Dining Out 2 minutes 09 May 2018

4 Excellent Ethiopian Restaurants in San Francisco

Here’s where to get the best of the best.

San Francisco Ethiopian cuisine

Whether you're looking for freshly baked injera or traditional kitfo, the Bay Area is loaded with excellent Ethiopian fare. We’ve narrowed it down for you to make your life a little bit easier. Here’s where to get the best of the best.

Sweet and savory baklava. (Photo: Barcote Facebook page.)
Sweet and savory baklava. (Photo: Barcote Facebook page.)

Barcote

What It Is: Co-owners Mulu Reda and Fikrte Tequame managed to make a standout spot in a plethora of Bay Area Ethiopian restaurants.

What Our Inspectors Say: “The competition may be stiff in Oakland’s Ethiopian restaurant row, but thanks to a warm and welcoming team of chef/owners as well as a menu that excels in weaving together the spices and seasonings, the cuisine at Barcote stands out and sparkles like no other. Whether you opt for a meaty plate of kitfo (spiced minced beef cooked in clarified butter); a sampler of vegetarian stews like spicy misir wot (lentils simmered in berbere sauce); or hearty atakilt wot (cabbage, potato, and carrot stew with turmeric); you’ll be captivated by the layers of flavor. The space is clean and simple, but friendly service and a tree-shaded front patio ensure that it's homey, not ho-hum. Don't come in a rush-this is a place to kick back and enjoy a leisurely meal.”

Café Romanat

What It Is: Family-owned and operated by Adey Hagos and Mebrat Hagos, this mainstay has been a part of the Oakland scene since 2011.

What Our Inspectors Say: “In a stretch of Oakland that teems with Ethiopian restaurants, Café Romanat is a standout, thanks to its deliciously spiced dishes served in generous portions. Locals (including some Ethiopian families) fill the small room that is set with traditional low stools, woven tables and features colorful fabric curtains and artwork. Order up a homegrown beer, honey wine or a nutty ground flax or sesame seed juice to pair with the sambussas, triangular pastries stuffed with piquant jalapeño-spiked lentils. All the combination platters, served on spongy, slightly sour injera, are perfect for sharing. And the veggie combo, with dishes like sautéed collard greens, lentils in smoky berbere and split peas with turmeric and ginger, will delight any crowd.”
The interior of Walia. (Photo: Walia Facebook page.)
The interior of Walia. (Photo: Walia Facebook page.)

Walia

What It Is: Citing themselves as “new Ethiopian cuisine,” chef Aster Teklemichael delivers eclectic and delicious fare to the community of San Jose.

What Our Inspectors Say: “Authentic Ethiopian flavors are delivered without pretense at this easygoing, affordable restaurant housed in a strip mall just off Bascom Avenue. Though the space is basic, the service is friendly and it’s casual enough for kids in tow. Start things off with an order of sambussas, fried dough triangles filled with lentil, onion and chilies. Then choose from an all-meat, all-veggie or mixed selection of warming stews, like tibs firfir, featuring lamb in a garlicky berbere sauce dolloped on spongy injera. Vegetarians will particularly love dining here, as all of the plant-based options including alicha wot or split peas in turmeric sauce, shiro (spiced chickpeas) and gomen (wilted collard greens with onion and spices), are big winners.”

Zeni

What It Is: The eponymous restaurant located in a nondescript shopping plaza prides itself on bringing traditional Ethiopian to San Jose.

What Our Inspectors Say: “From its home at the end of a shopping plaza, Zeni caters to expats, tech types and families alike. The interior has a standard dining area decorated with colorful portraits and tapestries as well as traditional seating on low stools at woven tables. Either way, group dining is encouraged. Relish the spongy, enticingly sour injera used to scoop up delicious yemisir wot (red lentils with spicy berbere); kik alicha (yellow peas tinged with garlic and ginger); or beef kitfo (available raw or cooked) tossed with that aromatic spice blend, mitmita, and crowned by crumbled ayib cheese. Here, injera is your only utensil, but be assured as there's a sink in the back to tidy up. Balance the fiery food with cool honey wine, or opt for an after-dinner Ethiopian coffee.”

Hero image courtesy of Walia Facebook page.

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