After 5 years, Taste of Ethiopia hasn’t lost its kick

Photos by Kathy Chouteau

By Kathy Chouteau

Taste of Ethiopia has been open for five years, but it sure hasn’t lost its kick—or its neighborhood appeal.

The Rich Life recently stopped by the local eatery located at 11740 San Pablo Ave., Suite B in El Cerrito (Across from the Honda dealership) to sample some of the dishes cooked up by owner and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia native Tsege Tamene.

It’s not every day that you walk into a strip mall restaurant and are transported to another place. Tamene—with her artful, vibrant and culturally relevant decoration of Taste of Ethiopia’s interior space—has managed to do just that the moment you enter the premises.

The colorful tables with woven baskets, unique wooden chairs, eclectic chandelier and abundant African art combine to create a warm and comfortable surrounding that is further enhanced by the friendly service. In a nutshell, Taste of Ethiopia emanates the vibe of walking into an Ethiopian family’s home and eating in their kitchen.

The restaurant, which will celebrate its fifth anniversary Feb. 15, now serves an entirely vegan lineup of ample menu selections, according to Tamene.

While there, this reporter ordered lunch for my family, starting off with the Sambusas appetizer consisting of wrapped lentils with dried onions, garlic, Jalapeno peppers, herbs and spices in a fried pastry dough. The restaurant serves three Sambusas for $7 and the delicious—but spicy—dish was easily our family’s favorite menu item.

As our main dish, we ordered the Vegetarian Combination Meal, a sampler platter of Taste of Ethiopia menu items that during our visit included: Azifa, whole lentils cooked, mashed and mixed with onion, garlic, green pepper, lemon juice, herbs and spices served on a spring salad mix; Buticha, chickpeas powder cooked and mixed with onion, garlic, green pepper, herbs and spices on a spring salad mix; Shiro, seasoned milled chickpeas simmered in onion, garlic and tomato sauce; Ingudai Tibs, sautéed mushrooms simmered in turmeric, garlic, ginger and spices; and Dinich Wot (which we substituted for another dish), spicy potatoes seasoned with herbs and spices.

Topping off our lunch was a healthy supply of Injera, a large, sourdough-risen flatbread with a slightly spongy texture that’s traditionally used to scoop up servings. It’s the national bread of Ethiopia.

Taste of Ethiopia’s food was very fresh, flavorful and reminiscent of a home cooked meal an Ethiopian friend once prepared for me in her own kitchen. One footnote is that the restaurant’s food is also quite spicy, perhaps especially worth noting for young palates or less adventurous diners. Without meat on the menu, the eatery is a particularly good destination for vegans and vegetarians who don’t mind a little spice in their life.

Taste of Ethiopia serves a consistent menu for lunch and dinner. Its hours of operation are: Tue.-Sat. 12-3 p.m. & 5-9 p.m. Closed Sun. & Mon.

Visit the restaurant’s Facebook page here and contact them at 510-778-1905 or [email protected].