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Most Flavorful Ethiopian? And do restaurants "dumb down" for non-native eaters?

I'm wondering if something is wrong with my tastebuds, or if I'm a victim of flavor dumb-down. I've seen several times on this board that Nyala is bland, bland, bland, and that Messob, Rahel, Meals by Genet or Rosalind's are all better. I don't get it.

Well, I've been to Messob and I've been to Rosalind's and I've been to another one around the corner from Fairfax (recommended by Ethiopian friends), and I've been surprised by each time by how much less flavorful everything is compared to Nyala. Everything at each of those places just tasted subdued.

What could be happening? People can debate about who has good food, or better food, but it would seem we can all agree on whether something is strongly flavored. So, I'm wondering if the waitstaff in these restaurants is taking a gander at me and running over to tell the chef to tone things down for the American chick. I mean, does this happen?

I was particularly surprised by the food at that restaurant whose name I can't recall (actually, with my sense of direction, I might not even have the location exactly right) because I'd been told by several Ethiopian friends, separately from each other, that that place serves the most authentic food. But, after a nearly 90 minute wait, the stuff that came from the back all seemed bland, and definitely bland compared to Nyala. I've had Ethiopian in different cities in the US, and I'm not calling Nyala the end all be all. I'm just saying that their food seems to be more strongly flavored than the other places I've been to here in LA. To be even clearer, I'm saying that Nyala seems to have more spices in their food. Not that the food is hot (meaning, spicy), but it's got more flavor. I'm beating a dead horse and I sure hope I'm making sense...

ANYHOO, I'm asking - 1) what's the MOST FLAVORFUL Ethiopian restaurant here in LA. And 2) do you think it's possible that restaurants are changing up their dishes based on who orders them?

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  1. I like Meals By Genet and Rahel the best, they don't dumb down the flavors for anyone! I enjoy very heavily spiced food and am never disappointed by these two, can't speak for the rest.

    6 Replies
    1. re: hrhboo

      I really like Meals by Genet too. I can only compare it to Messob, which I found much less interesting. Meals by Genet was spicy and flavorful, they did enquire about our spice tollerance, but seemed to want to err on the side of spicy, which is ok with me, and I appreciate them not really wanting inherrantly flavorful and spicy food to be consumed otherwise.

      Anyway, back to the chow, I've posted about it before, but here's my recap.. the spicy (raw beef) kitfo is a favorite of mine, the DoroWat (chicken stew) is flavorful on many levels, and what was a real surprise to me, the Vegetable sampler (I can't remember the name) was a dozen or more dishes, and for the most part, all uniquely flavorful (when I had this dish at Messob, I thought most things tasted similarly --thus my comment earlier about it not seeming interesting). This platter at MbG was really an enjoyable experience.

      The funny thing about MbG is that when you enter, it doesn't have the African inspired decor of some of the other nearly places --don't be fooled, give Meals By Genet a try. I don't think you'll be sorry. Enjoy!

      1. re: hrhboo

        Gotta disagree re Rahel's. If my experience eating Ethiopian in Washington, DC is any indication, then Rahel is definitely making her food less spicy and salty to suit LA tastes. Haven't yet tried Meals by Genet or Messob yet, but an Ethiopian cabbie recommended the latter.

        1. re: a_and_w

          My Ethiopian friends enjoy Rahel the most. I've eaten there with them and with non-Ethiopians with no discernable difference in flavor. I'll try Messob!

          1. re: hrhboo

            Don't get me wrong -- there are many things to like about Rahel, esp. the freshness of the ingredients and preparation. And I certainly don't mean to suggest that she's cooking differently depending on the customer. But on my second trip (of two) I asked her to kick up the flavor a notch. It was hotter, just nowhere near salty enough for my taste. Friends of mine tell me that this is a problem with Ethiopian food generally in LA.

            1. re: a_and_w

              I urge you to try Meals By Genet. I've always found the food there extremely flavorful and complexly spiced; Genet will make the food as spicy as you like. I've never eaten Ethiopian in D.C., but my Bay Area friends who have visited find Meals By G. to be far superior to the Ethiopian up there. By the way, I agree about the comment regarding "authenticity;" one meal at any of these restaurants would probably make for weeks of food in most places in Ethiopia.

              1. re: archer

                That's surprising because Cafe Collucci blows away Rahel, imo. But I will definitely give Meals by Genet a shot. Thanks for the info!

      2. At Merkato I asked them once if they dumb the flavor down for the white folk and she told me they did. Cannot speak for others, but found the flavor at Messob not as good as at Merkato.

        2 Replies
        1. re: WildSwede

          I'm confused... so you found the food at the dumbed-down place better?

          1. re: Cicely

            Flavor-wise, yes. However, they were both not spicy. At merkato they have a chili powder on their tables that I love (I buy it in the store next door) and I usually mix that with some lemon and salt and put it on the fried fish. They also have something that I was told to call "spicy", so I ask for "spicy" which is a ketchup-consistency sauce that they will take from a squirt bottle and put some on the side of your serving plate - however, this is not as spicy as the chili powder.
            I like to try foods as the people from that region would eat it and that is why I asked if they dumb it down. I have asked them to make it "like you would eat it" but it was basically the same.

        2. Pardon the interruptions, folks, but Chowhound's goal is to help people sort through their myriad chow options to find the most delicious food available to them. Discussion about whether restaurants "dumb down their food" is off-topic for the regional boards. Please limit your discussion in this thread to finding delicious Ethiopian chow in the Los Angeles area.

          Thank you.

          1. I believe the mystery place of which you speak is Awash. It's on Pico. I, too, was introduced to it by an Ethiopian friend. Their special kitfo is excellent, but I wasn't keen on their alicha or red lentils.

            I've been to Nyala and Blue Nile way back in the day, but neither impressed me. None of those restaurants do, frankly. I'm planning to go back to Rosalind's sometime in the near future, just to check in, but I remember getting cold food there... unappealing.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Cicely

              I don' t know about dumbing down. All the Ethiopian I've had in LA and elsewhere has been pretty spicy, complex and also delicious and WICKED INEXPENSIVE! But as for the Fairfax corridor, I've never been to MBG (I think I always assumed because of the non-African look that they were a caterer, but I'll check it out) But short of that I've been to all of them at least a couple, and I always end up giving Nyala the prize, the food and service are consistently good and it has the best atmosphere. There are a couple restaurants on Fairfax where I get the feeling I stepped into a private club, but Nyala is just a nice, friendly, delicious restaurant. My advice is, if you like Nyala, eat there. The whole "authenticity" thing is kind of a waste of time anyway, I daresay, I seriously doubt most Ethiopians eat a pupu platter of 6 varieties of even the most authentic food on a daily basis, but that's a standard menu item at most Ethiopian eateries. So don't worry about the 'real' worry about the 'meal!'

              1. re: PinotPlease

                Meals By Genet is slightly more expensive than the others, but worth it imo.

                "don't worry about the real, worry about the meal" - really excellent advice, it would do me good to remember this!

              2. re: Cicely

                Yes! It was Awash! Thank you. I really just didn't get it - my Ethiopian friends had just raved about it, but when the boyfriend and I tried it out, we were so sad and disappointed. Everything tasted similar to everything else and everything was bland. Now, because boyfriend doesn't eat beef or pork, we didn't have the kitfo dish. Maybe that is where we went wrong.

              3. has anyone tried Fassica Ethiopian Restaurant in Culver City? it's supposed to be good.

                1 Reply
                1. re: NYCnowLA

                  very uneven.

                2. To me, Rahel is the tastiest. Messob is good, too.

                  1. Here's my deal:

                    Messob can be a bit "Dumbed Down" unless you ask for reccomendations from the staff. Their eyes light up, and suddenly you are eating things that are "not on the menu, but very very traditional" also, you can't beat the "Taj" at Messob. A homemade honey wine served in the traditional way. Fo sho my fav Ethiopian place in LA.