miXt Food Hall, a jumping-off point for restaurants just outside of D.C., offers great food, amazing art and a supportive community.
miXt Food Hall, a culinary and cocktail experience, serves as an incubator for chefs. The concepts currently housed at miXt — Spice Kitchen, La Michoacana, Mush and Relish Market — started as food trucks, ghost kitchens or farmer’s market booths. As they each grew in popularity, miXt was the perfect steppingstone: a semi-permanent location to keep growing as not only staples to the Brentwood, Maryland neighborhood, but to D.C. as a whole.
“We hope the restaurants outgrow us,” Rivka Alvial, miXt’s beverage director, says.
Set in the center of the Food Hall is miXt Brew and miXt Drink, coffee and cocktail bars, respectively. Alvial not only works with chefs to create cocktails that pair with each concept’s offerings, but also sources liquors from locals, especially minority-owned brands or those with environmentally-focused goals.
miXt was made with the Brentwood community in mind. The space is covered in art by local artists — fitting as the Food Hall is surrounded by Brentwood Arts Exchange, Gateway Arts Center, Art Works Now and Mount Rainier Artist Lofts. The neighborhood is a space for locals to thrive, whether those locals are creating, cooking or partaking.
We caught up with the heads of each restaurant concept at miXt to learn more about their paths to miXt, and where they plan to step next.
Spice Kitchen West African Grill
“Our main goal here at Spice Kitchen is to change the way people think about African food,” owner Olumide Shokunbi says.
Shokunbi says it can be hard for people unfamiliar with ingredients, spices and names of West African food, and so he created a menu customers can “wrap their heads around.”
“When we think of West African cuisine, it’s typically mom and pop shops,” he says. “Not too much standardization or branding. I want to change that, and to push our names out there, to get the conversation going on African food and its importance.”
The menu offers familiar foods made with Suya, a Nigerian spice blend of ginger, cayenne pepper and ground peanuts. Heat ratios vary depending on who’s cooking, so Spice still stands out even amongst its competitors. Here, you’ll find Suya-covered everything, a pick-your-plate type of menu that centers meat, rice and corn — common ingredients all spiced up.
They also have a few dishes meant to expand people’s palates: a hearty stew, spinach efo-riro and puffed desserts. They offer specials, too, innovative recipes for less familiar ingredients.
“We had a goat meat egg roll,” Shokunbi says. “Usually goat meat is peppered up, smoked golden, super spicy. We knew the spice was too much, so we toned it down, put it in an egg roll. And it was a smash hit.”
Shokunbi says it’s all about getting people used to West African flavor profiles. Once they have a good handle on the food, they’ll expand, and then Spice’s menu (and location) will, too.
“I do think eventually we’ll get to a point where we’ll be able to offer truly authentic heat,” he says.
Co-owner and operator Jaime Valdez wants to serve D.C. the most authentic Mexican food.
“Almost everything is made by hand,” he says. “We’re not using other people’s products. It’s got to be Mexican.”
The chips, the tortillas — often ingredients restaurants can take shortcuts on — are all made in-house. And Valdez keeps the tortilla recipe simple, “as plain as it can be,” because the tortilla is the vehicle for his other flavors.
The menu’s goal is to bring “the simplicity of Mexican flavors” to D.C. The tacos are made Mexican-style: meat, cilantro, radishes, onion, a little lime, a little salsa verde. There’s burritos and quesadillas and nachos, and sides like churros, empanadas and papas a la diabla. The simple menu allows for flavor perfection — everything done correctly, classically and deliciously.
Working out of miXt has allowed La Michoacana the space to expand. After celebrating their one-year anniversary in the Food Hall, they’ll open a new location in Virginia in the next few months.
Executive chef Tarik Frazier experimented with co-owner Alex Hamilton on all things mushrooms during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“[Hamilton] came to me and was like, ‘Man, I have these oyster mushrooms,’” Frazier says. “And I was like, ‘Alright, I’m not really a mushroom fan.’”
But Frazier kept at it, especially after they had both started eating a plant-based diet only six months prior. At first, experimenting with mushrooms was just that: an experiment, not a business opportunity. But the more Frazier messed with recipes, the more he realized he had discovered something great.
“I knew I got it right when I got it to taste like chicken,” Frazier says.
The pictures on Mush’s menu look like chicken sandwiches and Philly cheesesteaks. But the main ingredient in all of them is mushrooms, though most can barely tell the difference.
Over time, the menu expanded: they serve mushroom bowls, collard greens doused in coconut milk, different kinds of beans.
“We have different cultures and cuisines tied into this restaurant,” Frazier says. “Not just one lane.”
Every part of the process felt like fate to Frazier. Even with his reluctance to the mushrooms at first, the rest has felt like little steps in the right direction — from taste testing recipes with family and friends to choosing the restaurant name — he knows it’s all been for a deeper reason.
“There’s been hurdles, there’s been obstacles,” Frazier says. “But still, every piece just fits.”
Mother/daughter duo Stephanie Freeman and Lex Yates keep this health and wellness store running in the heart of miXt. What started as a farmer’s market booth has now expanded to an array of health foods, teas, soups, cold-pressed drinks, sea moss supplements, locally made pantry items, CBD products and item customizations.
Relish has been a part of miXt for a few years now, and they’re planning to stay but also open a storefront in a different location soon.
“We’re expanding, not leaving,” Yates says.
Yates and Freeman are excited about their tea blends, which they only started selling about two months ago. The sea moss is one of their signature products at this point — a superfood with 92 essential minerals that can be used in a variety of ways: crushed, jelled, in capsule form.
Relish is Black-owned, and both Freeman and Yates are part of the LGBTQ community. With Relish, they have a space to create what they want to create, for their communities and beyond.
And on April 15, Relish is hosting a communal CBD-infused dinner, which includes soup, salad, seafood alfredo, infused drinks and desserts, plus a take-home goodie bag.
Each of the concepts is at a jumping point, and miXt works to make that jump as smooth as possible.
“They do such a good job with supporting us, whatever we need,” Frazier says. “They have monthly or quarterly meetings with us make sure that they’re doing their job, making sure that we stand at the top of what we’re doing. They let us know where we’re lacking or where we can push things more. The vendors all support each other and love each other like a little family.”
To celebrate miXt Food Hall’s many wonderful artists, join them for Spring Arts Beats Eats Open Studios, an event full of food and music and art, on May 13. For more information, visit artsbeatseatsdmv.com.
Photos by Nicole Schaller.
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