One of the first lessons we learn is to share things - toys, animal crackers, a parent’s love. But as adults, we might hesitate when someone just asks for a piece of gum. Eventually, we realize that resources are limited, and if something is valuable, we better hold on to it. Occasionally though, something comes along that is so good, you feel morally obligated to share.
That’s the case at Ras Dashen. After your first trip here, you’ll start creating reasons to bring people just to share platters of their fantastic Ethiopian food.
Ras Dashen is a quiet, relaxing spot in Edgewater that’s minimally decorated with Ethiopian paintings and woven baskets. It’s very charming - which starts with being cheerfully greeted by someone who clearly doesn’t know (or care) about the irritable text you just sent before walking through the door. You’ll also see the owner serenely moving around in the kitchen, casually making seriously delicious stuff to eat.
Like at most Ethiopian spots, that delicious stuff is meant to be shared. Almost everything here is served on top of a big piece of injera - the spongy flatbread that’s definitely the hardest working bread in the industry. There’s no role it can’t play - it’s a plate, it’s a utensil for scooping up food, it’s the blanket’s understudy in Hamilton. And the injera at Ras Dashen is some of the best in Chicago.
Sharing here doesn’t just happen with the food though. Your server will happily suggest what to order from the long menu: “I eat this every day” sold us on the shimbera asa wat (balls of chickpea dough in a spicy berbere sauce), and now it’s one of our favorites, too. So is the doro wat, a spicy chicken stew.
Entrees come with your choice of side, and they’re all vegetarian. In fact, you can make a meal out of them and order the sampler where you get five sides for $15. We’re fans of the misser salata, a cold lentil salad with peppers (hearing “I love this and I had it today for breakfast” is how this dish came into our lives). It’s light and sweet and goes well in between bites of the thicker stews.
Despite the fantastic food, Ras Dashen is never very crowded, but it still isn’t somewhere you go to in a hurry. With just one person in the kitchen, things can take a while, and you’re not the only table getting personalized attention. You’ll see the staff playing with little kids, and chatting with people at the bar while you’re waiting for the check. But at that point, it won’t matter - you’ll be busy thinking of who else you need to bring here.
It isn’t 100% necessary to get an appetizer because any meal here is going to include a ton of variety. That said, the sambusas (four fried pastries with your choice of fillings) are delicious and there should be an order on the table.
We’re not sure what we like most about this - the firm texture of the ground chickpea dough balls, or the thick berbere sauce. But what we know for sure is that this vegetarian dish is a must-order.
The bone-in chicken is juicy, and goes perfectly with the spicy berbere sauce. Plus there’s an egg, which if we’re being honest is hard to share.
This is a spicy beet salad made with onions and tomatoes in a tangy dressing. And even if you hate beets, you’ll probably like this.
This sweet and acidic combination of lentils and bell peppers is a fantastic palate cleanser between the heavier dishes.
Most of the sides are vegan, but this is the Midwest so thankfully there’s some cheese on the menu, too. The fresh ayib is smooth and creamy, and we highly suggest you combine it with any of the spicy meats.
These carrots, sweet potatoes, and green beans are stewed with tomatoes. And we can’t imagine a better dish to eat during the Chicago winter.
Eat your greens, in the form of delicious spicy kale.
If we’re not in the mood for a lot of spicy heat, this is a great option. The juicy pieces of lamb are cooked with garlic, rosemary, and peppers.
Strips of steak with shallots, garlic, ginger, and the berbere. The meat is tender, and holds up well to the spice.