Ethiopian cuisine is wildly popular in Washington DC, with a plethora of restaurants scattered throughout the District and surrounding area. An experience in flavor and spices, Ethiopian food is also an intimate experience. With each meal, a huge piece of injera – soft doughy Ethiopian bread – is rolled out onto a platter with stews, sauces and salads heaped on top for everyone to share. Intended to be eaten family style and with your hands, Ethiopian food is not only delicious but makes for a fun and distinctive experience. To find the most authentic Ethiopian restaurants in the city, read on.
Abol Ethiopian Cuisine
8626 Colesville Road
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Hours: Sun to Wed – 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Thurs to Sat – 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Abol Ethiopian is a small and warm neighborhood spot. Patrons can be seen coming in and out of the restaurant all day long, and with good reason: the service is great and the food is absolutely sublime. Your best bet at Abol is to go with a combination platter. Served with a basket of injera, the platter comes with a generous serving of six or seven classic Ethiopian dishes, each one brimming with delicious flavors. The Yemisir Kik We’t is one of the best. It is a split lentil dish that is both thick and spicy. Sautéed Cabbage, Tickle Gomen and Gomen We’t are the warm components. The collard greens serve as a cool down for your palate and the Qey-sir (cooked beets) add a note of sweetness to your meal. Combination platters for one start at $14.99, and you will definitely have leftovers for lunch the next day.
1114-1118 U St NW
Washington, DC 20009
Hours: Sun to Thurs – 9 a.m. to 2 a.m., Fri to Sat – 9 a.m. to 3 a.m.
In addition to classic Ethiopian fare, Dukem serves up special items that set it apart from other Ethiopian restaurants. First, Dukem offers breakfast. Try the Foul, or smashed fava beans topped with tomatoes, sour cream and spicy jalapeños and served alongside crusty French bread. Spicy scrambled eggs also make an appearance on the breakfast menu, as do a couple of warm stews. Another unique aspect of Dukem is the variety of Sambussa on the menu. Sambussa are small triangular pastries served as an appetizer at most Ethiopian restaurants. Usually filled with lentils, Dukem also serves them filled with spinach or mixed veggies. Breakfast items are as low as $6.60 and combination platters start at $12.
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1942 9th St NW
Washington, DC 20001
Hours: Daily – 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Cozy and cute, and named after the Chef, Etete is a U Street Corridor staple. Be sure to try the Yeataklit Wat, a hearty stew made with potatoes and cooked with carrots, onions, green peppers and a generous amount of ginger and garlic for flavor. Guests also praise the Azifa, a lentil salad with limes, tomatoes and Ethiopian mustard, tasting similar to kale but less bitter. Finally, the Yekik Alicha is a delicious menu option. Yellow lentils are cooked until thick and creamy, and their earthy flavor is highlighted by onions, garlic and ginger. You may want to make a reservation as this popular spot gets crowded, especially on weekends.
1201 28th St NW
Washington, DC 20007
Hours: Daily – 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
For an upscale Ethiopian experience, Das is your place. Prices are much higher, with entrees around $15 and platters for one starting at $18, but the atmosphere is elegant, the service is exemplary and the food is delicious. Moreover, the menu features dishes with ingredients not often seen in Ethiopian cuisine. Examples include the Eggplant and Carrot Wot, a dish made with eggplant in a tomato sauce, and Spinach and Rice, where vegetables are cooked with stewed tomatoes in rice. Classics are also on the menu, such as Collard Greens Gomen and Miser Wot, red lentils seasoned with Ethiopian herbs.
Meskerem Ethiopian Restaurant
2434 18th St NW
Washington, DC 20009
Hours: Mon to Thurs – 11 a.m. to 12 a.m., Fri to Sun – 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Be prepared for a truly authentic experience at Meskerem, where you sit on small stools surrounding low tables. Order as much as you want because the prices at Meskerem are extremely reasonable. The vegetable messob starts at only $11, making it hard to resist. It comes with a serving of different vegetarian delicacies including Shurro Wat, a dish with chickpeas cooked in a spicy berbere sauce. Berbere sauce is the quintessential Ethiopian sauce made with fenugreek, garlic, ginger, pepper, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, cumin, turmeric, chilis, cinnamon and cayenne. The salads at Meskerem are also worth a try. The Ethiopian Potato Salad is spicy and filling, and the Meskerem Salad is refreshing and clean, made from tomatoes and cheese drizzled with a bright lemony dressing.
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Priya Konings is a freelance writer and restaurant critic in Washington D.C. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.