Image Source

One of the best things about living in the San Diego area is the proliferation of incredible restaurants, breweries and bars. You can find businesses whose focus is everything from sushi to locally made hard cider. There are also a lot of incredible, locally owned ethnic eateries offering authentic takes on foods from far-away places.

The great thing about Ethiopian restaurants is that you don’t have to travel to Northern Africa to get a taste of some of their incredible, distinctive dishes. There are numerous eateries in San Diego that cook and serve delectable Ethiopian foods. If you’ve never tried Ethiopian before, then there’s no time like now to become familiar with these rich flavors. Plan to eat in, so that you can enjoy the full experience, which is quite different from European dining standards.

At many restaurants, Ethiopian dishes are served family-style. That means there will be a large platter or bowls for everyone to share. Many times, the various dishes come heaped directly onto the injera. Injera is a sourdough flatbread, often made from a heritage grain called teff. It can also be made of barley, wheat, corn or rice flour instead. This flatbread has a rich, layered flavor that helps counteract many of the spicy dishes.

Typically, you’ll rip off a piece of injera and use it to scoop up some of the dish you want to sample. Some places won’t even offer you cutlery. To ensure everyone’s clean, there are often individual washing bowls brought out prior to the meal. We’ve tracked down four great places to sample injera and other tasty Ethiopian dishes.

A Taste of Everything

Harar Ethiopian Restaurant
Location: 2432 El Cajon Blvd.
Hours: Monday-Saturday: Noon to 10pm, Closed Sunday
Price: $$

One of the things that sets Harar Ethiopian Restaurant apart from other Ethiopian eateries in the area is their incredible honey wine. They are quite generous with both the pricing and the serving size, making it worth a taste when you stop in. Unlike some Ethiopian places, Harar tends to serve the injera folded up on the side, rather than as the base for the dishes you’re sampling.

They offer several injera-based appetizers, including spicy butter injera and little spice, pepper and herb rolls. From there, choosing your dishes could be a difficult task. They offer a vegetarian combo, offering five different dishes and injera. The Yemimatim Fit Fit is a spicy tomato salad sure to have you craving more, while their eggplant is also quite flavorful.

Meat eaters can order up a whole fried fish, served with a salad, available only on Wednesday or Saturday (but worth the visit). There are also a host of meat dishes available daily, from spicy chicken stew to braised lamb and beef.  If you stop in on Fridays, you have a chance to try a little of everything on their buffet. Harar Ethiopian Restaurant is a small establishment, with both indoor and outdoor seating, making it a great place to visit with a few friends or even a date.

Taste of Africa

Flavors of East Africa
Location: 2322 El Cajon Blvd.
Hours: Monday-Thursday: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday-Sunday: Noon to 10 p.m.
Price: $$

Flavors of East Africa offers San Diego foodies a chance to try a range of delectable African dishes in one convenient location in University Heights. They serve dinner seven days a week, but you can also stop in for lunch on Friday or over the weekend. They serve dishes at the Ocean Beach Farmer’s Market from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays. The owner, June, has been serving up African dishes around San Diego since 1995, but Flavors of East Africa didn’t open until 2011.

This little eatery does not serve alcohol, but you won’t be relegated to sipping water. They serve Iced African black tea, tropical fruit drinks and a raw ginger drink made right here in San Diego. What they may lack in booze, Flavors of East Africa makes up in flavorful dishes. There’s sambusa, a savory pastry spiced and filled with items like chicken, spicy lentils, potato, cream cheese coconut, and shrimp and chicken.

If you’re looking for something a little more African-fusion inspired, check out the jungle fries. These house-made thick fries are topped with seasoned ground beef, cheddar cheese and a kind of African salsa. You can get flat iron steak, tilapia or jerk chicken on a salad. The grilled dishes include beef short ribs, whole tilapia, chicken curry, lamb curry or even goat dishes!  

Beer, Wine, & Great Food

Muzita Abyssinian Bistro
Location: 4651 Park Blvd.
Hours: Monday-Wednesday: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Thursday: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Price: $$

Like many Ethiopian eateries, Muzita Abyssinian Bistro offers a host of vegan and vegetarian dishes. They also offer all you can eat injera, which means you won’t run out of that addictive sourdough flatbread while sampling the flavorful dishes. Muzita Abyssinian Bistro is family owned and operated. They source as much of their produce as possible locally.

The menu includes dishes like crispy calamari served with cucumber yogurt dipping sauce, spicy lentils, cool lentils or even okra. They also serve Eritrean dishes, including ground chickpeas. Veggie dishes include braised spinach with collard greens, braised pumpkin, fava beans simmered with ginger snap spices, mushrooms and zucchini served with stewed tomatoes and peppers, or green cabbage in tomato sauce.

Although they do offer a host of vegan and vegetarian dishes, this eatery serves up many spicy dishes with meat. You can order leg of lamb, sourced from New Zealand, tiger prawns, fresh fish, beef or chicken breast dishes. There’s also a full bar, where they make up spicy cocktails. Muzita Abyssinian Bistro also has beers and plenty of wines to enjoy by the glass or bottle. Finally, you can enjoy a pressed African coffee at the end of your meal.

A Secret Spot

Vision Cafe
Location: 4596 30th Street
Hours: Monday-Saturday: 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Price: $$

Tucked inside a plaza near University Heights and North Park, Vision Cafe may look more like a bodega than a restaurant at first glance. They sell imported goods, including baskets, art, phone cards, spices and tea. However, they have been cooking and serving amazing Ethiopian dishes since 2007.

They open early to offer fresh coffee and tea to regulars and commuters in the area. Whether you’re in the mood for coffee and a lively conversion or a little chickpea stew, you can find it readily available at Vision Cafe. You can also find bagged, ready to take home injera, freshly made, for reasonable prices. The owner has a reputation for using the espresso machine in an unconventional manner that produces an incredible coffee with a rich flavor unlike anything you’ll find at chain coffee shops.

Of course, if you have the time, you should sit down and order something to eat. They have plenty of great options, including spicy beef, beef and lentil sambusas or even American-style sandwiches. If you choose to eat in, you can watch a fascinating stream of diverse people come in and out. You can even make use of the free WiFi to catch up on your emails while waiting for your food.