It’s no secret I love playing tourist, especially in my own city. So when Carpe DC Food Tours reached out to me to take a food tour around the U Street and Shaw Neighborhood, you know my immediate response was hell yes.
After an easy booking process online, this past Saturday, Monica and I spent the day eating and drinking our way through two popular up-and-coming neighborhoods in Washington, DC: U Street and Shaw. Let’s just say this was definitely the most educational and fun way to hair the dog I’ve ever had.
DC readers—I’ve done all the tours. The Duck Tour. The jump-on-and-off Big Bus tour. The self-guided Smithsonian tour. This one was by far my favorite—and not just because booze was involved—but because it covered a history of DC that is often overlooked: one that shows how everyday citizens have lived in this city I call home.
Our first stop on the tour was Ben’s Next Door on U Street. When we arrived, we were greeted by Stefan, who runs Carpe DC Food Tours along with his wife, Mary. Over chili cheese fries and a half smoke from Ben’s Chili Bowl—which, you guessed it—right next door, Stefan told us about the history of this DC establishment, which is a personal favorite for late night. Complimenting our delicious, hearty food was a glass of beer from local brewery, DC Brau.
Between each stop on the tour, Stefan, who is working towards his PhD in archaeology, gave us so much knowledge about the history of the neighborhood we were in.
On U Street, he focused on how the 1968 riots during the Civil Rights Movement still shape a lot of the history in the neighborhood today. This history was particularly interesting to me, as I usually just hurry through the U Street neighborhood off to bars or to my former spin studio, without giving too much thought to how its changed with the arrival of more young professionals and development dollars over the past decade.
(I won’t give away all the facts though—you’ll have to take the tour yourself to get the whole story!)
The second stop on the tour was Eatonville. This was by far my favorite stop on the tour, as the restaurant decor was gorgeous and the food was even better.
Named after Zora Neale Hurston’s hometown in Florida—you might know her as the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God—we enjoyed their version of a fried green tomato while Stefan told us about Hurston’s friendship with Langston Hughes. The restaurant actually sits close to popular local restaurant Bus Boys and Poets, named for Hughes, which is a nod to their friendship—and fun fact to whip out at your next U Street happy hour.
Now, a few years ago I would have been skeptical of gas station food. But my favorite sandwich shop in Charlottesville, Bellair, is located in an Exxon, so when Stefan lead us to Fast Gourmet, I knew we were in for a real treat.
We ordered corn empanadas, but you really can’t go wrong here. (José Andrés once came here and ordered everything on the menu!)
While eating our empanadas on the walk over to Shaw, Stefan gave us a great overview of the neighborhood, including the history behind DC alleys, the only art moderne building in the city, the ever-popular 9:30 Club, and the African American Civil War Memorial near the U Street Metro.
After the 45-minute walk into Shaw, Monica and I were ready for more food. We popped into Etete, known as the best Ethiopian restaurant in the city. That honor says a lot because Washington, DC has the largest Ethiopian population outside of Ethiopia!
We enjoyed some of their traditional cuisine paired with Ethiopian honey wine before heading out again to get a better feel for the Shaw neighborhood.
Our second-to-last stop was a much-welcomed caffeine stop at Compass Coffee DC. Neither Monica nor I drink coffee, but the ice tea we sipped on for the remainder of the tour was the perfect afternoon pick-me-up.
If you’re ever in the neighborhood, this coffee shop is definitely worth a visit. I could see myself blogging there for an afternoon while enjoying the upbeat vibe of the neighborhood. They also color-code all their coffee beans by region of the world, so my OCD side was absolutely grinning.
After a stop at the Howard Theatre, we ended the tour with some tea and cookies at Calabash Tea & Tonic. I left the tour full and happy, and excited to have learned so much about my city in a short afternoon.
So, if you consider yourself a DC foodie, or are just looking to escape the usual tourist traps when you’re here or have guest in town, I’d highly recommend Carpe DC Food Tours. Of course, don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes because you’ll definitely be earning those Fitbit steps on this one!
Thanks again to Mary of Carpe DC Food Tours for inviting me, and Stefan for a fabulous tour! If you’re interested, they also offer happy hour tours on 14th Street. While I received a complimentary ticket, all opinions here are my own.