One of the best things about Ethiopian food is that no other cuisine in the world is quite like it. Traditional cooking here blends unique combinations of spices to create distinct flavours: some hot, some savoury. Spices are the key ingredients for many types of Ethiopian wat (a dish somewhere between a stew and a curry) that are eaten with flat, spongy bread called injera.

Ethiopian restaurants can be found the world over, but none compare with the food made in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s sprawling capital. Vegetables are locally sourced, and the meat typically comes from freshly killed animals. Nothing here is mass produced, and every dish is made fresh to order. Addis Ababa is the best place in the country to try Ethiopian food, and these are five of the top restaurants where you can dig into the local scene.

Hidden in plain sight are some of Addis Ababa's best local restaurants © Jakob Polacsek / Getty
Hidden in plain sight are some of Addis Ababa's best local restaurants © Jakob Polacsek / Getty

Oda Cultural Restaurant and Cafe

Inside the Oromo Cultural Center is the Oda Restaurant and Cafe, which you might recognise from Anthony Bourdain’s Ethiopia visit on No Reservations. The Oromo are one of the largest ethnic groups in eastern Africa, and the Center’s restaurant showcases the best of Oromo culture. The hall is furnished with pinewood-carved furniture and curtains made of traditional fabric. Injera made of tikur teff (a black grain about the size of a poppy seed considered to be more nutritious than the more refined white teff), spiced butter and beso (roasted and ground barley) are at the heart of Oromo cuisine. Chumbo is prepared with black teff baked thick and yoghurt, cheese, and spiced butter spilled on top so that it looks like cake. Buna qalaa (roasted coffee dipped in butter) is a cultural snack that gives coffee deeper flavours. The Oromo Cultural Center is near the National Stadium.

Tikus Shiro

In the busy neighbourhood around the Lideta condominiums, you'll find a truly local sensation: a shiro bet (shiro house). You can guess Tikus Shiro's speciality from the name: delicious shiro, a stew made of chickpea or bean flour, served with injera. You’ll find shiro on many restaurant menus around Ethiopia, but what drives most people to Lideta is the ‘half-half’ option, where you can pick two dishes from the menu and get a half portion of each. Worth trying are bozena shiro (shiro stew with meat), misir be kuanta (lentils with dried meat), gomen (Ethiopian cabbage), and timatim kurt (a spicy tomato salad served raw or heated). Enjoy your selection in the condominium courtyard’s refreshing garden to cool off from the heat on the street. After your meal, have a strong cup of freshly brewed Ethiopian coffee or a glass of homemade tej (honey wine).

Try the spicy chicken stew in a 19th-century house at Chane's Restaurant © Kerry Sullivan / Lonely Planet
Try the spicy chicken stew in a 19th-century house at Chane's Restaurant © Kerry Sullivan / Lonely Planet

Chane's Restaurant

In the heart of the Cazanches district near a stack of popular chain hotels, delicious Ethiopian fare is served up in a centuries-old house once owned by a military hero. The house preserves the 19th-century way of life with old artworks and black-and-white photographs of royals and foreign dignitaries. From the kitchen drifts the aroma of traditional Ethiopian dishes from the recipe book of the famous chef Chanyalew Mekonen (aka Chane), who used to cook at the German Embassy and for the Emperor of Ethiopia before starting this restaurant. Chane died in January 2017, but fortunately he left his legacy and the art of cooking to his son and wife. The restaurant serves a limited selection of dishes, many of which Chane invented.

Don’t leave without trying Ethiopia's favourite dish, the doro wat (a spicy chicken stew that can be tempered with injera and mild goat cheese). On Wednesdays and Fridays, traditional fasting days when no animal products should be eaten, shiro wat (a mild nutty-tasting stew made from chickpea flour) is served instead. Although shiro is a common and easily made dish, Chane's shiro is widely regarded as the best in town.

Yod Abyssinia

Yod Abyssinia highlights all of the cultures and cuisines that Ethiopia has to offer. A lot of effort has been put in to make the place look as authentic as possible. The spacious main hall is designed to resemble a typical hut and is full of eye-catching materials, from traditional hand-woven curtains to serving dishes made of woven grass. Diners sit at the traditional tables and chairs, wide, short wooden tables surrounded by three-legged stools. Yod Abyssinia serves nearly all of the dishes from the country’s many ethnicities, and the food is presented by culturally dressed staff. During the day, the mood is calm and relaxed, but at night, the meal is accompanied by a traditional music and dance performance. Pack your dancing shoes because guests are encouraged to join in. You’ll find Yod Abyssinia behind the Millennium Hall in Bole, near the airport.

Raw meat, a delicacy in Ethiopia, is usually reserved for special occasions, but you can sample some at Brundo Butchery. © Kerry Sullivan / Lonely Planet
Raw meat, a delicacy in Ethiopia, is usually reserved for special occasions, but you can sample some at Brundo Butchery © Kerry Sullivan / Lonely Planet

Brundo Butchery

Ethiopia is home to people of diverse ethnicities, and the mix of their tastes and cultures has produced some amazing cuisine. Raw meat is one of most the highly regarded Ethiopian dishes, and it’s usually reserved for special occasions. Even if you’re not celebrating, you can try one of Brundo’s many popular meat dishes, such as kurt (raw meat taken from the choicest parts of an ox) and tibs (cooked beef tips).

However, the restaurant is best known for its kitfo, which is made from the softest and reddest parts of the meat, which is ground and mixed with spiced butter and mitmita (a spice made of ground birds eye chilli pepper, salt, cardamom seeds and cloves). If you don't like the taste of the raw meat, ask for a heated kitfo, called kitfo leb leb, which looks like highly seasoned minced beef. Tej, a traditional Ethiopian alcohol made from fermented honey, is the perfect accompaniment to such a meal and is also served here.

You’ll find Brundo at Dawit Kitfo, in front of the European Commission for Africa in Atlas.

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