Rehoboth in San Jose’s Japantown: Rehoboth of Us Were Satisfied with Our Ethiopian Food but Not Blown Away
Normally I ramble about my belief that Ethiopian restaurants are great first date restaurants. You get to eat with your hands, it's an exotic cuisine to figure out together, etc. Rehoboth, however, is not such a great first date restaurant. You feel like you're walking into someone's college apartment when you step inside. The place is outfitted in cheap tables and chairs and the carpet, even if it's not old and stained, feels that way in memory. To get to the dining area you walk through an unused room with a counter and stools that looks like they came out of a 70s coffee shop. It's not a place high on ambiance.
It can still be a good place to go with friends or dates (as long as it's not a first date). On our first trip we had the Kik Alitcha (yellow lentils) ($8.95) and the Doro Tibs (chicken with onions and peppers) ($10.50). I've had these dishes at many Ethiopian restaurants and they were definitely above average here, and almost on par with Zeni, my favorite Ethiopian restaurant. After this trip I would have given Rehoboth 4 stars.
I had heard the red lentils were the thing to order at Rehoboth so when I couldn't order them my first visit because they'd run out, I called ahead the next several times we considered eating at Rehoboth. The third time I called they finally had them in stock so we raced down to try them. While the Yemisir Wot (red lentils) ($9.95) was described on Chowhound as smoky and better than Zeni's, we definitely disagreed. It lacked the spiciness and complexity of Zeni's lentils, and we didn't notice any smokiness. We even visited Zeni a week later to double check and they still won the red lentil match-up handily.
We also had the Siga Wot ($10.50) described on the menu as lean beef cubes and onions in a berbere sauce. We spent our meal trawling for beef through the copious amounts of sauce. Also, some of the beef cubes were almost as small as shredded pieces of beef (which is why they were hard to find), and despite being described as lean, a few of the pieces had large fatty deposits. I didn't really care for the sauce (though my husband did) so I left this dish alone. After this trip I would have given Rehoboth 2 stars. Overall I have to give it 3 out of 5.
I really want to like this place more because the people working here couldn't be nicer. The chef and owner always comes to your table to see what you think of the food. Zeni could definitely take a page out of their book when it comes to customer service.
One interesting thing of note about the Veggie Combo: The description for it on the menu lists other dish numbers on the menu that it includes (e.g. 18) Kik Alitcha, 19) Collard Greens), and it includes the number for the combo itself. It's like an infinitely repeating combo.
The owner told me she hopes to set up a coffee bar with baked goods for the front counter.
There are usually plenty of parking spaces in front. I'd avoid the lot down the street which isn't lit up at night and looks kinda sketch.
Now that Zeni has gotten ridiculously busy some nights it's nice to have an alternative. (Some weeknights at Zeni I’ve arrived at 9:15 and waited an hour for a table. But then recently when I’ve gone to Zeni on a weekend night around 7:00 I’ve had no trouble!)
Rehoboth Ethiopian Cafe
655 N 6th St
San Jose, CA 95112
MY RANKINGS OF ETHIOPIAN RESTAURANTS IN THE BAY AREA
1)Zeni, San Jose
/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\(demarcation of entirely different echelon)
2)Blue Nile, Berkeley (closed)
3)Abyssinia, Oakland (closed)
5)Café Colucci, Oakland
6) REHOBOTH, SAN JOSE
9)Red Sea, Oakland
Past thread on Rehoboth:
Ethiopian at Cafe Rehoboth in San Jose's Japantown
My review of Zeni:
Ethiopian in San Jose - Zeni: Come Come for the Gored Gored, Stay Stay for the Firfir
Got some takeout at Ethopia in Berkely b/c I was craving Ethiopian food, but kind of sorry I did.
5 item veggie combo (red lentil, split peas, shiro, cabbage and potato, and what was supposed to be collard greens-but I didn't see or taste anything that seemed like this). Nothing was hot (temperature), servings were sparse and worst of all they were relatively flavorless. The flavors that were there seemed harsh and powdery
The meat combo was doro wat (doesn't this usually have an egg?), .lamb stew and an unidentifiable lamb dish substituted for the beef dish. Doro was good size but very harsh tasting, lamb stew was okay but too much gristle and the third one had some lentils and ?ground lamb but no taste - and was about 1.5 tablespoons in size so pretty skimpy.
Oh well, the injera was tasty (and properly sour) and the people were nice.
I just went to Zeni for the first time last night. We got the veggie combo and one of the lamb dishes (ordered "juicy") that's seasoned with rosemary, an unusual touch. When I got home I realized that I hadn't really noticed the rosemary, but the lamb was very tender and flavorful. Often with tibs the beef/lamb is tough.
I really liked the yellow peas, but I thought the firfir (I've always previously seen it spelled fitfit) was bland, and I'm generally a fan of that dish. Collard greens were okay, I really love them in combo with cottage cheese laced with spiced butter, but I wasn't able to sub and that dish alone was about $10, so I'll have to wait for another time.
I also thought the cabbage/potato/spiced butter thing fell short. Strange, since this is pretty straightforward stuff -- I've made it at home. Maybe their niter kibbeh isn't spiced as I'm used to?
So, my experience was kind of a mixed bag, but the food still hit the spot. If it's supposed to be the best Ethiopian around (and definitely closer to me than East Bay), I'll keep trying. I'm very intrigued by the cooked chicken kitfo, especially since I'm not supposed to be eating regular kitfo (raw beef), usually my fave dish, right now.
We've tried many dishes on the menu, but we almost always get the same four:
-Ye Doro Kitfo
-Yemisir Wot (Red Lentils) or the Veggie Combo (favorite dishes: red lentils, yellow lentils, injera salad)
-Doro Tibs (a favorite of my husband's; I don't think it's in the pantheon of three)
I think the cabbage and potato dish is just OK, but I have a friend who insists on ordering it when he comes to town. When we get the veggie combo they let us sub out one dish so the collard greens fall by the wayside.
I'm going to have to try Zeni. I finally tried Cafe Colucci. My standard dish to compare is going to be red lentil wat since I've been making it at home. I do just as good a job as Cafe Colucci and my version is healthier cuz I use olive oil and not butter which is what Rehoboth uses too in the veggie dishes.
This review says "there are two very traditional Ethiopian settings called a mesob, in the back of the dining room. Kifle says the tabletop settings are reminiscent of her grandparents' time, and are made of a woven straw, on which food is traditionally served ... Anyone can sit at the mesob versus the plentiful Western seating at Rehoboth, "it's first come, first served,"
Rehoboth Ethiopian Cafe & Restaurant
655 N 6th St, San Jose, CA 95112
rworange, I don't think that Kay exclusively uses butter in the vegetarian dishes. She uses olive oil in at least some, I think, the gomen for one, and no corn oil, which is Zeni's weakness. Corn oil, besides the health issues, just doesn't taste very good.
Since I first tried Rehoboth not too long after they opened, I haven't been back to Zeni. I like Zeni, but I like Rehoboth more. And I appreciate the higher quality, healthier ingredients, too.
I hope that she's going to make it. It seems that whenever we go, nobody's there.
I didn't notice any traditional Ethiopian settings (the mesob you describe) in the back of Rehoboth's dining room. It's possible I missed it or maybe you have to ask for it. I'm not familiar with a mesob so it's possible it was a woven straw placemat I was oblivious to.
Incidentally, about 1/3 of Zeni's dining room consists of round tables surrounded by small chairs and stools. I suspect that maybe this is supposed to be a traditional Ethiopian dining setting. It's attractive and adventurous but always makes me wish I had more back support (if I'm sitting on a stool) and makes my husband wish he had more leg room.