Ethiopian food is not to be eaten alone. That means if you’re headed to Habesha Restaurant and Cafe on the West Side, you’ll want to go with friends or family.
It also means if you subscribe to Western etiquette, you’ll want to issue a preliminary and blanket “pardon my reach” before any actual dining begins. Why? Because Ethiopian food consists of thick sauces heaped on flat bread (injera) in a circular platter, and to get a bite of everything you’ll need to do some serious across-the-table scooping.
“Scooping” being the operative word. Authentic Ethiopian food doesn’t require utensils, and authentic Ethiopian restaurants don’t supply them unless you ask.
Habesha follows suit. So while you’re there, expect to get your fingers dirty. You’ll be tearing off pieces of spongy, sour injera. You’ll be using it to scoop up things like shiro wat, a paste of chickpeas, broad beans, garlic, and onions. Then you’ll be chewing, and swallowing, and singing the praises of Ethiopian cuisine.
Will you be singing the praises of Habesha's setting? Perhaps.
Located in a small plaza, one you're certain to drive by the restaurant several times before you spot it. The interior is decorated with Ethiopian decor, though it remains a little sparse. The serious foodie, having learned all sorts of lessons about book judging and covers, will not be dissuaded. The casual diner will proceed more tepidly. Yet the setting remains cozy, if not captivating, and it does fade into the background as you enjoy that authentic Ethiopian cuisine.
The best place to start for a large group will be the mehaberawi. A hearty combo platter, it includes helpings of pickled vegetables, lentils, collard greens, and the like served on injera. It’s filling enough for two, and a great appetizer for four.
From there you’ll go to tibs section of the menu. Tibs is a stir fry-like stew made with beef, lamb, or goat. The safest choice will be the derek tibs, or beef, onion, and peppers sautéed in herbed butter. It’s another dish you ply with injera, whose sourness brings out the flavor of the beef.
Your meal will end on a high note if you enjoy a cup of ginger tea or Ethiopian coffee. Personally, I’d advocate for the coffee. Ethiopians were the first to discover coffee after all, and once you have a sip you’ll understand why. Receiving it from the waitress is a ceremonial affair. Drinking it is a euphoric one.
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Habesha Restaurant and Cafe is located at 5070 Crookshank Road (45238).