From Chelsea Rinnig. Email her at chelsea[AT]borderstan.com.
Last week I profiled some of Borderstan’s Ethiopian restaurants (Etete, Habesha Market and Dukem) that bring the flavors of Ethiopia to the neighborhood. But beyond these highly recommended, Zagat rated bests, there are another three Ethiopian restaurants in Borderstan that stand out as some of the most authentic, affordable and flavorful wots this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Zenebech Injera, Selam Café and Lalibela may not look like much from the outside, but their character, service and clientele all speak to the successful replication of Ethiopian cuisine.
Ethiopia’s Culinary Tradition
Before I get into the meat of it; however, allow me to give you a background on Ethiopia’s culinary tradition. The most unique part of Ethiopian dining is the “injera” — the edible, round, flat bread that serves as both plate and cutlery for the wot ordered. Injera is gluten-free and made from teff, a grain grown in some, but few, parts of the United States.
In an Ethiopian restaurant, you will rarely see a spoon or fork and instead be served plenty of injera. Tear it apart and pinch your food with your fingers. Whatever you do, do not fill the injera with wots and make a burrito, just go along with the experience and get your hands dirty!
Zenebech Injera, a family owned operation, makes its own injera by shipping teff in from the parts of California and Iowa that still grow it. Atop the pillowy, sponge-bread, I ordered a vegetarian platter. The shiro came more like a gravy and was not only flavorful by itself, but also mixed well with the various other wots of potatoes and red and yellow lentils. Zenebech Injera’s wots were the cleanest and least oily of all the Ethiopian restaurants I went to and I highly recommend you give it a try.
Two More Favorites
One thing I truly appreciate about Ethiopian food is that it is balanced and fairly healthy. It is easy to accommodate vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free alike. Lalibela offers a variety of options and a homey atmosphere. A mixed platter of vegetables and meat shared with a friend is more than plenty.
The platter features not just one option of tibs, but four different meat dishes as well as a hard boiled egg and vegetables. The beef tibs were incredible and the chicken was also flavorful. Lalibela was a bit greasier than some of the other restaurants I tried, though — great for a cold night when you want something hearty and warming, just be sure to ask for plenty of napkins.
Selam tops my list as one of my favorite discoveries on this journey. At 15th and U Streets NW, the unassuming location is actually underground. The warm and welcoming staff, mostly made up of a group of sisters, are all immensely amicable and happy to share their suggestions. I would gladly return for the regular wot platters but, if you are interested in grabbing something the morning after a night out, Selam offers a few cheap and delicious breakfast options for you to try.
Ful is the perfect breakfast — Selam serves this bowl full of beans, tomato sauce, fresh tomatoes, onions, peppers, and olive oil with a basket of rolls and a dollop of yogurt on top. For only five dollars, I’d eat this Ful every weekend and then some. The friendly atmosphere at Selam, welcoming not only from the staff but also its diners (who you can tell are also regulars), makes Selam the best Ethiopian dining experience in Borderstan.