Home to the largest community living outside Addis Ababa, the Washington, D.C. area keeps spicy through tastes of Ethiopia in dozens of city restaurants. But the best place to savor the flavor of this Horn of Africa nation sits along the revitalized U Street Corridor, where the eastern end became unofficially known as “Little Ethiopia.”
Young and old flock to the now hip neighborhood to gather around communal platters of fragrant dishes, plated symmetrically on top of injera— floppy, fermented pancakes made of the smallest grain, tef, the perfect sponge to double as both plate and utensil.
No forks or fussiness here, just a fun, transporting dining experience that D.C. loves to embrace.
Etete – Ethiopian food belongs at home, which Etete Restaurant, or “Mama” in Amharic gets right. Tiwaltenigus “Etete” Shenegelegn runs the kitchen in this restaurant bought as a surprise present after her sons immigrated about one decade ago. Specialty of the house doro wat, the country’s national dish, stews chicken until it falls apart in spices and seasoned clarified butter, served with hard boiled egg. The fermented honey wine tej, made from African gesho twigs balances all spicy platters with cooling sweetness.
Dukem – Tefera Zewdie opened Dukem in 1997, first as a small grocery shop before growing into the U Street landmark of today, with a second location in Baltimore. While the colorful palettes of red lentils, collard greens, and split yellow peas painted on injera seem familiar from other restaurants around town, Dukem stands out for its large covered patio strategically positioned for people watching, and occasional live Ethiopian music. Every Thursday is Jazz night, reviving the street’s former “Black Broadway” reputation.
Keren – Serving both Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisines, the nondescript Keren Restaurant on the western side of U Street Corridor sometimes runs out of their popular take on the traditional breakfast staple fūl. This dish of fava beans mashed with garlic like a hummus and topped with a generous pour of olive oil shows its Middle Eastern influence, but the complex chili-based spice mix berbere adds a signature Ethiopian touch. Green coffee beans roast slowly on the spot, brewed until smooth and served in a clay pot. Coffee after all, is said to hail from Ethiopia.
- Insider’s Tips: The annual Ethiopian Heritage Festival draws large crowds one weekend each Spring, but the strict fasting from animal products before Orthodox Easter affects the menus of local restaurants.
This article originally appeared in the March issue of National Geographic Traveler Latinamerica, in Spanish.