Somehow I never managed to make it over to Fasika in Somerville until last night. I should have gone long ago. This place is just incredible -- extremely authentic, very well-prepared Ethiopian food that is not to be missed. To be sure, the decor is nothing to write home about, but it makes you feel that the place is really catering to the local Habesha ex-pat population, not to Americans. The staff are extremely friendly and you really do feel as though someone's Ethiopian grandmother is cooking for you back in the kitchen (which is the case for all I know).
Anyway, having been to Ethiopia I have not been blown away by the food at Addis Red Sea (either location) or Asmara (which is technically Eritrean). Those places are not bad at all, but Fasika is a real gem. The food there is about as authentic as I can imagine it being outside of Ethiopia. They use real teff flour for the injera which imparts a sourdough quality you don't get with the wheat flour variety served at other places. The kitfo is served raw (if you ask for it, which we did). They serve the tej (honey wine) in glass flasks the way you'd find in a tej bet in Lalibela. They had a few Ethiopian beers in bottles, including Hakim 'stout', which is more like a malty brown ale - really good.
The Fasiki Combo ("for two") lets you pick three meat dishes and four veg dishes for around $20 - definitely the way to go if you want to sample a lot of things. Everything was just fantastic - kitfo, lamb tibs (nicely caramelized), doro wat (quite spicy), three different lentil/split pea dishes and cabbage, potatoes, and carrots.
On a Friday night we were the only diners apart from an Ethiopian family that seemed to know or be related to the owners. (Imagine three kids, just eight years old, piling into a big platter of raw beef kitfo together!)
The decor and ambiance are pretty strange. I wouldn't go on a (first) date here. It would be a ballsy choice for a second or third date though. The restaurant is attached to a bar which mostly caters to townies and they've put some strange plexiglass partition up between the two. Definitely a hole in the wall. But never mind the decor -- go for the food.
DON'T GO THERE!
This is a report of my own experience (rather than a response to the Sgt Snackers). I had a horrible meal there two nights ago and I wish someone had told me not to go!
I went with my Husband we ordered the Fasika Combo for two and picked the lamb everyone raves about and a variety of other dishes. I don't have much experience with Ethiopian or Eritrean and usually find a combination plate a good way to go - sometimes ending up with redundant dishes but something warm and flavorful in the mix.
ALL of the food was BLAND and COLD. The grubby atmosphere (which wouldn't have bothered me if the food was any good) was depressing. The service was slow and our waitress and another guy who worked there (manager) were rude to us. I couldn't wait to get home at the end of the night.
I checked the board and it looks like people have had good experiences there so it could have been a fluke -- but it was so unpleasant I have to say - spare yourself - don't go there!
Aw, I had typed in a reply and managed to lose it. Short version: I enjoyed eating at Fasika, but can understand where ciaodog is coming from. It's not just the bar (scratcher vending machine and all), but the dining room felt a bit dark and stale. I wouldn't have been too surprised to get mealy stews from the week before, but the service was pleasant and the food was good (no basis for judging the authenticity).
Wow, that is such a big difference from my experience. All of the food was had was incredible. My guess is that the standards can vary a lot depending on who's in the kitchen (and perhaps who they think they are cooking for - we made it pretty clear that we wanted the real stuff).
I think to make a blanket statement like "don't go there" based on one bad meal is probably going too far; the reviews of Fasika on this board have generally been positive.
The grubby atmosphere doesn't bother me, but it's not a place I'd go for an introduction to Ethiopian food. Far better to get to Addis Red Sea, although IMHO the food there is dumbed down.
re: Sgt Snackers
We went a couple of weeks ago. I thought the room had its charm (we easily talked to the people at the neighboring tables, and the kids enjoyed watching the drunk guys throwing popcorn in the bar next door through the window).
The injera was dry, though, and not fermented enough. The extras they brought were not as dry, but the one it was served on was not good. The doro wat was not spicy enough in my husband's opinion, but I thought the flavor was good. The vegetable dishes (we just had the server select what she wanted for the platter) were really good, especially the one with the carrots and red peppers.
I was hoping it would be excellent, since we don't have an excellent Ethiopian restaurant in Boston, but it was just good. Addis has a better & more festive atmosphere, but the food is not quite as good, and it's def more expensive.
I'm not a fan of Fasika either. I've enjoyed Ethiopian food in other cities, and IMO, this isn't worth the trouble. My DC, who had never had Ethipian, had an opinion even lower than mine.
Sorry, but we had dinner at Fasika two nights ago and it was not a good experience. The service is very slow. Maybe 20-25 minutes before the food arrived. That is surprising since the food appears to consist largely of stews which one would assume have been cooking slowly for some hours and should be ready to serve. There were two of us and we ordered a lamb dish and a beef dish. Neither the lamb nor the beef were edible. Literally. Too tough to chew. Whether this was an ingredient problem or a cooking issue was hard to tell. If we were to return, which is doubtful, we would stick to the chopped meat items on the menu. A safer bet would be to head down the vegetarian road.