There’s something magical about a good Ethiopian meal. The East African cuisine, after all, draws heavily upon the special alchemy of long-simmered stews known as wot, dishes that transform humble ingredients such as lentils and split peas into objects of almost luxurious richness. The best way to experience those flavors is a classic combination plate.
At Tana, perhaps the most venerable member of Anaheim’s Little Addis Ababa, you can try a bit of everything. The base of each plate is a pizza-sized disc of injera, a soft, spongy flatbread with a distinct tang. Dolloped around the injera might be lentils stewed with garlic and ginger, sauteed cabbage, or hunks of diced beef enrobed in butter and a whole pantry’s worth of spices. There are no utensils at the Ethiopian table—only a basket of extra injera you rip and tear to scoop up those fragrant, addictive stews.
At Abyssinia, you’ll find excellent plates of tender, slow-cooked lamb, and the classic tartare-like kitfo, but the restaurant’s vegetable combination plate is a wonder of complex, complementary flavors. Try the garlicky collard greens, split peas with ginger and turmeric, or fantastic stewed pumpkin that somehow manages to recall the same sweet, smoky notes of your favorite barbecue sauce.
Dinner at Merhaba offers an imperceptibly different experience. The restaurant specializes in the cuisine of Eritrea, Ethiopia’s northern neighbor. You might notice more of a burn in the doro wot (spicy chicken stew) or a few different spices in a hummus-like chickpea mash. But for the most part, each item in the so-called traditional combination—a mix of both meat and vegetable stews—clearly recalls its Ethiopian counterpart. It’s two cuisines for the price of one.
Tana Ethiopian Restaurant
2622 W. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, 714-229-1719
Abyssinia Ethiopian Cuisine
2751 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim 714-826-5656,
2801 W. Ball Road, Anaheim, 714-826-8859
Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi
This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue.