Taste of Ethiopia
Had to revive this oldish thread from Amykragan to report that I tried Taste of Ethiopia's well reviewed / rated lunch buffet this past week on Thursday and drove up from UTexas for lunch the very next day (yesterday) to do it all over again. What a friggin' gem of a place from the service, the food, the whole experience. It was my first ethiopian restaurant experience and from what I hear it's one of the best going anywhere. The sweet grandmother Winnie that runs the show is a beautiful presence that gives this sort of feeding is loving vibe to everyone eating her food. And the regular iced tea here is the best I've ever had - it's a chai type of black tea blend that ends with a sort of black peppery bite. it's just wonderful.
For those that are shy on ethnic foods, this style of cuisine can be eaten with utensils if you must (instead of using the bread), is heavy on fresh veggies like cabbage, spinach, tomatoes, green beans, lentils, cauliflower, squashes - stewed either alone or in combinations. there is fragrant basmati rice, fermented bread, lentil soup, and some fantastic stewed chicken and lamb dishes. Not bland, but also not very "hot" - this is very accessible for any palate. I will be making this as regular as possible despite the distance from work / home.
We had dinner here Saturday and also instantly fell in love with the place. I've had Ethiopian in NYC, Chicago, and also at the other Austin restos (Karibu and takeout from Aster's) but this was hands down the best I've had (I claim no expertise on the cuisine though).
First the service: SOOO warm and friendly. Like going to someone's home despite the strip mall setting. Winnie is a delight and mothers you through the whole experience. Her other servers/helpers are also very polite, accomodating, and welcoming. At the end of our meal we were offered free coffee service. Winnie explained that it was Ethiopian NEw Year and hat they would be preparing special coffee for all their guests. We stuck around for this treat and it was excellent. She roasted the beans in a pot and brought it around to each table so we could enjoy the smells. Then everyone was served delicate espresso cups of the wonderful brew. It was a great end to an even greater meal.
Next, the food: We shared the Beef Tibs (marinated chunks of beef in a nicely spicy sauce with tomatoes, onions and jalapenos) and the Vegetarian Super Combo (two types of lentils: yellow split and red split=Misir Wot; Eggplant Wot; tomato, lettuce and feta? salad; collard greens=Gomen; green beans and carrots=Fasolia; and cabbage with tomato and carrots). This easily could have fed 3-4 people, and the two of us had dinner for just under $40 before tip. It was a feast for the price. The beef was tender and nicely spicy but not overpowering. Our favorites, by far though, were some of the veggies. We had plowed through all the cabbage in just minutes. It was unlike any cabbage dish I've ever had and my SO, who usually balks at cabbage on his plate, gobbled it happily. The collards and green beans were also excellent. The red split lentils were nicely spicy but the yellow ones were the only thing we didn't return to for seconds. It wasn't that they were bad, just bland compared to all the other tasty options. The eggplant was also phenomenal. They managed to make eggplant with the skin still on tender but not mushy, not an easy task. As others have reported, the spiced iced tea (I couldn't place anything definitively) was a delight. And, the injera was fabulously done, something I've yet to find in Austin. It was neither tough or overly thick, but rather light and spongy with just the right twangy flavor.
The setting is well done for a small space. The warm yellowy walls make the small interior inviting. I quickly forgot I was in a strip mall. The nice traditional woven baskets on the tables serve as the perfect nestling home for the food when served. And, I look forward to dining on the patio when not in the middle of a deluge (It was dry despite the rain but unpleasantly humid outside).
Overall an A+. I can't wait to go back and take friends. And, it seems they are quickly becoming a N. Austin favorite. My SO reports that their lunch buffet has received rave reviews from his Dell coworkers. He tells me that guys who are not daring and live at chain restaurants even love it.
Make the drive and you're in for a treat!
This far north Austin gem of an ethnic restaurant is a rare find in the middle of Texas. Taste of Ethiopia is the perfect answer to my never-ending quest for authentic and inexpensive ethnic cuisine. Of course, it would be located off the beaten path, housed in a suburban Pflugerville strip center just off I-35. But walk in the strip center doors and you will be transported to the center of an ancient cuisine and an even more mysterious wellspring of what can only be a deep tradition of gracious welcome. Woinee Mariam, the owner and hostess, definitely exudes a presence.
Ethiopian food is rare in Austin, so new initiates should know that a meal is communal, almost ceremonial. You won't see a plate or utensils. Instead, a large tray will be placed in the center of the table. The tray is covered with a large, thin, bubbly pancake called Injera made from slightly fermented teff grain. Bowls of simple ingredients, exotically spiced, are artfully spooned onto the Injera creating a personal palette for each diner. A basket with additional Injera is served to provide, along with the fingers, a very practical alternative to fork and spoon. Vegetarians and those who enjoy meat will both be happy. Inquiries about ingredients are thoughtfully answered with respect for vegetarian concerns.
I'm not sure exactly what takes place in Woinee's kitchen, but I think I saw something similar in Like Water for Chocolate. In real life I don't even like collard greens, but I can't stop thinking about Woinee's delicately spiced gomen, even better with an array of wots or traditional stews starring various simple vegetables, legumes or meats. On my first visit, we selected a dinner ($19.95) more than adequate for two, with an array of about six traditional dishes served on the Injera. Who knew cabbage, carrots, beans, lentils, chickpeas, eggplant, etc. could sing together so beautifully? The flavors certainly intertwine with the more familiar Indian cuisine widely available locally, but although richly spiced, somehow become more subtle and definitely healthier without all the fat. On subsequent visits I've just asked Woinee to choose for us, keeping the same theme of a communal experience of various wots on Injera. This is an error-free plan.
And from the Ethiopian cradle of civilization comes the gift of coffee. Woinee prepares each order by roasting and then grinding special Ethiopian beans. The aroma and ceremonial service must be experienced. This past Saturday was a particularly special treat. My dining partner was celebrating a birthday. As a surprise, Woinee prepared a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony I will long remember. The first indication of something special was the mysterious appearance of an unusual incense burner wafting frankincense, followed by a special floor mat, chair and small ceramic cups. Woinee entered with what looked like an earthen coffee pot from which she artfully poured hot streams of exquisite coffee, sharing good wishes and goodwill, and then offering cups to everyone in the restaurant in celebration.
Taste of Ethiopia is truly special to me as a serious foodie and earns five-star praise on that count alone. But I also have a deep appreciation for unusual grace and goodwill. It shines like a beacon from Taste of Ethiopia.
"Ethiopian food is rare in Austin".
It may've been rare at one point but with Aster's Ethiopian,Karibu and Taste of Ethiopia I feel like we're now pretty well served.
Juliana25lonestar: Where else in town has your "never-ending quest for authentic and inexpensive ethnic cuisine" taken you? I'm always looking for some new places to dine.
Just visited Taste of Ethiopia tonight, and for what it's worth, I concur that Taste of Ethiopia is a place to try. The owner and the other server make you feel as though you are a guest in their home. I wish I was more familiar with the names of the different items... Started out with some samosa-like filled triangles, which were tasty (they come in lentil, beef, or spinach) but it was the dipping sauce that was really killer. Almost mole like in flavour. We had a couple of the tasting platters, as Juliana describes above: one veggie, one meat platter. There were SO MANY items to try: eggplant, collard greens, lamb, chicken, egg, green beans... I could go on and on. The biggest hits at our table were the curried lentils, the greens and the lamb dish. We also had the coffee service (coffee was incredibly delicious, and is as described above), and the lively owner (expect her to call you "sweetie" with a thick accent, and to pat you on the shoulder as she refills your glass with delicious cinnamony iced tea) came and sat with our party and chatted with us about her life, her love of food, and her restaurant, so definitely plan to interact with your server if you dine at this place. Also, be forewarned, they don't bring you water unless you ask, but I think that is just a practical matter. The servers were more than happy to accommodate us whenever we asked for anything we needed. Drove to Taste of Ethiopia from my home in central Austin, and was worth the drive for the experience. We sat on the covered patio-- I think our meal lasted 3 hours-- and we were never rushed. See attached pic of coffee ceremony.
re: having to ask for water... It's part of the stage 2 water restrictions in both Austin and Pflugerville. According to the City of Pflugerville website, "Restaurants are urged to serve water to patrons only upon request."
After seeing all of the glowing reviews of this place I've read on chowhound, I'm dying to try this place.
We had a spicy beef dip, beef samosas, doro wot (stewed chicken & hard boiled egg), lamb tibbs, kitfo, beef tibbs, collard greens, cabbage & carrots & the coffee service. Truly a great night, super meal and Winnie is a delight. She lights up a room and has great stories. They do a lunch buffet with lots of veggies & now a chicken dish. I plan to go back soon!