A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to be a tourist in my own city thanks to a local food + history tour of the Shaw and U Street neighborhoods through Carpe DC Food Tours. Katie and I met up with our tour guide, Stefan, and the rest of our group at Ben’s Next Door (the restaurant to the renowned casual establishment, Ben’s Chili Bowl). We got the lowdown of our tour, which would include a decent amount of walking, a healthy dose of history, and a really good amount of food. If that doesn’t sound like a good way to spend your Saturday, I don’t know what does!
This tour was perfect for me, as I’ve barely spent much time in the U Street and Shaw neighborhoods save for a few bars (highly recommend a concert at U Street Music Hall!). There’s so much culture and history, with no shortage of murals and beautiful artwork to illustrate the evolution of the area.
The U Street neighborhood was a central part of the 1968 Civil Rights Movement and many of the businesses in the area have stories behind what you see at first glance. For those of you who live in DC and only venture to this area for the dining and nightlife, this tour is the perfect way to learn about what’s happened behind the scenes.
We hopped across the street to Eatonville, a southern food establishment that’s known for, well… it’s comfort food. Fun fact: the first time I went here, we saw Danny Glover! Stefan informed us that the restaurant is named after Zora Neal Hurston’s–a friend of Langston Hughes–hometown in Florida. Busboys and Poets is actually named after Hughes and its close proximity to Eatonville is a little sign of their friendship.
We got to try the fried green tomato and despite how much I generally dislike tomatoes, fried ones are delicious. The little mixed green salad with avocado was perfect, and I’m happy to say that this was one of my favorite things we ate on the tour. Perhaps my tastebuds are maturing…! The beer is an Atlas District Common and I wholeheartedly approve.
My favorite stop on the tour was a close call between Eatonville and our next destination, Fast Gourmet. The former wins out because it’s a hole in the wall establishment that I wouldn’t have visited if it wasn’t for this tour. Don’t let the nondescript exterior fool you. This place is out.of.this.world.
Everything on the menu looked fantastic–apparently the lines are out the door each night (talk about some good late night bites!)– and renowned chef José Andrés once came in and ordered the entire menu. I’m still dreaming about this mashed potato, corn, and ham empanada…it’s by far the best I’ve ever had. And I don’t even like ham very much! Look at that perfect golden goodness…
We took our empanadas and embarked on a walk to Shaw area, getting a little history lesson of Cardozo High School, the 9:30 Club, and the African American Civil War Memorial along the way. No complaints about this gorgy walk. I was totally blown away by the beauty of the homes… so many rowhouses, and each street had its own character. Below are two personal favs. Can you imagine living in a purple house?!
The memorial is right by the U Street metro and is the only war memorial to honor the families of the men who were at war. This is the front, depicting the soldiers…
…and this is the back, a nod to the families.
It was then off to Etete for Ethiopian food. If you haven’t tried the cuisine, I’d strongly recommend! One thing, though: you end up sharing a large platter(s) of food with your guest or table, meaning the experience is a bit more intimate than your typical meal. I didn’t know this the first time I ate Ethiopian food, and my boyfriend was in an uncomfortable spot sharing his dinner with a bunch of my high school friends who he’d just met for the first time. Oops. Consider yourself warned. The food is wonderful, though! Just pick your guests accordingly :)
Between iced coffee and iced tea, I opted for the former at Compass Coffee. What did catch my eye–in addition to the perfectly designed menus– was the Nutella Mocha on the menu. Who’s heading back with me? Also, if you’re looking for somewhere to read or study with a classic “coffee shop atmosphere,” this place fits the bill.
We popped into the Howard Theatre before finishing off the tour with three different teas and oatmeal pie samples from Calabash Tea & Tonic. If you want to try some unique teas and vegan treats, look no further.
About three hours later, we were filled with yummy food, brimming new knowledge, and had tired feet. Like I said, this tour is great for locals who want to learn more about our city as well as tourists who want to do something beyond the monuments and museums. If a weekday tour and happy hour is more your speed, they’ve got ya covered too. Grab a friend, wear your walking shoes and bring your appetite :)
I was provided with a complimentary ticket for this neighborhood tour, but all opinions are my own. A huge thank you to Stefan and Mary for having us! Be sure and check out their 14th Street happy hour tours, too!
Photos by Monica Dutia