100 Best Restaurants 2008: Etete

No. 77: Etete

Cuisine: Ethiopian cooking, homey and assured—prepared and sometimes ladled out tableside by Tiwaltengus Shenegelgn, the gentle-souled etete (“mama” in Amharic) of the restaurant’s name.

Mood: The dark, incense-filled Ethiopian restaurants of a generation ago have given way here to an almost slick space—polished wood floors, dangling lights—that could pass for a wine bar.

Best for: Diners who can appreciate the sensual experience of an Ethiopian repast—you eat with your hands—and who like to linger. Westerners may find the service slow, but a leisurely style is not the prerogative of the French alone.

Best dishes: Sambusas, crispy, three-cornered pockets stuffed with lentils; lega tibs (lamb) and doro wat (chicken and egg), swimming in a complex red sauce that derives its heat from the Ethiopian compound spice berbere; the cool, mustard-spiked green-lentil dish called azifa, a necessary cooling agent; dark-roasted coffee.

Insider tips: Ordering a fasting platter—an assortment of vegetarian dishes—is a smart way to counteract the heaviness of the meat-based stews and to experience the full range of the cooking. In your choice of seven, include the gomen, or buttery collards, and the creamy yekik alicha, or yellow lentils.

Service: ••

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 Petworth.