Seattle's Best Ethiopian and Eritrean Restaurants
Seattle’s Habesha—Ethiopian and Eritrean—community took root in the 1970s, fleeing a war at home that would persist for decades to come. When the city’s first Ethiopian restaurant opened in 1982, local cooks couldn’t even source teff, the ancient grain that powers that all-important fermented flatbread, injera. Today, East African flavors enrich our landscape the way berbere spice blend might flavor tibs (a saute of meat with vegetables in an array of spices or styles) or the spicy doro wot chicken stew considered Ethiopia’s national dish.
In restaurants, meals often start with a veggie combo platter; meat eaters might tack on an order of tibs or wot (various slow-cooked stews heady with onion). Many Ethiopian restaurants cluster where Habesha residents originally settled, along Rainier Avenue South or in the Central District. But the good stuff also happens in the city’s northern neighborhoods. Few cuisines are this versatile: friendly to vegans and beef-lovers, equally suited to healthy takeout or a night of raucous socializing. Here are our favorite destinations for Ethiopian and Eritrean food.
Seattle has but a handful of dishes as continually, universally beloved as Cafe Selam’s foul. While this breakfast of stewed fava beans transcends cultures across the Middle East and Africa, owner Abebu Wondem’s version—filled with egg, feta, tomato, onion, and serrano chilies—is big on heat and texture. For this dish, Cafe Selam (and a few other places) pair it with crusty white bread, known as kitcha, to drag through your bowl. The dining room is basic and functional, but when weather permits, the front patio offers the sort of charm that makes it easy to ignore the auto shop next door.
Legend has it the “green chicken” offered on some local Ethiopian restaurant menus is actually a Seattle creation. The saute of chicken, spinach, and spices reportedly began at a now-closed restaurant called Lalibela (the space is currently home to Agelgil). However the city’s best version has to be Yodit Seyoum’s at Habesha Cafe, a combo so hearty it resembles a great veggie scramble, minus any eggs. Seyoum and her husband, Filli Abdulkdra, recently changed the name of the former Amy’s Merkato. The food remains superb; Seyoum puts her own Eritrean spin on spice mixes and preparations, but she also has her finger firmly on Seattle’s pulse: Habesha serves a vegan foul as part of its all-day breakfast and just introduced Beyond Beef for some convincing plant-based tibs. The market area also has shelves stocked with berbere spice, Avole coffee, and other Habesha pantry staples.
Technically, this storefront in a North End row of Ethiopian restaurants is a halal butcher, though your only clue might be the long line of customers who arrive every Sunday and Thursday to pick up parcels of fresh meat. Otherwise, this citrus-colored room is the domain of chef Menbere Medhane, who also happens to be a formidable cook. You’ll not find a better veggie combo than Ahadu’s composition of shiro, beets, lentils, cabbage, and fosolia, a flavorful blend of green beans and carrots. Portions prioritize quality over way-too-much quantity. And, to nobody’s surprise, meat dishes like key wot (a berbere-iffic beef stew made with oxtail and bone marrow) are also superb.
Ahadu’s next-door neighbor is beloved by locals (and its many regulars) and named for the earthenware pitcher pot that stars in Ethiopian coffee ceremonies. Jebenas often remain in families for generations; here, it’s a hint that co-owner Martha Seyoum roasts her own Ethiopian beans for the coffee menu. From the breakfast ful to veggie dishes and a bevy of meat combos, each dish pops with its own distinct hue and texture. Jebena Cafe owes its following to its warm service just as much as the food.
Because tibs are cooked to order, some diners consider them a benchmark for a restaurant: If the tibs aren't right, nothing's gonna be right. This newcomer on Jackson passes the tibs test with flying colors and ample amounts of awaze spice blend. Shewa-Ber is versatile in the extreme: a bar area with some swagger to it, covered patio seats, happy hour, Manny's on draft and Ethiopian beer by the bottle. The food menu is particularly user friendly: You can choose your own combo of three entrees, and stewy beef wot is available in a misto platter—half berebere spicy, half mellow with turmeric. As the tibs implies, the food is on point, from the all-teff injera to the layered flavor of the shiro, a fundamental dish of stewed chickpea flour that comforts like porridge but also packs spice and nuance. Bonus: gluten-free teff injera is the standard with every dish.
North Seattle’s go-to spot for Ethiopian takeout is also a thoroughly pleasant place to dine in. The TV in the corner usually displays some sort of soccer match, holding the attention of regulars who sip bottles of St. George lager from Addis Ababa. Enat's been around for more than two decades, serving combo platters large enough to fill up two people—be it the vegetarian or the Enat combination, which encompasses most of the menu. Injera made purely from teff (aka gluten-free) is available by request.
Agelgil Ethiopian Restaurant
In 2022, siblings Rahel and Daniel Getagun took over this neighborhood institution with an especially broad range of meat entrees. For the uninitiated, it’s a great introduction to various kinds of tibs, or raw dishes like kitfo and kurt. But the classic vegetarian dishes also display nuance and deep flavor. Presentation matters here; combo platters arrive in traditional hand-woven agelgil food-carrying baskets that give the restaurant its name. The whole room (especially the bar area) gets lively at night. Agelgil also offers breakfast dishes, a full bar situation, and the option to upgrade to gluten-free injera.
Delish Ethiopian Cuisine
Amy Abera is the chef; her husband, Delish Lemma, runs front of house. Together, these two Addis Ababa natives have built exactly the neighborhood restaurant you want down the street: chill, but with atmosphere. Friendly, but quite serious about the quality of its food. Abera’s kitchen puts out one stacked veggie platter and seldom-found dishes like bozena shero, essentially shiro with beef (according to Lemma, it's popular in northern Ethiopia). A menu deeply rooted in tradition displays a few Americanized flourishes, like appetizer rolls of injera filled with vegetables. The espresso machine by the entrance signals Delish’s commitment to Ethiopian coffee culture; the restaurant offers a full coffee ceremony, garnished with popcorn or Abera’s own mildly sweet bread, known as himbasha. Customers in the lounge area get to dine off traditional mesobs, those tall, colorful baskets that emphasize the celebration inherent to communal eating.
While it might not have the far-and-wide reputation of some other spots in the Central District, Zemene Belay’s restaurant inside a repurposed home on Union has been around a long time, and does many things well. Especially meat dishes. The breakfast menu includes four varieties of fit fit, a saute of mashed injera with meat that channels the universal tradition of repurposing yesterday’s carbs as today’s comfort meal. Shiro wot arrives in a traditional style, bubbling in a stone cauldron.
Adulis Eritrean and Ethiopian Restaurant
East of I-5 was pretty light on Habesha dishes, until this newcomer set up shop in the former home of Geo’s. Sure, most people order the meat or veggie combo (or the larger off-menu family combo), but Adulis, named after the Eritrean city edging the Red Sea, clearly marks dishes that are vegan and even makes a few pescatarian-friendly options like tilapia-based asa gulash. A short lineup of breakfast dishes includes ful and a lovely kitcha fit fit—shards of East African flatbread sauteed with berbere and fragrant clarified butter. A big dining room offers booths, bar seating, plush chairs, a rear lounge—even a hookah bar in the basement.
The long menu includes a dish that’s a runaway favorite, but it requires 24 hours’ notice to place an order. That would be the barbecue special, or zilzil tibs. Call ahead and tell owner Belaynesh Chera you’re coming and she’ll be ready with that particular cut of beef coated in spices then seared and reduced with red wine and plenty of peppers. Meskel is another longtime favorite in a neighborhood rich with great Ethiopian food; it occupies a converted house and leans into similarly homestyle dishes. The tomato fit fit is a pleasant surprise in the veggie combo; outside, plants and fencing hide a supremely charming patio.
Fekade Tadesse took over the former Assimba Ethiopian Cuisine in 2017 and has been writing a new chapter for one of Seattle's legacy Ethiopian restaurants ever since. One that involves coffee ceremonies, rich with incense and popcorn, and an enormous menu that mixes less-common dishes in with gold-standard renditions of classic tibs and wot. Zagol remains the sort of spot politicians like to visit to establish their neighborhood bona fides (also for the food), but regulars show up to let loose for hours over coffee, beer, and enormous platters of food. The restaurant has been closed for a significant remodel for the past few months and is slated to reopen near the end of February.