Fresh, flavorful, inexpensive and frequently spicy Ethiopian cuisine is well-executed in this homey and popular four-year-old eatery
In culinary matters, first impressions don't always have the last word. For evidence, I'd cite the initial mealtime appeal of a grazing cow, a live lobster and a freshly excavated potato.
I could add Addis Restaurant to that list now, too.
Pulling up to Addis Restaurant after a good friend mentioned that he'd eaten delicious Ethiopian food there, my first impression was that describing its exterior as “humble” would be charitable. Once inside, though, I discovered that my pal was right. Because looking past a rather uninviting facade, Addis is a surprisingly festive little restaurant that serves vibrant, inexpensive and delicious food.
On the floor near its entrance, visitors are greeted by the paraphernalia necessary for an Ethiopian coffee ceremony that includes a frequently smoking incense burner dispensing the heady scent of smoldering frankincense.
Ethiopian culture is also celebrated on pennants and posters lining the blue-and-white walls of the homey, generally bustling main dining room. And it's showcased in often-riveting videos on the lone TV.
Newcomers to Ethiopian food might be understandably confused by a first glance at Addis's menu. But ordering and eating is a breeze once you get up to speed.
The first thing to know is that injera — a spongy, honeycomb-patterned sourdough flatbread made with fermented teff (a highly nutritious grain) — is key to the cuisine. It functions as both edible plate and utensil because food is served upon, and scooped up with, injera. (I usually ask for a “security-blanket” fork and hardly use it.)
Secondly, with a few exceptions, the menu can be reduced to easy-to-love vegetables served as a group, plus a selection of spicy stews made with beef or chicken. Thirdly, the food is meant to be shared, which translates to communal meals and a congenial atmosphere.
With the Veggie Combo ($13), diners receive the plant-based lineup presented in a colorful arc around a large “mat” of Addis' notably flavorful injera (a server said the alluringly tart bread is locally baked and delivered daily). These include classics such as addictive red lentils (misir wot) that recall deep-flavored vegetarian chili; pleasantly firm, mildly earthy yellow split peas; sauteed spinach; sweet, long-cooked cabbage and carrots; warm beets; and a fresh little salad.
Smaller servings of these can — and should — be partnered with meat entrees to make a combo platter (mahberawi) for just $5 extra. Like the aforementioned veggies, every meat preparation I tried was terrific.
Ordering the Addis Special, which feeds about four people for $23, simplifies matters. It's a veggies-included combo that stars the fiery and delightful Awaze Tibs: beef-stew meat swamped in a rich and intense sauce fragrant with cooked-down onions, paprika and a nuanced chili powder. But wait, there's more. Another entree comes on the side, such as the relatively mild Chicken Zilzil Tibs, which look, taste and are served like fajitas — albeit tangy, slightly sweet fajitas.
Lean ground beef takes a fragrant detour and is served with cottage cheese in the recommended Kitfo ($12). If you'd like the loose burger meat to swerve into spicier territory, order the Kitfo Dulet ($12). You'll get a massive beef mound livened by curry-style spices that is so enjoyable you might eat it all.
I've saved the spiciest for last: Doro Wot ($12). A rich, potent chicken stew that comes with a leg and a hard-boiled egg, this entree recalls red mole on steroids. A soothing mango smoothie ($4) — alcohol isn't served — plus large, well-timed scoops of vegetables can help tame the inevitable facial flames.
After paying at the counter, you can satisfy the craving for more of this food by planning another visit to this funky but fun and friendly place. It makes a great second impression.