Travelers have a plethora of restaurant choices when they visit Washington, DC. Everyone wants to eat well but many travelers also want to know how to support the businesses that are rooted in the local community. The reality is, if you want to sample some of the quintessential DC foods you need to check out some Black owned businesses while you’re here.

In this episode Rob welcomes Washington, DC based food blogger Anela Malik to the podcast. Anela is a Black food blogger, former diplomat, and avid traveler. She is the founder of Feed the Malik, a project where she highlights marginalized perspectives in food and showcases some of DC’s tastiest treats as well as her own recipes. Follow her on Instagram and TikTok and keep an eye out for her upcoming book!

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Eating Well in DC Show Notes:

There is a seemingly endless number of restaurant options when you visit Washington, DC. This episode’s guest Anela has tried over 200 restaurants in the past year alone! Most visitors will only have a few days in town and want to make sure to take advantage of every meal. Don’t worry, we’ve got your covered with tips to make sure you eat well in DC.

Feed the Malik Restaurant directory

Anela started her directory of Black-owned restaurants and food businesses as a personal side project. It’s grown over time to a valuable resource for DC diners. The directory includes a list of known Black-owned restaurants, description of the food they serve, and contact information. Eventually businesses will be pinned on a map and additional details about the category of food will be included.

Important foods in DC’s African American community

If you want to try “local DC food” then you have to try foods that have roots in the Black community. Some of these foods were developed right here in DC, others were brought via immigration. They all have interesting stories nonetheless.

Ethiopian Food

Ethiopian food is not native to Washington, DC , but is considered a local food because of its unique history. In the 1970s many Ethiopians fled civil war back home. Those who came to the United States predominantly settled in DC, Maryland and Virginia. Ethiopian food is very unique. Anela recommends ordering a sampler platter your first time. You’ll find a variety of meats and vegetables served on top of injera, a sourdough flatbread. Ethiopian restaurants are family friendly so don’t be afraid to bring your kids along! There isn’t a single best Ethiopian restaurant. Check out any list of Ethiopian spots and pick the one closest to you.

Mumbo Sauce

Mumbo sauce (sometimes spelled Mambo sauce) isn’t a food so much as a condiment – literally a sauce. You’ll most frequently find it on chicken wings and fries, but it tastes delicious on lots of different foods. You can find Capital City Mambo Sauce in stores. Or check out Anela’s favorite Uncle Dell’s Mambo Sauce which you can order online. If you get Mumbo sauce at a restaurant, the most authentic way to experience it is to order it to-go from a Chinese carryout. Check out the mini-documentary that First We Feast published about Mumbo sauce and it’s role in DC culture.

Fried Chicken Sandwiches

In 2019 Popeye’s added a chicken sandwich to their menu and set off a nationwide craze. It was hard to find the Popeye’s chicken sandwich for a while! However, Popeye’s did not invent the chicken sandwich, and diners quickly discovered plenty of alternatives, including Roaming Rooster, which quickly became a local favorite.

Half Smokes

A half smoke is a sausage on a bun. The best-known place to get a half-smoke is the original Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street NW. At Ben’s (and many other places) you can order it as a chili half-smoke with cheese or you can eat it plain. The half smoke is a unique flavor that you have to experience for yourself to appreciate.

Feed the Malik Favorites

To wrap up the episode Rob asked Anela to name her favorite Washington, DC restaurants based on a potential scenario. Where would Anela pick to go if…

You only have $10 to spend?

Roaming Rooster for a chicken sandwich. It’s not fancy but really good fried chicken. Be careful with the spice levels! Hot is blow-your-head-off hot.

You just won the Powerball and money is no object?

El Cielo is a fine dining restaurant in La Cosecha. They serve dishes à la carte but also have a 22 course “tasting experience” (yes it’s called an experience). It is not cheap but look amazing.

No one in your group can agree on anything?

Sometimes the type of cuisine doesn’t really matter as much as just enjoying a meal with a group of friends. But Ethiopian is a good option for this scenario because it has choices for vegetarians and meat-eaters. Everyone can find something they like. Alternatively, food halls like Union Market and La Cosecha give everyone a chance to eat something completely different.

You only have 15 minutes to get in and out?

Yellow the Cafe is a Levantine-inspired café and sister restaurant of Albi. Both are delicious award-winning places to eat. Yellow the Cafe has pastries, pitas and salads that you can grab and go for a quick meal.

You have vegetarians in your group?

Ethiopian! But since Anela recommended this a few times already she also likes Chaia Tacos which is a vegetarian taco spot (it can be vegan too). Even meat eaters will like it. It’s quick and casual and affordable.

You are traveling with kids?

Union Market or another food hall because they have a lot of choices for food. But also because there is space for kids or run and have fun and no one will judge if your kids are loud or energetic.

You want dessert or something sweet?

La Bodega Bakery is a weekend pop-up led by a James Beard award winning baker. The treats are inspired by the bodegas in New York City and also the baker’s Afro-Caribbean heritage. They area always doing something innovative!