The Ethiopian community of the nation's capital is a cluster and a sprawl.
Along a few blocks of U Street in the northwest District, an area that's become known to some as "Little Ethiopia" (but not without controversy), dozens of Ethiopian-owned businesses thrive, serving people of all communities. Most of them are restaurants, a few are grocery stores, and the rest are mini-marts, nightclubs, liquor stores, bookstores, hair salons and more. It's a city neighborhood like any other, dominated by Ethiopians and their generations.
The U Street cluster began to grow during the 1990s, and as Ethiopian businesses moved in, some of the neighborhood's long-established African-American businesses moved out. This led the African-American community to feel displaced, so much so that residents of the neighborhood have objected to renaming the area. For now, "Little Ethiopia" is an informal sobriquet. The neighborhood's long-standing name is Shaw, and the city promotes the burgeoning nightspot destination as U Street.
U Street is a glorious place to be if you crave Ethiopian food, and picking a restaurant from among so many is a challenge. The one thing you don't want to do is look in a window and pass up a place with only a few Ethiopians in conversation around a table. In fact, that's probably just where you want to stop for a meal. Think of it as dropping by your neighbor's kitchen.
Before this Ethiopian cluster emerged in Shaw, people gravitated to 18th Street in the trendy Adams Morgan neighborhood for Ethiopian food. The street still has a lot to offer, like the popular Meskerem, as well as Awash, Dahlak and the tiny Keren (the latter two are Eritrean). Addisu Gebeya is a well-stocked grocery store, and some of the other businesses along this portion of 18th Street - a hardware store, a liquor store, a hair salon, a travel agency - are owned by Ethiopians. These shops join a host of other hip hangouts and culturally diverse restaurants.
ęCopyright 2010 by Harry Kloman