Little Ethiopia sign on the corner of 9th and U Streets NW.
BY ALAYNA HUTCHINSON AND ALLIE JUDGE
This past December, the D.C. Council officially named the 9th and U Street business corridor “Little Ethiopia.” The council unanimously agreed on the measure “to recognize the Ethiopian community’s heritage and culture, outstanding leadership and contributions” to D.C.’s economy and the business corridor in the Shaw neighborhood, as well as “its partnership with the African American community in the fight for social justice and civil rights.” The full resolution can be found here.
“The Ethiopian community has played an integral role in the development of many businesses in and around Washington," said Philemon Mastewal, whose Ethiopian-born parents own Büna Coffeehouse in Petworth. "As the city with the highest concentration of Ethiopian immigrants, D.C. has always felt like ‘Little Ethiopia’ to me, but I am glad to hear about the recent formal recognition from the city council."
Although the resolution was ceremonial, it signifies the impact and history of the Ethiopian diaspora in the D.C. area, which stretches back decades. A 2016 WAMU story noted that D.C. was a draw for Ethiopian immigrants for a number of reasons, including the location of the embassy, the strength of Ethiopian-American political relations and prominent HBCU Howard University. The majority Black population in the city also created a more welcoming environment in the 50s, 60s and 70s when Ethiopian immigrants and students first began coming to the U.S. in significant numbers.
Because Ethiopian immigrants initially settled in Shaw and the nearby Adams Morgan neighborhood, “Little Ethiopia” became a prominent location for Ethiopian-owned businesses. The resolution notes that the flourishing of Ethiopian businesses in this area helped with “revitalizing the community following the riots in the mid 1960s.” Since then, Ethiopian businesses have sprung up throughout the DMV, but “Little Ethiopia” remains a cornerstone representing the economic power and historical impact of the Ethiopian diaspora.
In 2014, the Migration Policy Institute estimated that the Ethiopian-born population in the D.C. area was about 35,000, which makes it the largest concentration for Ethiopians outside of Africa. Other local sources and organizations consider that number to be much higher, and certainly, as the resolution notes, the population of Ethiopian descendants in the D.C. area totals more than 300,000 people. “Little Ethiopia” has been one of the areas where a concentration of Ethiopian immigrants live, work, and open businesses; however, research from 2015 has also shown that higher concentrations of Ethiopian immigrants are now living outside of D.C. in areas like Silver Spring, Takoma Park, and Alexandria, creating new “Little Ethiopias” all over the DMV.
To support the Ethiopian immigrants in the DMV, be sure to visit local Ethiopian restaurants and businesses, such as Büna Coffeehouse. You can also donate to the Ethiopian Community Center and other immigrant-focused organizations, and continue learning more about the history of immigrants in your community!
Dishes from (L-R): Immigrant Food, Cielo Rojo, Peruvian Brothers, and Thamee
By Alayna hutchinson and allie judge
As we’ve seen with our KAMA community, one of the great things about DC is that it draws people from all over the world. This international population makes for an eclectic and exciting food scene, much of which is driven by immigrants who bring authentic dishes from their home countries to the nation’s Capital and surrounding areas.
With many of us ordering takeout right now, why not taste cuisine from around the world while supporting local immigrant-owned businesses—all from the comfort of your own home? We’ve compiled a diverse list of 10 immigrant-owned restaurants - including more established favorites, buzzy new spots, and some hidden gems - keeping in mind that there are plenty more not included and many to come as the DMV’s immigrant community continues to grow.
Heat Da Spot - Ethiopian-American (Petworth, DC)
Hailed as one of the best breakfast spots in the District, this Ethiopian-American cafe has become a staple in DC’s Petworth neighborhood just five years after opening. Heat Da Spot offers a variety of American classics like pancakes, waffles, and breakfast sandwiches, as well as dishes with an Ethiopian twist, like scrambled eggs with a side of injera.
Pho 75 - Vietnamese (Arlington, VA and Rockville & Adelphi, MD)
Thiep Le and Binh Ngo came to the U.S. in 1975 as refugees from Vietnam and opened this pho shop a decade later - naming it for that significant year - to bring a taste of home to their new country. Now with five restaurants across the DMV, their longstanding success is a testament to the quality of their version of this Vietmanise comfort food.
Purple Patch - Filipino (Mt. Pleasant, DC)
With a menu based on her mother’s recipes, chef Patrice Cleary is recognized as one of the first to bring authentic Filipino cuisine to DC. Purple Patch’s unique and flavorful dishes have earned it top spots on U.S. Filipino restaurant lists. What makes it even more remarkable is its contributions to the community, providing free meals to local children and hospitals during the pandemic.
Peruvian Brothers - Peruvian (NoMA, DC)
Mario and Guiseppe Lanzone brought “the taste of Peru” to DC seven years ago with a food truck, then concession stands across city venues. The brothers continue to serve Peruvian cuisine inspired by their childhood in Lima from a brick-and-mortar location near NoMa in DC,a permanent food stand in Arlington, and a catering kitchen operating out of Alexandria, VA.
Sakina Halal Grill - Pakistani (Mt. Vernon Square, DC)
The Sakina Halal Grill is an authentic Pakistani restaurant located in downtown D.C. near Mt. Vernon Square. Owner Kazi Mannan came to the U.S. from Pakistan in 1996 and has been working to create a space that serves as a safe refuge for all. This includes residents in DC experiencing homelessness, who Mannan has ensured can always find a free meal at his restaurant.
Dolan Uyghur - Northwest China/Xinjiang (Cleveland Park, DC)
Hamid Karim opened Dolan Uyghur in 2016 to provide DC with a taste of Uyghur, a mix of Asian and Middle Eastern flavors. The restaurant uses fresh and homemade ingredients to achieve the “true bliss of Uyghur food.” Uyghurs are an indigenous ethnic group from the Xinjiang region of Northwest China, and, as the website notes, “the unique food plays an important role” in preserving the culture.
Taco City DC - Mexican (Navy Yard, DC)
Unexpectedly, this quirky taco spot near Navy Yard, which is inspired by the Aztec and Mayan cultures of Mexico, is owned by two Salvadorians. The head chef and co-owner, Francisco Ferrufino, came to DC from San Miguel in 2007 when he was just 17 years old. His fellow co-owner, Juan Jimenez, had immigrated to DC in 1984 from La Unión. The pair noted in a recent 2019 Washington City Paper article that they had “recipe helpers” from Mexico City and Puebla to help them create their delicious tacos and small plates. Salvadorians actually make up the largest immigrant population in DC, with 11% of immigrants hailing from El Salvador as of 2018.
Immigrant Food - International Fusion (Downtown DC)
One of the newest and perhaps most unique on our list, Immigrant Food opened in 2019 as DC’s first “cause-casual” restaurant, a fast-casual eatery partnering with DC-based immigrant service organizations. Co-founders Enrique Limardo, a chef from Venezuela who has worked internationally, and Peter Schechter, a political consultant who was born in Rome and came to the U.S. before living in Latin America for nearly a decade, started Immigrant Food to “celebrate America’s story - the story of immigrants.” Their global experiences are reflected in the restaurant’s menu, which fuses flavors from around the world.
Thamee - Burmese (H Street Corridor, DC)
Burmese immigrant Jocelyn Law-Yone and her daughter Simone Jacobson along with Eric Wang started serving Burmese food at a pop-up and then a bodega, opening a permanent spot in 2019 with Thamee, the only Burmese restaurant in DC. It has quickly become acclaimed, being named Eater DC’s 2019 Restaurant of the Year and a James Beard Award semi-finalist, and was described by Thrillist as “a window into the Capital’s vibrant Asian culture.”
Cielo Rojo - Mexican (Takoma Park, MD)
Located in the heart of Takoma Park, Cielo Rojo offers traditional California-inspired Mexican cuisine. Owners Carolina McCandless, born in Chile, and David Perez, who came from Mexico as a teen, opened this fine-casual spot as “a place where friends and family can come together to nourish themselves with the beauty of food, community and mezcal.” Their community values are also in the way they make their food, with a focus on organic and locally-sourced ingredients.