Henry’s Soul Cafe is a soul food restaurant that has been around since 1968, though it recently moved to a bright, shiny new location at 1704 U St NW. Henry’s Soul Cafe is best known for their sweet potato pies (I tried a free sample and it was really excellent) but they also have a wide variety of classic soul food options like fried chicken, chitterlings, pig’s feet, collard greens, fried okra and much more. And, like any good soul food spot, the lady taking your order will probably address you as baby or honey, which always makes me feel good. I ordered a fried chicken dinner with fried okra and mac n’ cheese. The chicken was juicy and fried well, though the batter was a little under-seasoned for my taste. I’m sure if I had put a little of their mumbo sauce on there I wouldn’t have noticed. The fried okra and mac n’ cheese were both totally on point. My only other critique is that the stools were a bit too short for the small dine-in counter, making dining in a little tricky. Overall, though, this is a solid spot for soul food!
Annie Mae’s Mississippi Fried Chicken and Fish is a soul food food truck serving up delicious fried chicken and fried fish with soul food sides like mac and cheese and collard greens. I had griped before about a lack of soul food food trucks, but this one definitely fits the bill. The people are very friendly, and the food is worth the long wait. At $9, the fish and chicken combo is a pretty good deal. You can choose from catfish, trout, or whiting and the obvious choice is catfish. Most places charge more for catfish than whiting, but not Annie Mae’s. Their catfish fillet is a generous portion, and it makes for a great sandwich with some hot sauce and tartar sauce. The chicken is tasty as well, as is the mac and cheese. This is neither the quickest nor the healthiest lunch on the planet, but it is satisfying and everything is served with a smile.
Secrets of Nature is a health food store and eatery serving vegetarian soul food. Unlike many of DC’s newer vegetarian or vegan eateries which cater to a clientele that just got out of their bikram yoga class and are looking for some kombucha, this place has been in business since 1990 and is located in one of DC’s most impoverished and crime-ridden neighborhoods. It’s a no-frills type of spot that stocks a wide variety of herbs and other health food products and has a kitchen in the back. The food, while not cheap, is delicious. I ordered curry imitation chicken with black-eyed peas, okra salad, and quinoa on the side. They had a wide selection of drinks including the elusive GinsengUp and a brand of authentic, locally-made sorrel called Papa WaBe’s So Real Sorrel. This place brings some healthy and delicious food to a part of town dominated by Chinese carry-outs. While this place is mainly geared towards food to go, there is one large table for those who prefer to sit and eat. It’s a trek from the rest of the city but Secrets of Nature is a worthy stop for an explorer seeking out home-cooked food for the body and soul.
Langston Grille on Wheels is a food truck operation from Langston Bar & Grille, which is located at 1831 Benning Rd NE. You can find the food truck’s location on their website. The food truck bills itself as soul food, but the options were more cajun/creole, given the variety of po’ boys on offer. They do have a couple of soul food sides, like collard greens and mac and cheese, but at $4 a piece they seemed pretty steep given that soul food sides are typically included with entrees as real soul food restaurants like Florida Avenue Grill and Saint’s Paradise Cafeteria. I ordered a shrimp po’ boy, which was small and disappointing. The price was steep at $12 for a small sandwich and the shrimp was simply boiled with absolutely no seasoning. The people are friendly at Langston Grille on Wheels, but the experience was otherwise a let-down. There is a real need for a good soul food food truck, but Langston Grille on Wheels just didn’t deliver.
Florida Avenue Grill is a soul food institution that claims to be the oldest soul food restaurant in the world, located at 1100 Florida Ave NW. It has been in business since 1944, which at the very least makes it quite a historic spot, though I definitely have my doubts about its truly being the oldest in the world. The atmosphere is great, though, on-point soul music and signed celebrity photos are on the walls in classic diner surroundings. I ordered the pig’s feet with okra and tomatoes and mac and cheese on the side. It was my first time having pig’s feet and I can’t say I liked it very much. There were a lot of bones and knuckles and the texture was extremely gelatinous and reminded me if traditional Ashkenazi pt’cha (calf foot jelly). It’s not Florida Avenue Grill’s fault for serving an authentic classic, though. Next time I’ll probably stick with the fried chicken, which my friend ordered and which he said was excellent. The okra and tomatoes and the mac and cheese were great, though. For dessert, I ordered the king of all soul food desserts, their excellent sweet potato pie. In terms of press coverage, Ben’s Chili Bowl gets all the press as the DC institution, but Florida Avenue Grill is older, equally important and has better food.
Marvin is a Soul Food-Belgian fusion restaurant and bar and an homage to DC icon Marvin Gaye located at 2007 14th St. NW. Marvin Gaye grew up in DC and went to Cardozo High School, located just a few blocks away from Marvin. What is less known is that Marvin Gaye moved to Belgium in 1981 for self-reflection and recovery from heavy drug use. While in Belgium, he wrote his hit “Sexual Healing,” which has recently been made into an addictive remix. As such, Marvin, with its Belgian bistro feel combined with all sorts of Marvin Gaye memorabilia on the walls, is an interesting but comforting combination. I went with my parents and grandma for brunch and started with a Pimm’s Cup, my favorite summer brunch cocktail. I ordered what is probably their signature brunch dish, which was an excellent rendition of chicken and waffles with a side of collard greens. The greens were a bit too leafy for my taste since I prefer them stewed down more, but the chicken and the waffle were both excellent, served with syrup and gravy. My grandma had chicken and waffles for the first time at 91 years old and really enjoyed it. This is a solid place to bring a visitor to DC for brunch to experience two of DC’s greatest assets, soul food and Marvin Gaye (though they weren’t playing as much Marvin Gaye as I had expected, the music was nonetheless good). One of the few drawbacks was that we were there on a beautiful day but they don’t have brunch seating on their rooftop bar. In the future, I plan to go back for dinner and try their moules frites.
Saint’s Paradise Cafeteria is a Soul Food restaurant that is part of the World Headquarters of the United House of Prayer for All People, located at 601 M St NW. This is one of the most interesting places to eat in DC since it is essentially a cafeteria attached to a black church, with a simple but bright atmosphere and pictures of clergy on the walls. Most of the crowd appears to be regulars and one curious regular checked in with me to make sure I was enjoying my food. Food options are varied and encompass many soul food classics, served cafeteria style, including fried chicken, fried whiting, fried shrimp and smothered pork chops. Items can either be ordered A la carte or as a meal, which comes with two sides and a tasty piece of cornbread. Some of the sides include the usual suspects, such as collard greens, mac n cheese and candied yams. I had the fried chicken breast meal with mac n cheese and collard greens. The crowd, which was almost entirely African American, looked like they had just come from church (I went on a Sunday after church myself). This is an awesome place to experience an authentic slice of DC’s African American culture (and a delicious slice of sweet potato pie) and enjoy a hearty meal at a great value.
I have no idea what a Convocation King is but it seems like an important dude. Certainly a table setting fit for a king.
Bojangles is, of course, a fried chicken chain (with a Cajun twist), as well as a trashy Pitbull song. And it’s not even a DC-based chain (it’s based in Charlotte, NC). I did, however, choose to write it up because there is only one Bojangles in DC (located in Union Station), plus a few in the suburbs, and this is one of the northernmost Bojangles that exists, aside from ones in Largo, New Carrolton, and Reading, PA. As such, not a lot of Yankees like myself regularly try Bojangles, and while writing up fast food might make me lose my street cred, I don’t care. Their fried chicken is tasty and their biscuits are rich and buttery. It is a bit odd that they claim to be Cajun since they’re based in NC and aside from a slight kick, their “Cajun Pintos” tasted pretty average. The real star of the show, however, was the sweet potato pie. It comes in a package that looks like a McDonald’s pie, but don’t be fooled. The crust is an amazing, deliciously greasy, fried piece of goodness and the sweet potato filling isn’t as sickeningly sweet and syrupy as its McDonald’s coutnerparts. I’ll be tempted just to grab a sweet potato pie next time I swing through Union Station. The Bojangles sweet potato pie may not have a viral video to go with it like the Patti LaBelle Sweet Potato Pies do, but it should. Voulez-vous manger avec moi, ce soir?
The Chickery is a fried chicken fast casual restaurant located at 1300 Connecticut Ave NW near Dupont Circle. This place is to KFC what Chipotle is to Taco Bell; it offers a sleeker take on fried chicken without getting too fancy. In terms of boneless options, they offer both chicken fingers and “chicken feathers,” which are different styles. I ordered the Chickery Box, which provides a somewhat balanced meal, allowing you to eat fried chicken without feeling overly guilty. It comes with a small salad and a side. Sides are generally Soul Food-style options, like corn bread and mac n cheese. I ordered collard greens to feel (slightly) healthy. Everything was tasty and the service was friendly. According to their website, The Chickery is looking to franchise. I wouldn’t be surprised if they succeed.
Senbeb is a vegan restaurant located at 6224 3rd St NW. Like the nearby Evolve Vegan Restaurant, Senbeb focuses on vegan versions of comfort food. It’s more of a casual, cafe style-spot though, while Evolve is more of a sit-down restaurant. The staff at Senbeb is super friendly and they told me that the “cheesesteak” is their most popular option. It was tasty, filling and pretty convincing! A side salad came with it, but I had no room for that after my sanddwich. They also have some of the vegan soul food options like vegan mac and cheese and collards. This is a cozy, friendly, tasty spot for a friendly, relatively inexpensive meal. Just because it vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy, though- I’m not sure if my “cheesesteak” was remotely healthy but it did taste good!