U Street is not a place, but rather an experience. The historic Washington, D.C. neighborhood came into focus during the middle of the 19th century. Filled to the brim with decadent Victorian homes, the region was made up of predominately wealth white families. However, things changed a bit as they did in most American cities when The Great Migration took place. As Black Americans left the south of in search of a new life, many landed in Chicago, Detroit and of course, the Chocolate City. Buying up in property in a rapid manner, the U Street area became the home of more Black Americans than just about any other neighborhood in America during the 20th Century. Stars like Duke Ellington grew up on U Street and paved the way for a newer generation of Washington, D.C. celebrities such as Wale, Chuck Brown and many others. Today, the street once known as "Black Broadway" is still home to some of the best sights and sounds you can find in America. It's survived the riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the D.C. Sniper, the election of Donald Trump and much more. Simply put, the city is much more than the White House and a few monuments.
Memories of U Street paint the feeling that many have of the city, just ask Twitter. Despite the Black population within the city decreasing, Black businesses and entrepreneurs still find their way on Black Broadway. This is my "4-4" plan for visitors arriving on U Street in search of food. Here are four Black-owned restaurants for you to check out when you arrive on U Street.
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Ben's Chili Bowl
If you've seen them in Washington, D.C., they've been to Ben's Chili Bowl. From former President Barack Obama to Malcolm X, Ben's Chili Bowl has been a must-see for any public figure in the city. Opened in 1958, the restaurant has acted as a community center, jazz spot and a staple of the community. Regardless of what time it is, Ben's Chili Bowl will probably be open. For a lunch of chili cheese fries and hot dogs or an after-the-club meal of half smoke, Ben and Virginia Ali's family-owned restaurant is worth a moment of your time.
Oohs & Aahhs
As a journalist, you're told not to insert yourself into the story, but it's bit difficult for me not to insert my personal experiences when discussing Oohs & Aahhs. More than times than I can count, Oohs & Aahhs saved me from going hungry in my college days. I was eating at Oohs & Aahhs when l first heard Drake's If You're Reading This It's Too Late burst through the speakers. I can also tell you about the the times a chef let my friends and I slide because we didn't have enough money to pay. Oohs & Aahhs is much more than a soul food restaurant with a few good meals. It is a safe haven and a hang out spot. The restaurant is sometimes filled to capacity, but it is always filled with love.
U Street is not only a street, but it is also a neighborhood commonly known as Shaw or Cardozo. Oohs & Aahhs and Ben's Chili Bowl both call U Street home. Sitting right across the way on Florida Avenue, HalfSmoke has emerged as a staple of the community. Under the leadership of Andre McCain and the late Kevin Reed, the restaurant offers fast and casual brunch options along with catering for your next big event. In addition to its great food, the restaurant's creative menu helps it stand out. Customers can grab the "Cash App Me with Champagne" or the "Netflix & Chill." Yes, those are both names of menu items. For example, the "Cash App Me with Champagne" comes with french toast, bourbon maple syrup, home fries and two bottles of champagne. All in all, Halfsmoke is an experience definitely worth your time and money.
Dukem Ethiopian Restaurant
Dukem Ethiopian Restaurant is one of many Ethiopian options in the U Street corridor. It may not be apparent to tourists, but Washington, D.C. has an extremely large Ethiopian population. In fact, the nation's capital is believed to be home to the largest Ethiopian community outside of the African continent. As a result, there more Ethiopian food options to choose from. In 2016, Eater went as far as predicting Ethiopian food in Washington, D.C. would become as popular as pizza. Whether it be Dukem on U Street or Ghion on 9th Street, Washington, D.C. has the Ethiopian food you need.
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