half Smoke is the perfect place for a bottomless brunch, midday lunch, or pre-club drinks. This gourmet sausage house is owned by Morehouse graduate, Andre McCain. Gourmet sausages and nostalgia are on the menu here. In true ’90s and early ’00s fashion, it serves classic cereals from our childhoods — think Fruity Pebbles and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
If you’re looking for something hearty, meat lovers should try the Half Smoke, a half beef and half pork smoky sausage. Signature brunch dishes that travelers shouldn’t skip are the Too Lit To Quit, a scramble with eggs and sausage served with home fries, or the Boy Meets World, steak and cheese topped with a fried egg. For a taste of what’s loved by DC locals, go for the wood-grilled chicken wings with mumbo sauce — a staple sauce in black kitchens across DC.
Where: 651 Florida Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001
2. NuVegan Cafe
NuVegan is a down-home family restaurant serving up vegan fare in DC, Virginia, and Maryland. Homey vegan dishes are served cafeteria-style and come with a lot of choices, making NuVegan the ultimate lunchtime spot. Dishes like vegan fried fish and vegan crab cakes really shine here. If you have an adventurous palate, try the red wine kale and ginger collards for a unique take on these vegetable dishes. Traditional Southern dishes done vegan style are on the menu too. Classics like collard greens, sweet potatoes, okra, and mac and cheese are all highly recommended. Besides food, NuVegan is also active in the DC community and regularly hosts food- and wellness-focused events.
Where: 2928 Georgia Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001
Located along the DC waterfront known as The Wharf, Kith/Kin is the capital’s answer to black-owned fine dining. Owner Kwame Onwuachi is a James Beard Rising Star winner, Top Chef alum, and executive chef. The menu pays homage to his roots and is a fusion of his Jamaican and Nigerian heritage with influences from both New Orleans and New York.
Kith/Kin is swanky. The decor is classy and intimate with an adventurous menu and artisan cocktails complement it. The brunch menu features Maryland-flavored dishes like the curried crab benedict with Jamaican coco bread. The lunch and dinner menu have dishes like chili honey and lime brussels sprouts, crab jollof rice, and soft shell crab suya. All dishes beautifully pay homage to the DMV area and chef Onwuachi’s West African ancestral roots.
Where: 801 Wharf St SW, Washington, DC 20024
Located just outside of Washington, DC, the suburbs of Maryland are not to be missed on your trip to the area. Both Prince George and Montgomery counties have predominantly black populations, resulting in a variety of black-owned businesses to support, from top-notch restaurants and nightlife spots to mom-and-pop shops.
4. Milk & Honey Cafe
If the name doesn’t already say enough, the food at Milk & Honey is tastefully rich. The cafe is a go-to spot for locals looking to brunch any day of the week. Some of its most loved plates are the crab hash with jumbo lump crab meat, tomatoes served over creamy cheese grits, and the award-winning shrimp and grits with turkey sausage. The restaurant is so popular that it has moved to a bigger location in the past year and now has locations in Bowie and College Park near the University of Maryland. Milk & Honey doesn’t accept reservations so be prepared to wait, but it’ll be worth it.
Where: Various locations, check the site for details
Like Maryland, Virginia also borders Washington, DC, making it a part of the DMV area. With such close ties to DC, many local black-owned chains usually make their way to Alexandria or Arlington too. Just a short drive away from the city, don’t skip this area when visiting.
5. Hen Quarter
Hen Quarter is located in Alexandria, Virginia, with a second location in Ohio. This restaurant is frequented by the DMV community so it’s usually crowded — and for good reason. Hen Quarter is owned and operated by Thompson Hospitality Group, a longstanding black-owned food service provider in the region. In addition to running its own restaurants, it provides catering for events and even operates the kitchens of some HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) like Virginia State University in Petersburg.
Its menu is an eclectic mix of Maryland meets the South. Indulge in Southern classics done well like fried green tomatoes, catfish, and hot chicken. The chicken and waffles stand out because they’re served with a cheddar, corn, and scallion waffle, topped with bourbon maple syrup. If you’re wanting to taste some flavors of the DMV region, order the eastern shore crab cake or the Chesapeake cocktail, which is a Bloody Mary infused with vodka and topped with shrimp.
Where: 801 King St, Alexandria, VA 22314
It’s a debate among locals of the DMV region about whether Baltimore is too far away to be considered a part of this beloved region. Baltimore is my hometown, so I may be biased but some of the best black-owned restaurants are there so they’re included in this guide for the sake of all taste buds involved.
6. Dovecote Cafe
At Dovecote Cafe, customers can get their fill of both coffee and community. In fact, its motto is community first and cafe second. This cafe opened a few years ago and is the perfect place for co-working or brunching. Aisha and Cole, the powerhouse couple who own the cafe, are unapologetically black and the sense of home can be felt within the cafe’s walls. Dovecote regularly hosts community events and celebrations of black joy, like Juneteenth.
As for the food, it’s homey, fresh, and tastes just like your grandma’s. Its menu features baked sweet dishes like peach upside-down cake and cornbread muffins. On the savory side, there’s everything from shrimp gumbo over grits to grilled cheese with pesto and mozzarella. If you want to connect with black Baltimoreans over a great meal, head to Dovecote.
Where: 2501 Madison Ave #1f, Baltimore, MD 21217
Baltimoreans have been patronizing Teavolve since it’s opening in the city’s Harbor East neighborhood. The black-owned institution is a must-visit and is often revered as the go-to place on Saturday mornings. Due to the popularity of Teavolve’s menu, ranging from southern-inspired dishes to over 30 varieties of loose leaf tea, it gets quite crowded so travelers should expect to wait.
When you walk in, you’ll immediately catch the smell of freshly steeped tea and baked goods. Its weekend brunch really shines; during weekend rushes, glasses of $5 sangria are a must-have and the tables are topped with its legendary red velvet pancakes and Carolina shrimp and grits. While the brunch is popular, Teavolve’s dinner menu shouldn’t be overlooked. Those who want to taste some of Baltimore’s freshest seafood should try the blackened salmon panini with cheese grits.
Where: 1401 Aliceanna St, Baltimore, MD 21231