Dishes from (L-R): Colada Shop, Amoo's, Mélange, and Mikko Nordic
by Ben Jaffe
One year ago for the launch of our blog, we highlighted 10 immigrant-owned restaurants in the DMV that you can support. The great thing about the DMV is that there are so many restaurants featuring cuisines from hundreds of different cultures, so there are always new ones to visit and support. We decided to follow up our first blog with 10 more immigrant-owned restaurants that you should check out. Some are well known spots that you may have heard of, and some are lesser-known spots to be explored. For anyone uncomfortable with indoor seating, all the restaurants listed have take-out options, and we have noted which restaurants have outdoor seating.
El Tamarindo - Salvadoran / Mexican (Adams Morgan, DC)
Founded in 1982 by Jose and Betty Reyes, El Tamarindo serves up some of the best Salvadoran/Mexican food the DMV has to offer. The menu holds everything you could ever want: pupusas, tamales, burritos, chimichangas, soups, etc. With happy hour every weekday, a special taco Tuesday, and a menu that will satisfy carnivores, vegetarians, vegans, and those with gluten/dairy intolerances, El Tamarindo has a little bit for everyone. Bonus: they have a fabulous covered and outdoor seating area with plenty of space for both large and intimate groups.
Eclectic Cafe - Caribbean / Jamaican (Central Northeast, DC)
Eclectic Café was started by Caple Green who worked as a high school teacher in his native Jamaica and, after attending Howard University, opened the café with the goal of showcasing the mix of cuisines from his own life. Located steps from the Minnesota Ave Metro, the cafe is a family-owned and operated restaurant mixing classic diner and deli menu items with Caribbean specialties. Feeling some French toast, pancakes, or chicken and waffles? They’ve got you covered. Feeling some curried goat, jerk chicken, or oxtails with a side of plantains? They’ve got you there too.
Thanh Son Tofu - Vietnamese (Eden Center, VA)
Arguably the pinnacle of Vietnamese cuisine in the DMV area that once attracted Anthony Bourdain for an episode of No Reservations, Thanh Son Tofu was started by Hanh Trinh in 2003. This restaurant specializes not only in fried tofu, such as lemongrass chili pepper and onion mushroom, but also different desserts such as sticky rice, sesame balls, and coconut puddings. Partially-covered outdoor seating is available on the sidewalk and in the parking lot.
Mikko - Nordic (Dupont Circle, DC)
Nordic cuisine wasn’t a feature of the DMV restaurant scene until Mikko opened in 2018 and began dishing out Finnish-style soups, Danish open-faced sandwiches, and Swedish desserts. Owner Mikko Kosonen’s resume includes a Michelin-rated restaurant in France and 15 years cooking for the Finnish ambassador before opening this spot in DC. With covered outdoor seating, make sure to stop by for an often-changing menu that features cardamom buns, warm chili, and schnitzel.
Mélange - Ethiopian/French (Mount Vernon Triangle, DC)
On the surface, Mélange, which means “mix” in French, may seem like a regular spot for burgers and ice cream. However, upon closer examination, the menu, created by owner and head chef Elias Taddesse (winner of Eater DC’s “Chef of the Year 2021”), contains items showcasing a fusion of Ethiopian and French cuisine, reflecting Elias’ Ethiopian origins and French culinary training. Be sure to check out items like The National, a fried chicken sandwich fused with Ethiopian Doro Wat, and the vegan burger called The Beyaynetu, which is made up of the usual suspects from an Ethiopian vegetarian platter.
Amoo’s Restaurant - Iranian/Persian (McClean, VA)
Hidden over in McClean, VA, Amoo’s Restaurant has all the Iranian/Persian food you could want. Chef and co-owner Sebastian Oveysi and his family came to North Virginia in 1994 and the family-owned restaurant began serving up a menu of flame-grilled meats, vegetarian kabobs, and stews served over beds of saffron rice. If you’re going with a crowd, make sure to see their shareables menu which includes hummus, olivieh, tahdig, torshi, and mast kheyar. While outdoor seating is not an option, Linway Terrace Park is just a short walk away and has tables with seating.
Keren Cafe - Eritrean/East African (Adams Morgan, DC)
Across the street from the previously mentioned El Tamarindo, Keren serves up a beautiful mix of Eritrean and East African cuisine for all times of the day. If you’re feeling a larger dinner, you’ll find reasonably-priced entrees that include tibsi, shiro, and fish dulet, which all come with at least two sides and a whole bunch of injera for you to enjoy. In the mood for breakfast? You’ll have plenty of options with mashed fava beans, egg sandwiches, frittatas, and more. Though a small restaurant, co-owner Tekie Ghrebrekrstos confirms that there is rarely a quiet moment at Keren: “We don’t have much break. We don’t have a day off. Every day we make sure everything’s perfected.”
Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly - Filipino (Rockville, MD)
Led by owner and head chef, Javier Fernandez, who was enrolled in D.C.’s own L’Academie de Cuisine, Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly opened in 2018 and has been treating the Rockville community to fabulous Filipino ever since. Though most well known for their Lechon pork belly, which is slow cooked in lemongrass, green onions, garlic, and pineapple, their menu also has chori-burgers, crispy adobo chicken sandwiches, fried rice, and much more. While outside seating is unavailable, a short walk will bring you to White Flint Park, which has benches to sit on–or bring a blanket and make it a picnic!
Swahili Village - Kenyan/African (Dupont Circle, DC; Beltsville, MD; Tyson’s Corner, VA)
Owner and head chef Kevin Onyona originally studied to be a priest when he moved to the U.S. in 1999. Thankfully for all of our taste buds, he found that his true passion was cooking, and Swahili Village opened downtown in 2020 with the vision of showcasing the rich cultural traditions of African cuisine in a fine dining setting. Serving some of the finest Kenyan food the region has to offer, appetizers include samosas, wings, and bhajia, which are followed by curry chicken, sweet plantains, whole tilapia, lentils, and grilled goat. Outdoor seating is covered, but there is a limited amount, so reservations are recommended if you prefer the outdoor experience.
Colada Shop - Cuban (The Wharf & 14th St, DC; Potomac, MD; Fairfax, VA)
Finding her love of food at age 13 in the Dominican Republic, co-owner Daniella Senior founded Colada Shop with partner Mario Monte in 2016 with the goal of sharing the colorful flavors of the Caribbean with DC. Now with four locations across the DMV, the menu includes a mix of breakfast tostada, croquetas, Cuban sandwiches, and sweet plantains. Wanting dessert and a drink? Don’t miss out on their dulce de leche brownies, tres leches, cocktails, and alcoholic slushies. Outdoor seating, some covered, is available at most Colada Shop locations.
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