The tiny, poverty-stricken Haiti rarely makes any news outside the Caribbean and when it does it isn’t necessarily because of a good thing, either. Still recovering from 2010’s devastating earthquake, the islander nation finds it too difficult to escape the claws of misfortune. On the bright side, however, that also helps the reputation of its food travel around the world, and particularly across the United States.
On the western portion of Hispaniola, Haiti has a population of some 10 million people. It could, therefore, sound pretty striking to hear that the U.S. is home to more than half a million Americans of Haitian origin. That is, though, easily explained by basic push and pull factors that propelled people into a massive migration, particularly from the late 1980s onwards.
Due to political instability, endemic poverty and natural disasters, thousands of Haitians fled their homes each year in search of a reliable future ever since.
Over the years, difficult journeys made along the Lucayan Archipelago across the northwest Atlantic have landed them in Florida, one of the two states with the largest concentration of Haitian-Americans today, where many have apparently chosen to stay.
And of those who continued to travel north, an overwhelming majority has gone as far as New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts to make those states their new home. Our beautiful District, in the meantime, has received only a small share, which is one fundamental reason why there are not as many Haitian restaurants as in those other states.
More of the dazzling blend of African, French, Spanish, Arabic and indigenous styles and flavors represented in the Haitian cuisine have, however, added so much to the food scene in town. The Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation might also have one of its richest cuisines. What is authentically available of that here, therefore, is totally invaluable.
At 7912 Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, Maryland, you will find one of the only two Haitian restaurants in the greater Washington area that are as authentic as to be featured on our list: Port-au-Prince (PAP).
What makes this place so different from almost all others that promise the same dining experience is that it serves you true Haitian food with its herbs, meat, spices and the sophistication that put them all together in the most skilled way.
And for that, you should thank Chef Roberto Massillon and his brother Makendy who simply do magic every day of the week, except on Fridays when the restaurant is closed in consideration of the welfare of its highly personable staff almost all of whom are from Haiti.
Please also take note that all their meats are vegetarian fed and free of antibiotics, while they make all marinades, sauces, herbal mixes and dressings in-house.
Besides, here at PAP, patrons also get to have a taste of the best Haitian art and music. That is because it has a quarterly rotation of original artwork by local and visiting Haitian artists, on display, along with a monthly showcase of musicians from the Caribbean island and beyond.
If you, too, want to eat Haitian where Haitians eat Haitian, know that at PAP you will risk zero disappointment. The fact that all its specialties are offered at the most reasonable prices makes it a true gem.
The only other Haitian diner that is just as good is Gisele’s at 2407 Price Avenue, again in Silver Spring. But unlike PAP, it offers deliveries in the D.C. – Maryland – Virginia (DMV) area, potentially serving a much larger clientele.
Including a wide selection of vegetarian and gluten-free dishes for those more sensitive about their food than others, the restaurant successfully accommodates almost all tastes and preferences. Specifically with its dishes featuring wild goat meat and red snapper, both wonderfully marinated in a blend of organic herbs and spices, Gisele’s nears perfection as an unpretentious restaurant.
Compared to PAP, it also has a more spacious hall with seating for 100 people at the same time. Therefore, it is highly likely that you will immediately be directed to your table even at the most casual walk-in. For visits of six or more people, however, the place still feels compelled to ask its customers to make a reservation in advance.
On Friday and Saturday nights, the place also provides guests with the opportunity to listen to live jazz or dance to in-house DJs. Spending a game night or teleworking are equally delightful here, since the restaurant has five TV screens and free Wi-Fi connection.
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