Cheap Eats 2007: Etete

What makes this narrow, 24-seat place stand out among the Ethiopian restaurants around Ninth and U streets? Not the decor, with its trendy palette of browns and ochres and oranges. It’s the finesse of the cooking.

Ethiopian is primarily a stew-based cuisine, so a certain heavy-handedness and even greasiness is to be expected. And yet not at Etete, which manages to deliver sauces of greater concentration and clarity than its competitors. The red sauce that makes the yebeg wat and doro wat so good is built from a foundation of caramelized onions and incendiary berbere powder and is as zesty and rich as an Italian sugu.

Kitfo, a sort of Ethiopian beef tartare, is just as good and intense even without a sauce; novices might order the meat lightly cooked, then use a torn bit of injera to scoop it up and eat it with bites of the buttery collards called gomen and the house-made cottage cheese. The vegetarian platter is a splendid sampler comprising three lentil stews (including azifa, a cool mixture of green lentils, Ethiopian mustard, and diced jalapeños), a stew of potatoes and carrots, and a chopped salad with tomatoes and Italian dressing.

Prepare to wait—and not to think of it as waiting. This is a languor-inducing place, as befits a culture that honors fellowship and a long, relaxing meal with friends.

Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.