African-American roots and entrepreneurial spirit meet in this vibrant D.C. neighborhood.

Washington, D.C. Tour: U Street
Credit: Philip Scalia / Alamy

During the first half of the 20th century, the U Street corridor was a vital hub of African American culture, commerce and camaraderie—a template for Harlem. During the 1920’s and ‘30’s, performers of great renown, such as Washington native Duke Ellington, commandeered the stages of Black Broadway. The neighborhood suffered after the 1968 riots, but the vibrant mix of classic establishments and innovative upstarts has helped keep the area’s old soul alive.


Located in the Shaw neighborhood, this unique eatery is named after Marvin Gaye and is inspired by the time he spent in the Belgian town of Ostend. Chef James Claudio has created a menu that skillfully combines the cuisine of Belgium and the American South, and signature dishes include the Belgian moulles-frites and the fried chicken with Belgian waffles. The restaurant has a heated rooftop area serving more than 30 beers and a lounge offering cocktails and wine. The atmosphere is enlivened by jazz and soul music selected by Thievery Corporation’s Eric Hilton.

Busboys & Poets

Part restaurant and part community gathering spot, Busboys & Poets is a socially-conscious restaurant founded in 2005 by Iraqi-American activist and restauranteur Anas “Andy” Shallal. The eatery is divided into five separate areas, including a bookstore, the gallery, where works from local artists highlight the décor, and the Langston Room, a dinner theater-style area with a stage. The menu has a selection of burgers, pizzas, and sandwiches, as well as vegan items, and the calendar is full of special events like author talks and open mic poetry nights.

Ben's Chili Bowl

DC legend Ben’s Chili Bowl has been around since 1958. Try the iconic half-smoke (half-pork, half-beef smoked sausage) topped with Ben’s homemade chili sauce. You can order chili in variety other ways, too: in a bowl, on a burger, or on a salad, all available until late at night. Ben's also offers vegetarian and tuna sandwich options, as well as an entire breakfast menu.

Smucker Farms of Lancaster County

The rustic-gourmet grocer specializes in edibles from Lancaster County produced by Pennsylvania Amish and Mennonite farmers. Pickings include flavored popcorn, freshly baked breads, jams, cheeses, Soupergirl soups and, for dessert, whoopie pies, and stroopies.

The Saloon

The TV- and martini-free watering hole is heavy on the German brews and good intentions: 25 cents of each tab goes to charity. To date, the bar has helped build 15 schools in such developing countries as Uganda, Nicaragua, and Laos.

Ginger Root Design

The boutique features a rotating cast of 12 designers (all local, minus the co-owner’s Wisconsin mother) who create clothes, accessories, and jewelry out of repurposed and recycled materials. The proprietresses, two pals from Minnesota, also sell their handmade wares; look for the store’s name on the label.

African American Civil War Memorial and Museum

The bronze Spirit of Freedom statue and the Wall of Honor, which is etched with the names of 209,145 servicemen, commemorate the United States Colored Troops. Across the street, the heartfelt museum relates the hardships and victories of African Americans before, during, and after the Civil War. (The memorial is across the street at 1000 U St. NW.)

Bohemian Caverns

A constellation of jazz legends–Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway, for example–have lit up this celebrated music venue, which opened in 1926. Today, the club hosts national and local acts who jam in an intimate space that resembles a cool secret cave, complete with faux-rock walls.