There are a lot of benefits to living in a rather large city. For me, one of the top reasons is the abundance of ethnic cuisine. Chicago is teeming with diversity when it comes to non-American culinary delights. Authentic restaurants of any ethnicity are typically clustered in one neighborhood or a few square blocks (in the case of Greek town door-to-door along one street).
That’s pretty much the case with Chicago’s best Ethiopian restaurants. Take a hike along Broadway in Edgewater, and you’ll find more than a few gems. My favorite is Ras Dashen. Judging by the reviews, I’m not alone.
If you’re unfamiliar with Ethiopian, Ras Dashen is a fabulous place to start. They lay out how the food is prepared and served right on their menu, and the wait staff is very helpful explaining how much food you should order and in what sizes. In addition to traditionally brewed coffees and teas, Ras Dashen has a full bar with signature cocktails.
The decor is pretty basic. Restaurant chairs and faux wood Formica tables. But, around the edge of the dining room, they have a few traditional Ethiopian tables. So, if you want exotic seating in addition to the exotic food, go for it.
My most recent expedition included a group of five adults and Mr. Moo. Just my opinion, but Ethiopian is best eaten with a group. (You’ll see why in a minute.)
What We Ate
Ethiopian food is served communally and eaten without utensils. So, everyone at the table each orders an entree. And, then the table decides on three side dishes. The food is served on a rather large piece of injera (a spongy bread that has the consistency of an airy pancake, but is tart… a bit lemony). There is a basket of smaller injera. Rip off a piece from the basket, scoop up some food, and be completely amazed. The best is at the end, when the sauces have gotten soaked by the large injera and you just rip and plop it in your mouth.
Although there are meat options, Ethiopian is heavy on the veggies (and especially heavy on lentils). You can also get any side dish as an entree-sized portion. We went all veg:
- Mushroom wat: Wat is basically a thick, spicy stew. In addition to the mushrooms, there were potatoes and onions as well. It was tangy and had a really good texture.
- Dupa wat: Yummy pumpkin stew. The pumpkin made the wat creamy. I picked up definite curry-flavors.
- Shirro: Ground chick peas pureed with spices. This was a bit soupy for my taste. It made it difficult to grab with the injera. Don’t get me wrong, still delicious. But, it would probably be better as a soup.
- Yeqaysur salata: Chilled beet salad in tangy dressing. So, there are beets and carrots in the salad, and something that seemed like a potato but might not have been. I’m not a fan of beets, but the potato-like thing was awesome. The dressing (especially after soaking into the injera) is brilliant.
- Simbera asa wat: Chick pea dough balls in a berbere sauce. Berbere is a spice blend made of chile peppers, ginger, basil, garlic, and a ton of other spices. It’s got some kick to it. But a good kind of kick that doesn’t feel like the top layer of your tongue has been seared off.
- Gomen: Chopped greens cooked with spices. If you don’t like spicy food, this is a safe bet. It doesn’t taste all that different than steamed spinach in any other culture.
- Misser wat: Red lentils in a spicy berbere sauce. I’d liken this to spicy red lentil soup.
- Yeqay tikil gomen: Red cabbage in a sweet and sour sauce. Like your best Asian cole slaws, it’s tangy and sugary all at once.
- Lentil soup: I ordered a cup for Mr. Moo as I wasn’t sure how he’d handle the injera. He loved it and ate the entire thing. (He also loved about half of the dishes [never a fan of spinach], but seemed to stop loving the injera toward the end. Ethiopian is great for kids of all ages because what child doesn’t love eating with their fingers?!?)
For dessert we split baklava, coconut creme brulee, and bread pudding (made with injera). I liked the baklava the best, but the creme brulee is pretty good. They also have vegan mint chocolate chip ice cream which I’ve had before and tastes like the real thing (well, my lactose intolerant belly thinks it tastes like the real thing).
What We Drank
I had an Ethio Chai which is black tea with Ethiopian spices. This is a non-dairy chai drink that is served hot. I liked mine with added sugar, but some people prefer theirs plain.
My sister and others at the table had pot of buna be jebena. (It’s Ethiopian coffee and has a similar taste to espresso.)
One other great thing about this restaurant is the prices. Nothing is terribly expensive, and you come away with a happy full feeling. Not an overstuffed, I just ate my weight in wat feeling… but a man, that was good, I’m done now feeling.
Location: 5846 N. Broadway. Metered street parking is readily available.