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Feb 2, 2005 01:28 AM

Anybody remember Mama Desta's Ethiopian?

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I don't know what landmark oldtime Washingtonians use to mark the city's rise out of the ordinary-food wasteland ... I suppose for me it was discovering the city's first Ethiopian restaurant, Mama Desta, on Georgia Avenue at Delafield Place.

It made a foodie out of me. Does anyone recall it?

It made a special impression on me for several reasons: First, the food was amazing! Nothing like this at Howard Johnson's, no sir! A newspaper article alerted me and gave me the courage to order what had been mentioned. From there I had only to look at passing trays (just to make sure none of them contained anything that looked deadly, or was still moving) to find more favorites.

Second, I knew the building ... I was raised directly behind it, on Delafield, until we moved to Virginia when I was 9. At that time it was The Eastern Star, a Chinese place where I'd order (American) fried shrimp every time, and at odd times I'd play with the owner's two kids after school.

There's nothing like one's first discovery that there is a world beyond McDonald's ... what do you call it, "altering your paradigm"? I could go on about remembering McDonald's ("Just 47ยข for a three-course meal," the radio would sing, meaning burger, fries and small soda) but that's for another time.

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  1. Yes, I ate there several times when I first came to DC. It was certainly an eye-opener at the time, and probably was a milestone in my development as a 'hound and in DC's development as a ethnic dining hotbed. But now we're dating ourselves. Plus the moderators will probably find this thread "not related to chowcentric dining in DC" and delete it.

    1 Reply
    1. re: johnb
      Wayne Keyser

      Nonsense - I can't recall ever having even party of a post censxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxuld do such a thing!

    2. It's funny...the Ethiopian restaurant in my old neighborhood in Chicago was also called Mama Desta's. I wonder who she was? Someone famous? Anyone out there from Addis Ababa who can help me out? Maybe she was a great chef.

      Danielle F

      5 Replies
      1. re: DanielleF

        Desta Bairu launched Ethiopian cuisine in America with her restaurant in Washington, D.C. She later moved to Madison, WI and the Chicago restaurant opened. They were never open at the same time and she didn't own either.

        1. re: sholmes71

          Apparently she's pretty well known among Ethiopian restaurant owners. A few years ago I was in an Ethiopian restaurant in Boston with friends living there who were in DC when we discovered Mama Desta's. We mentioned to the owner that it was where we first discovered Ethiopian food. He said he knew her and her family from "back home" and knew of her restaurants.

          1. re: MikeR

            Addis Red Sea? That's where I was with my folks on Sunday which prompted me to Google Mama Destas finding this and other stuff. We went to Mama Destas when I was a kid living in the DC area.

            Fairly certain we did so with a MikeR... what are the odds.....

            1. re: sholmes71

              Yup, that's me. "Serious eaters."

          2. re: sholmes71

            That's a very nice essay. Glad you revived this thread!

        2. I humbly bow in awe to the revival of my 8-year-old post!

          1 Reply
          1. re: wayne keyser

            Hey, it's a decade old and still going strong.

          2. Remember it well. I used to go there when I was in grad school at SAIS. My wife and I went there on our first date: no artificial barriers when you eat with your fingers. It must have worked; we've been married 33 years!

            1. Yes absolutely! We have a Red Sea Restaraunt here in Minneapolis. Just like Mama Desta's---no honey wine though :(