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Restaurant in DC Supports Immigrants Using “Gastroadvocacy”

Bowls of fusion food on a table

In the heart of Washington, DC, it seems like politicians are not the only ones getting political – chefs and restaurants are, too.

Immigrant Food, a fast-food restaurant specializing in fusion cuisines and representing the major immigrant demographics in DC, opened its doors to the public earlier last month and has become the buzz of the food scene.

Its menu involves some surprising combinations that marry two or more unlikely cultures into a bowl of heartiness. Take for example the “Mumbai Mariachi,” a dish inspired by the flavors of Mexico, Greece, and India that involves spice-rubbed steak, chicharron pork rind sprinkles, kale, cilantro, corn, feta, coleslaw, mango chutney, and and a smokey chipotle sauce to bring it all together. Feeling something else? The “Columbia Road,” inspired by Salvadoran and Ethiopian cuisine, consists of Ethiopian lentils, steak, lorocco flower buds, Salvadoran cheese crumble, and tortilla chips, while topped with Alguashte vinegar seasoning. 

By the way, my mouth is watering already.

So who are the masterminds behind this ambitious culinary project? Immigrants, of course. There’s chef Enrique Limardo, who hails from Caracas, Venezuela and is the man responsible for Immigrant Food’s colorful, diverse menu. His co-founder, Peter Schechter, grew up in Italy before moving to Latin America to enter the world of political consulting. Argentinian businessman Ezequiel Vazquez-Cer, a member of Huffington Post’s 40 Under 40 for Latinxs, and Frank Ortiz, a Salvadoran restaurant professional in DC, are active partners in the business. They are also joined by Belgium-native Tea Ivanonic, who serves as their Director of Communications. 

Immigrant Food is much more than just a restaurant serving up bowls of foreign flavors. Their  mission is to celebrate the contributions immigrants have made to elevate American culture. They recognize and advocate for immigrant rights through a concept they call gastroadvocacy.

“Restaurants have always been the place where immigrants made a living, created community and showed off the cooking of their heritage,” their website explains. “Today, more than ever, immigrants are the cultural fuel and the vitality of America’s food industry. We’re taking it a step further and also making this restaurant a place to advocate [for immigration].”

To further illustrate their practice of gastroadvocacy, the restaurant initiated The Think Table, a digital magazine focusing solely on immigration through videos, infographics, and short pieces by freelance writers. One of their first focuses was highlighting the DACA program, which has protected thousands of children who were brought into the U.S. by their undocumented parents. 

Image courtesy of Immigrant Food

“In this moment of division, we want to create easy paths for all of us to help immigrant communities in need [by aligning] your taste buds to your values,” Immigrant Food’s website writes. 

Part of the restaurant’s educational efforts also involve sharing ways people can volunteer and contribute to immigrant organizations, including APALRC, Ayuda, CARECEN, and more. 

Restaurants like Immigrant Foods are certainly proof that restaurants have the power to not only champion good food, but also champion new ideas and perspectives that aim to make society a more welcoming place for everyone.

“We wanted to make a restaurant that reflects how cool immigrants are, and how fundamental they are to the economy, to the culture, to the lifestyle,” says co-founder Peter Schechter in an interview with Food&Wine. “What this country is is only because of this mix of immigrants.”

Immigrant Food’s inaugural location in DC has been a swirling success so far, but their dreams haven’t stopped there. Their hope is to open more locations across the country to encourage more Americans to engage in discourse about immigration.

“Immigration is a bedrock of our national strength. And that special mix of people and cultures have made America great…again and again,” their website writes.

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Vivian Wang

Vivian is a travel enthusiast and food connoisseur living in New York City. Her curiosity and passion for languages and culture has taken her across eight countries over the past year. When not working, you can find her meandering in art museums or sampling food at the street markets.

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