Little Ethiopia Restaurant

Ethiopian
$$$$ ($14 and under)
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Editorial Review

Tom Sietsema wrote about Little Ethiopia for a First Bite column in May 2009.

The co-owner of the Ethiopian Yellow Pages of the Washington area estimates there are more than 45 dining rooms serving doro wot and injera. So how does Yehune Belay, who just added the title of restaurateur to his resume, hope to distinguish his place in Shaw from the pack?

By re-creating the atmosphere of an Ethiopian home, he says.

Little Ethiopia Restaurant is underground, beneath the office of those Yellow Pages where Belay works with his wife, Tutu. The low-ceilinged space is unlike its competitors. Here, patrons congregate on rustic wooden stools beneath what look like umbrellas made of twigs, each cluster of seats and tables separated by a see-through shade. A small gallery's worth of imported arts and crafts practically warrants a guide.

Tutu Belay's sister, Nunu Tesfaye, presides over the kitchen, where she dishes out all the traditional Ethiopian fare, from the mild, beef-filled turnovers known as sambusas to cubed lamb zipped up with berbere, the fiery spice blend. The platter I'm most drawn to is the vegetarian sampler: dollops of grassy collard greens, jalapeno-ignited tomato salad, sauteed cabbage, spicy beets and faintly sweet lentil purees in three different shades. Like every main course, this one is served on (and with) injera, the slightly sour bread that doubles as a floppy utensil for the rest of the food.

Throughout the day, Belay makes his way down to greet customers. Nice touch. He's also responsible for the late-night weekend entertainment at Little Ethiopia. "I've been singing since I was 9," says the man with half a dozen CDs to his credit.

Entrees, $9.95-$14.50.

(May 20, 2009)