Chicken in Chocolate City: Black-Owned Spots for the Best Fried Chicken Sandwiches in the DMV
Updated: Jul 20
2019 was undisputedly the Year of the Fried Chicken Sandwich. Everyone got in on the action, including publications like Mashable, The Washington Post, and even Forbes. Twitter wars escalated as major fast food companies competed for the crown of best fried chicken as they slung their golden magic to long lines and sold out crowds. Instagram timelines were flooded with every version of this crispy, tasty treat. Honey butter fried chicken, Nashville hot fried chicken, even some kimchi versions of the classic made their way into the canon of popular food trends. As a longtime fried chicken lover with a deep appreciation of comfort foods that make up the staples of southern cuisine (like fried chicken and cornbread), I was ECSTATIC.
But wait, something was missing in the internet's war to crown the winner of 2019's fried chicken sandwich competition... As I scrolled through lists, reviews, magazine articles, and photo journalism documenting the nation's newest food craze, local businesses, especially black-owned businesses, were noticeably absent. Now, I get it, every competition or foodie occasion doesn't necessarily need to make an explicit nod to the labor and contributions of black folk. But this is FRIED CHICKEN y'all, a culinary tradition whose modern popular version draws its roots from the slave-holding south.
Reportedly, Scottish immigrants were the first to fry chicken in hot oil -- a preparation common in many cultures. But modern fried chicken, as it is popularly conceived of in America and the West today, truly began when this preparation method was combined with spices brought to America with the slave trade. "From the mid-eighteenth century through Emancipation, dishes like fried chicken were developed and prepared by enslaved cooks". Following emancipation, formerly enslaved Africans, particularly women, used their fried chicken expertise to start successful entrepreneurial ventures. They sold chicken far and wide to support their families. Through this entrepreneurialism, migration, and eventual theft of slave recipes and methods by white cookbook authors, Southern fried chicken from America became the new culinary standard. And this doesn't even touch on the racist imagery concerning black folk and fried chicken repeatedly used in advertisements to sell fried chicken AND dehumanize blacks over the years. Colonel Sanders, I'm looking at you.
With this glaring lack of recognition in mind, I set out to highlight and document black-owned spots in the DC area that serve fried chicken sandwiches. DC is my home as best as I can say that I have one. As a perpetual traveler it's hard to pin down a "home" per se, but I always come back to DC for extended periods, so that's enough for me. DC is also "Chocolate City", a nickname for our capital city which was 71% African American in 1970. Those demographics have shifted and the District's black population has trended downward dramatically since that time, but the name persists. DC and the surrounding area, which has blended into what is known as the"DMV" for DC, Maryland, and Virginia, deserves its own roundup of black-owned fried chicken sandwich spots.
You deserve it too! The below offerings are tasty, creative, and unique. They offer some of the best fried chicken sandwich options in the city overall. Go get yourself one, support a local black-owned business, and get in on this foodie trend that shows no signs of dying down anytime soon.
Roaming Rooster: Best of the Best!
Founded in 2015, Roaming Rooster has quickly become DC's top spot for fried chicken sandwiches. In just a few short years the business has grown from a single food truck to three, along with a brick and mortar fast-casual restaurant. During the height of 2019's Chicken Sandwich Wars, a viral tweet about their hot fried goodness propelled Roaming Rooster to well deserved local fame. This super casual spot is THE PLACE to get a fried chicken sandwich in the district. Go with some friends and don't worry about what you're wearing, just be ready to eat!
Roaming Rooster specializes in fried chicken and it shows! Of the five fried chicken sandwiches on their menu, the Honey Butter Fried Chicken is their best seller and a sure crowd pleaser. The sweetness of the honey butter is an ideal complement for a perfectly crispy, salty, fried piece of bird. Even better, you can customize your level of heat for all the sandwiches on the menu, so everyone can get something just right for them.
*As of April 15th, during the COVID-19 crisis, Roaming Rooster is accepting online orders for pickup and delivery. Stay up to date with their operations here.
Po Boy Jim's: Best for a Relaxed, Decadent Sandwich with a Drink or Two
Po Boy Jim is a cajun restaurant with two locations in DC, known for it's classic po boys and relaxed vibe. This is where you come to sip a beer, watch a game, and get down on some truly comforting food with friends.
Y'all these sandwiches are DECADENT! This is your spot for an indulgent meal, with super crispy fried chicken, great flavors, and a chill vibe. The Atlas, the fried chicken po boy on the lunch/dinner menu, is loaded with bacon, provolone, shrimp, and chipotle sauce, in addition to chicken fried to perfection. If that isn't enough, the French Toast Po Boy from the weekend brunch menu is even more over the top. The french toast bun is topped with cheddar eggs, fried chicken, and spicy syrup, for the brunch mash up dish of your dreams.
*As of April 15th, during the COVID-19 crisis, Po Boy Jim is accepting online orders for pickup only. Stay up to date with their operations here.
Big Buns: Best if you like it HOT
Big Buns is tucked away in a quiet plaza in Ballston, VA (with a second location in Shirlington, VA). But don't overlook this casual burger spot a few metro stops away from DC proper because of its sleepy-seeming neighborhood. Big Buns' quick counter service has been slinging outstanding burgers to local residents for twelve years. Note: Big Buns is not commonly recognized as black-owned. However, Big Buns, along with other local faves like Matchbox and Hen Quarter, are Thompson Hospitality restaurants. Thompson Hospitality is the largest black-owned food and facility services company in the US (the largest owned by a minority in fact).
Both fried chicken sandwiches on the menu at Big Buns are DAMN GOOD. The Fricken' Good is a classic fried chicken sandwich, with ranch and pickles -- juicy and delicious. This is the sandwich even the picky eaters in your family will love. As for the Shirlington Hot, this is by far the HOTTEST sandwich of any included here. It's the kind of sandwich that slaps you in the face with its heat, complemented by a hint of sweetness from the house made slaw that comes with it. If you like it spicy, like I do, this is the sandwich for you.
*As of April 15th, during the COVID-19 crisis, Big Buns is accepting online orders for carryout only. Stay up to date with their operations and order here.
NuVegan: Best for Those Looking to Reduce Their Meat Consumption
NuVegan is a vegan soul food eatery with multiple locations in the DMV. This order at the counter spot is perfect for a quick meal with friends or a casual family outing. You won't find much fancy here, but the service is warm and the food good!
NuVegan's Fried "Chikn" Sandwich is a hit! The bread it comes on is grilled toasty brown, with a sweet sauce that really amps up the flavor. The vegan chicken patty itself is well-seasoned and crispy, exactly what you want from a fried "chicken" sandwich. With the addition of a couple sides from the ample options available, this is a great option for a meat-free lunch!
*As of April 15th, during the COVID-19 crisis, NuVegan is accepting online orders for carryout only. Stay up to date with their operations here.
Uncaged Chefs: Best for the Creatives Among Us
The Uncaged Chefs' motto is: No Rules Just Good Food. This soul food brunch kitchen lives up to that, serving up over the top, creative, Instagram worthy plates to crowds of loyal fans. Located inside Savor Food Hall, which is owned by a Black woman and located in Brentwood (formerly designated as a food desert), Uncaged Chefs remixes classic dishes to make drool-worthy creations like Apple Pie Chicken & Waffles. The servings are generous, there are multiple other local vendors and restaurants to browse, and don't sleep on the super cute bar that's perfect for lounging around with friends. Savor itself is a vibe and The Uncaged Chefs is the perfect place to start your exploration!
At The Uncaged Chefs, you might need to phone a friend for help finishing their Jerk Fried Chicken Sandwich. This new menu item is perfect for those looking for a creative twist on the classic. Served on coco bread with caesar kale slaw, the jerk fried chicken offers a great contrast to the softness of the bread and sweet notes of the slaw. Crispy, juicy, and served over Old Bay fries, this sandwich is all you need!
*As of April 15th, during the COVID-19 crisis, The Uncaged Chefs is accepting online orders for carryout only. Stay up to date with their operations here.
The Rub Chicken and Beer: Best For Carryout Deals!
I first came across The Rub, a new Thompson Hospitality restaurant in Old Town Alexandria before the COVID-19 crisis was in full force. I heard about this new spot more and more as its reputation grew. Unfortunately I was not able to eat there before they switched to their current model of takeout and delivery only due to COVID-19. However, takeout or not The Rub has some outstanding fried chicken sandwiches and has been making the best of its new, limited business model. They run regular takeout specials that are AMAZING deals. Keep an eye on their Instagram as their specials are often the perfect move for two people and usually include an alcoholic beverage or two!
Despite being takeout that I waited 30 minutes to eat after ordering, my sandwich from The Rub was crispy and decadent. The serving of chicken is HUGE, the spice blend on point, and everything from the spicy burn to the crispy, slightly sweet pickles just right. This is a great spot in Alexandria and sure to remain in our regular rotation.
*As of April 15th, during the COVID-19 crisis, The Rub is accepting online orders for carryout and delivery. Stay up to date with their operations here.
A Place To Walk To: Best For Cheese Lovers
A Place To Walk To is an unassuming, black-owned spot in Hyattsville, MD. After starting as a food truck and growing into a brick and mortar space, A Place To Walk To has built up quite the local following for it's jerk chicken and mac and cheese (BOMB). I've only been for takeout (thanks to COVID-19) but I was well satisfied with the food and had plenty of leftovers to spare!
Though A Place To Walk To is known for it's jerk wings, DON'T SLEEP on the fried chicken sandwich. Or maybe I should call it a fried chicken grilled cheese. Whatever you call it, it's decadent and delicious. Super crispy fried chicken is surrounded by melty cheese and instead of a regular bun it's served on crispy thick toast with a hint of a sweet sauce. If you're a cheese lover like me then this is all you need!
*Sadly, A Place To Walk To has closed temporarily due to the COVID-19 crisis.
The DMV area has some outstanding black-owned restaurants, from food trucks to sit-down restaurants...If I missed any here in my roundup of fried chicken sandwich spots, please do let me know. I'd love to try out a few more places to add.