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Local Ethiopian restaurants

I love eating with my hands. Considering my hand-washing compulsion, it’s ironic yet compatible. Combine that with spicy food, and Ethiopian cuisine can winningly satisfy me. Some standbys and favorites:

  • Injera, a teff based flatbread that’s sour, spongey and soft.
  • A good collection of vegetarian dishes, such as kik alicha (yellow split peas), atakilt wot (stewed cabbage, potatoes and carrots), gomen wot (sautéed collard greens), and my favorite…
  • …Yemisir wot, brown lentils simmered in a fiery red sauce!
  • Yedoro tibs, chopped chicken (usually deboned) cooked into a rich, spicy red stew. Sometimes I’ll have a similar dish, doro wot, chicken on the bone stewed with whole hard-boiled eggs.
  • Asa tibs or asa wot (fish stew), or shrimp tibs. Tricky to find a good version, if at all.
  • Tej, a honey wine, often homemade or locally produced.
  • Iyeb, homemade fresh cheese, reminiscent of a tart ricotta cheese.
  • Tea, Ethiopian style, made with a spiced water.

Long waits seem to be an attribute universal to Ethiopian restaurants. Take it as an opportunity to exercise one’s conversational skills with one’s companions. 😉 Several places do take away, so perhaps I’ll call ahead to take a meal home, one of these days.

Two restaurants succeed in more respects than others: Zeni and Rehoboth, both located in San José. (Neither serve any seafood, though.)

Rehoboth. While scrumptious, the food here is milder than at other Ethiopian establishments. In fact, I wish they would be, I dunno, less shy or sheepish with the spices. But the waitstaff are warm and personable; this includes the owner, a sweet lady who alternates between cooking in the kitchen and waiting on us. Reservations are also taken, regardless of party size. The yemisir wot is earthier and smokier than Zeni’s. The yedoro tibs differs somewhat, too: more liquidy, more succulent, and with stunningly delicious savoriness. The kik alicha are more flavorful here, as is the gomen wot, which is less bitter and more palatable than at other places. No alcohol (as of this writing), so no tej to try. I enjoy how tea is served in a pot when 2 or more people order it. Occasionally the injera arrives slightly toasted, which I feel detracts from the soft texture; but that doesn’t happen too often. Metroactive review | Yelp reviews. Closed Monday.

Zeni. Spicier food than Rehoboth. The services is a bit more chaotic, but mostly friendly. Reservations aren’t accepted for parties of less than 6 or 8 people, and none are accepted at all on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. They have a wider menu, including sambussa, an Ethiopian analog to samosa, pastries filled with a mild mix of lentils and onions. Their addictive yemisir wot is sweeter and hotter than Rehoboth’s. The spicing in their yedoro tibs makes my mouth buzz and ring with delight. This is the only place where I’ve had doro kitfo made of finely minced chicken (kitfo is usually rare or raw beef mixed with spices); it sounds ingenious, and it might’ve turned out well if it weren’t so salty. Metroactive review | Yelp reviews. Closed Monday.

Other local Ethiopian restaurants

Blue Nile. Berkeley, CA. CLOSED. This was where I first experienced Ethiopian food and wine. While I have fond memories of this now defunct restaurant, I must admit that it was thoroughly Americanized. Their injera was made primarily of white wheat flour, and completely lacked teff (AFAICT) or any of the characteristic tart flavor.

Red Sea. San Jose, CA. I haven’t eaten here for years, mainly because the spice combinations are insanely inconsistent. The first time I had the fish wot, it was great, but another time it seemed like chicken bouillon cubes were added. (A shame since this is the only Bay Area Ethiopian restaurant I’ve found that serves any seafood.) Don’t bother with the weird dessert consisting of frozen mashed poundcake with juice; if you must have dessert there, just play it safe with the baklava. Yelp reviews

Shebele. Campbell, CA. CLOSED. This was the first authentic Ethiopian place I ate at, where injera was brown with teff and tasty like a good sourdough. They weren’t shy here with spices, either. The first time there, the service was painfully slow, but during later visits the service improved. As the years went by, sadly, the quality nosedived, ranging from erratic spicing to undrinkable water (i.e., tasting like bleach). Prolly no surprise that they decided to halt their business.

Not so local: Little Ethiopia on Fairfax Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA

I have barely scratched the surface of the many Ethiopian eateries on this 1-block stretch. Gridskipper has several reviews of Ethiopian restaurants in LA.

Nyala. When my friends and I first came here in the 1990s, it was a quiet place for a spicy, hands-on meal. These days it’s a lot more popular, and a bit less spicy (perhaps more Americanized?). They also serve shrimp and fish dishes. Yelp reviews

Messob. I haven’t been to Messob in many years, but to my recollection the spiciness was fun to revel in, whether with vegetables or chicken. Yelp reviews

One comment

  1. Ron Avitzur wrote:

    You can drive down Telegraph and pass several Ethiopian restaurants per mile. For a while we went on a quest to try them all. Our current fave is Cafe Colucci. There’s a shop next door for folks who want the ingredients to cook at home. Give a call next time you’re in the neighborhood if you want to give them a try and catch up.

    Monday, 26 May 2008 at 10:21 am | Permalink

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