Dishes from (L-R): Immigrant Food, Cielo Rojo, Peruvian Brothers, and Thamee
By Alayna hutchinson and allie judge
As we’ve seen with our KAMA community, one of the great things about DC is that it draws people from all over the world. This international population makes for an eclectic and exciting food scene, much of which is driven by immigrants who bring authentic dishes from their home countries to the nation’s Capital and surrounding areas.
With many of us ordering takeout right now, why not taste cuisine from around the world while supporting local immigrant-owned businesses—all from the comfort of your own home? We’ve compiled a diverse list of 10 immigrant-owned restaurants - including more established favorites, buzzy new spots, and some hidden gems - keeping in mind that there are plenty more not included and many to come as the DMV’s immigrant community continues to grow.
Heat Da Spot - Ethiopian-American (Petworth, DC)
Hailed as one of the best breakfast spots in the District, this Ethiopian-American cafe has become a staple in DC’s Petworth neighborhood just five years after opening. Heat Da Spot offers a variety of American classics like pancakes, waffles, and breakfast sandwiches, as well as dishes with an Ethiopian twist, like scrambled eggs with a side of injera.
Pho 75 - Vietnamese (Arlington, VA and Rockville & Adelphi, MD)
Thiep Le and Binh Ngo came to the U.S. in 1975 as refugees from Vietnam and opened this pho shop a decade later - naming it for that significant year - to bring a taste of home to their new country. Now with five restaurants across the DMV, their longstanding success is a testament to the quality of their version of this Vietmanise comfort food.
Purple Patch - Filipino (Mt. Pleasant, DC)
With a menu based on her mother’s recipes, chef Patrice Cleary is recognized as one of the first to bring authentic Filipino cuisine to DC. Purple Patch’s unique and flavorful dishes have earned it top spots on U.S. Filipino restaurant lists. What makes it even more remarkable is its contributions to the community, providing free meals to local children and hospitals during the pandemic.
Peruvian Brothers - Peruvian (NoMA, DC)
Mario and Guiseppe Lanzone brought “the taste of Peru” to DC seven years ago with a food truck, then concession stands across city venues. The brothers continue to serve Peruvian cuisine inspired by their childhood in Lima from a brick-and-mortar location near NoMa in DC,a permanent food stand in Arlington, and a catering kitchen operating out of Alexandria, VA.
Sakina Halal Grill - Pakistani (Mt. Vernon Square, DC)
The Sakina Halal Grill is an authentic Pakistani restaurant located in downtown D.C. near Mt. Vernon Square. Owner Kazi Mannan came to the U.S. from Pakistan in 1996 and has been working to create a space that serves as a safe refuge for all. This includes residents in DC experiencing homelessness, who Mannan has ensured can always find a free meal at his restaurant.
Dolan Uyghur - Northwest China/Xinjiang (Cleveland Park, DC)
Hamid Karim opened Dolan Uyghur in 2016 to provide DC with a taste of Uyghur, a mix of Asian and Middle Eastern flavors. The restaurant uses fresh and homemade ingredients to achieve the “true bliss of Uyghur food.” Uyghurs are an indigenous ethnic group from the Xinjiang region of Northwest China, and, as the website notes, “the unique food plays an important role” in preserving the culture.
Taco City DC - Mexican (Navy Yard, DC)
Unexpectedly, this quirky taco spot near Navy Yard, which is inspired by the Aztec and Mayan cultures of Mexico, is owned by two Salvadorians. The head chef and co-owner, Francisco Ferrufino, came to DC from San Miguel in 2007 when he was just 17 years old. His fellow co-owner, Juan Jimenez, had immigrated to DC in 1984 from La Unión. The pair noted in a recent 2019 Washington City Paper article that they had “recipe helpers” from Mexico City and Puebla to help them create their delicious tacos and small plates. Salvadorians actually make up the largest immigrant population in DC, with 11% of immigrants hailing from El Salvador as of 2018.
Immigrant Food - International Fusion (Downtown DC)
One of the newest and perhaps most unique on our list, Immigrant Food opened in 2019 as DC’s first “cause-casual” restaurant, a fast-casual eatery partnering with DC-based immigrant service organizations. Co-founders Enrique Limardo, a chef from Venezuela who has worked internationally, and Peter Schechter, a political consultant who was born in Rome and came to the U.S. before living in Latin America for nearly a decade, started Immigrant Food to “celebrate America’s story - the story of immigrants.” Their global experiences are reflected in the restaurant’s menu, which fuses flavors from around the world.
Thamee - Burmese (H Street Corridor, DC)
Burmese immigrant Jocelyn Law-Yone and her daughter Simone Jacobson along with Eric Wang started serving Burmese food at a pop-up and then a bodega, opening a permanent spot in 2019 with Thamee, the only Burmese restaurant in DC. It has quickly become acclaimed, being named Eater DC’s 2019 Restaurant of the Year and a James Beard Award semi-finalist, and was described by Thrillist as “a window into the Capital’s vibrant Asian culture.”
Cielo Rojo - Mexican (Takoma Park, MD)
Located in the heart of Takoma Park, Cielo Rojo offers traditional California-inspired Mexican cuisine. Owners Carolina McCandless, born in Chile, and David Perez, who came from Mexico as a teen, opened this fine-casual spot as “a place where friends and family can come together to nourish themselves with the beauty of food, community and mezcal.” Their community values are also in the way they make their food, with a focus on organic and locally-sourced ingredients.
KAMA DC provides a platform for immigrants to teach classes and share stories based on their skills and passions.