The Ethiopian community in the Easy Bay is largely concentrated along Telegraph Avenue from uptown Oakland to south Berkeley. The most visible sign of this thriving sub-culture is its restaurants and cafés which are mostly located along the main drag. While all of these places are casual, they vary widely in terms of service and wait times for food. But they’re all friendly, with the staff (often the owners) eager to share their cuisine. Everything's scooped up with injera, a spongy flatbread made from sourdough teff or some combination of wheat, barley, corn, and rice. And they’re welcoming to kids — after all, you eat with your hands! I tried the vegetarian and meat combos at each spot, as well as the honey wine, the traditional beverage pairing, whenever a brand was recommended by the server. (Be aware that many local Ethiopian restaurants have bars separate from their dining spaces, but all serve alcohol at the tables and in the bar.) And a final disclaimer: Though coffee is an Ethiopian tradition, I didn’t find any spots that stood out for great coffee preparation or service.
One of the best on this list for food, service, and all-around experience is the spare, sunlit space that is Abesha, in an otherwise nondescript block that is technically in Temescal. One of the big advantages to ordering combo platters here is that you get to choose your own items. My favorite among the veggie choices are the timatim fifit, sort of like a bread salad, with tomatoes, onions and jalapeños mixed with injera and the gomen, chopped collard greens in berbere sauce. All the meat dishes I sampled were tender and flavorful, especially the beef wot, simmered in a mild red pepper sauce. Servers are gracious and happy to answer questions.
Addis is one of the more upscale spots on this list with white tablecloths and slightly more formal service than the others. The food is also more muted, with milder flavors across the board and injera that is less sour than average. Alicha denich, potatoes and carrots stewed in a turmeric-laden spice blend with onions and garlic, was among my favorite vegetarian dishes, second only to shiro wot, split peas in a mild berbere sauce and butter. The standout among meat dishes was the yedoro wot, chicken legs stewed in a berbere sauce and served traditionally with a boiled egg. Service is efficient and prompt, which is not necessarily the norm, and should be considered if you have time constraints.
In the heart of Temescal’s hipster-ville, Asmara is a welcome change of pace from the overpriced food of the neighborhood. Servers are super-friendly and will gladly chat with you about the menu. The injera here is particularly sour, a style I like a lot, and I’d recommend this place on that basis alone. The menu also describes each dish in detail, including spice level, which is a useful feature. The winner on the vegetarian combo plate was kik alicha, yellow split peas and onions (mild) and the best meat dish we tried was ye-beg alicha, chunks of lamb stewed in a mild curry sauce.