Eating is inherently a social experience, as most meals are shared with our nearest and dearest. Ethiopian cuisine embodies social dining. Most meals involve people gathering around large platters of thick, spicy stews and eating family style. In this culture, people are encouraged to eat with their hands, making it an altogether fun and active experience. Here are five San Francisco Ethiopian spots great to break bread with others.
Assab Eritrean Restaurant
2845 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94118
Hours: Mon to Thurs – 4 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Fri to Sat – 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Sun – Closed
Located in the Richmond District, Assab Eritrean Restaurant serves traditional food in East African style and boasts authentic décor. Start the meal with the lentil soup, which is ever so subtly spiced and pairs well with the injera (thin, soft, bubbled bread). The restaurant offers hearty portions of beef, lamb, chicken and vegetarian dishes that are all seasoned to perfection. Sample a variety of the dishes with the meat and/or vegetable combinations platters. If you are looking for an adult beverage, try the Ethiopian beer or a glass of honey wine.
Rasselas Jazz Club & Restaurant
1534 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94115
Hours: Daily – 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.
In addition to being a jazz club, Rasselas cooks savory, authentic Ethiopian dishes seven days a week. The restaurant has a lively atmosphere and strives for authenticity, getting its spices directly from Ethiopia. Hungry diners flock to the Fillmore Street location to enjoy dishes like the Vegetarian Combination Platter, the Doro Wat (chicken simmered in spicy berbere sauce, garlic, ginger, cardamom and onion) and the Yebeg Alecha (savory lamb simmered in onions, green peppers and Ethiopian spices). Rasselas combines a sophisticated ambiance with soothing, nightly live jazz music and the best of Ethiopian cuisine.
698 Haight St
San Francisco, CA 94117
Hours: Daily – 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Axum Café is in the heart of the Haight, and is a no-frills Ethiopian restaurant serving diners for over 17 years. Vegetarian and meat lovers alike can find something to dine on. The Kifto is similar to beef tartare, with tender steak chopped up and simmered in spicy Ethiopian butter, seasoned with mitmita peppers and served with homemade cottage cheese. Vegetarians can snack on Kintishara, which is mushrooms diced and simmered in tomatoes, onions, garlic and authentic Ethiopian spices. The Combination Platter allows customers to sample a variety of meats and/or vegetables all on top of the spongy injera, which is perfect for mopping up the spicy sauce. Axum is big on flavor but low on cost, making it a neighborhood favorite.
878 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA 94110
Hours: Mon to Tues – 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., Wed to Fri – 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Sat – 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Sun – 12 p.m. to 9 p.m.
With its modest décor, spicy cuisine and reasonable prices, Café Ethiopia has become a favorite among the Missionites. The small, unassuming restaurant offers a lot of variety and a great selection of vegetarian dishes like the Bersin (split lentil flavored with berbere sauce), the Hamli (chopped collard greens sautéed with onions and seasoning) or Eggplant Tibsie (sliced eggplant sautéed with onion, tomatoes and bell peppers flavored with the spice mix berber). Have no fear carnivores, there are plenty of tantalizing options like the Tibsie Sega (beef bites sautéed in butter, tomatoes, onions and spices served hot or mild) or the Sebhi Derho (chicken drumsticks simmered in berbere sauce with a hard-boiled egg). Café Ethiopia’s cuisine is full of spice that will awaken the taste buds, and is not for the faint of heart.
Sheba Piano Lounge
1419 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94115
Hours: Dinner: Sun to Thurs 5 p.m. – 10 a.m., Fri to Sat 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Lounge: Sun to Thurs – 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., Fri and Sat – 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Sheba Piano Lounge in the Fillmore District has an ultra cool vibe and offers a range of live music and flavorful Ethiopian cuisine. Sheba provides classic Ethiopian dishes like Tibs Wa (beef simmered in berbere sauce and the Ethiopian clarified butter) as well as creative variations of American fare like pomegranate meatballs topped with blue cheese and lightly breaded rosemary balsamic sea bass with turmeric rice. Sheba also has a full bar, but be sure to check out its cocktail menu, which includes drinks like the Red Sea, a fun twist on the bloody mary that is made with sherry and mitmita spices. Diners come to Sheba for the food, but stay for the sultry atmosphere.
Jenna Broughton can frequently be found exploring the streets of San Francisco looking for her next adventure and gastronomic delight. She has traveled far and wide, from Paris to Savannah, GA, to satisfy her adventurous palate. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.