On one side of the Rhode Island Avenue Metro sits a shiny new development with luxury apartments, just-opened restaurants, and electric-car-charging stations. On the other side, a rundown strip mall with a Big Lots and a Forman Mills.
It’s in the parking lot of the latter that Mr. P’s Ribs and Fish served barbecue from a converted school bus for decades. (Fate Pittman—the septuagenarian behind the business, better known as Mr. P—still operates another bus in a lot at 5th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW.) But now, the aging plain white vehicle has been painted over with a colorful mural of peppers, celery, and watermelons. Pork ribs are out. Chicken and apple dogs and bison burgers are in.
Running the show now—with Mr. P’s blessing—is 46-year-old Khalani Ali, who’s converted the bus into an eatery focused on Kosher and organic sausage sandwiches called D.C. Dives. Previously a manager for Sony and Wawa, Ali was inspired to start serving hot dogs after seeing how much money Wawa makes off them.
A year ago, Ali began slinging dogs out of a deli within a convenience store at 1545 New Jersey Ave. NW, but after a dispute with the owner, she was forced out after four months. At that point, Ali’s godmother, a close friend of Mr. P’s, introduced the two. Mr. P has long been looking to retire but has no one to pass the business on to. “I said, ‘I can help you run your empire. I can bring your business back to life,’” Ali says. She laid out a business plan on paper, and the two ultimately agreed to become partners, with Ali running the day-to-day operations of Rhode Island Avenue shopping center bus.
But there was one little hitch: Mr. P is the pork master. Ali is a Muslim and doesn’t eat pork. “This took some convincing. No pork? That’s his mission!” Ali says. “When I said to him no pork, he’s like, ‘I don’t know how that’s going to work out.’ I was like, ‘You’ve got to trust me. Life is different now. People are living a different lifestyle… They want healthier foods.’”
Ali prides herself on using Kosher and organic meats, but make no mistake, her food is still hearty enough to appeal to any of Mr. P’s old customers. I stopped by on a recent Friday and scarfed down a deep-fried smoked chicken and apple sausage wrapped in turkey bacon and smothered in scrambled eggs and cheese with grilled onions and green peppers on top. The huge sandwich came with a side of fries dusted in a lemony seasoning—a secret recipe Ali won’t disclose. The price tag for the sandwich? $6.75.
All of D.C. Dives’ dogs take inspiration from the signature specialties of various states, although Ali has given them all cutesy names. Among her creations: “Dog on a Leash” (turkey smoked dog with “secret” chili, sweet onions, and mustard), the “Junkyard Dog” (deep fried beef or turkey sausage with nacho cheese chips and salsa), and the “Atomic Dog” (a jerk chicken dog wrapped in turkey with chili and coleslaw). There are also a number of burgers, fish, and weekend specials like chicken and waffles and French toast with eggs and bacon. (Check out the full menu below.)
Oh, and Ali is not a fan of ketchup. If you ask for some, she’ll charge you 50 cents and give that money to a local charity. Rest assured: her food is flavorful enough that no condiments are needed.
D.C. Dives is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
D.C. Dives, 608 Rhode Island Ave. NE; (202) 696-8335; dcdives.com
Photos by Jessica Sidman