Los Angeles has never exactly lacked well-known ethnic enclaves. From the Instagram-friendly Sawtelle Blvd to the sprawling Koreatown, these neighborhoods have long been embedded into this city’s cultural and culinary identity. But Little Ethiopia is definitely not one of them - it flies relatively under the radar. Though it’s small (roughly one long block between Olympic and Whitworth on Fairfax), this concise enclave is jam-packed with some truly elite cuisine.
Ethiopian food revolves around injera - a spongy bread that’s used to roll, dip, and scoop every last bite of whatever delicious thing you ordered, all of which will be godd*mn delicious. And healthy. And affordable. So put down that lame piece of pizza you eat every single week and go try something new for a change. Here is your guide to everything Little Ethiopia.
If there’s a crown jewel of Little Ethiopia, it’s Meals By Genet. This hole-in-the-wall spot isn’t just a top spot in Little Ethiopia, it’s one of the must-visit restaurants in Los Angeles. Yes, the hours are funky and the price point is higher than what you’ll pay in the rest of the neighborhood, but guess what? It’s worth it. The food is truly top notch (the spicy chicken dorowot is a must) and the vibe inside is perfect for an adventurous date night and not another bowl of pasta.
Rosalind’s is where you go when the party comes to Little Ethiopia. The food is good, but Rosalind’s large space caters better to your big group dinner than anywhere else in the neighborhood. The interior is colorful and festive, with individual thatched roofs attached to the walls. It’s probably considered cheesy in some circles, but we don’t run with that crowd. We run with the crowd who’s enjoying the weird, tiny dance floor and live music on the weekends, and a full bar stocked with all the traditional Ethiopian beer and wine you can handle. Let’s party.
Going on three decades of business, Messob is a Little Ethiopia staple and one that perfectly combines the upscale, romantic vibes of Meals By Genet and the festive atmosphere of Rosalind’s across the street. And that means an ideal casual date spot. The food is as good as it gets, but at Messob, the art of gursha (hand feeding your lover) is taken quite seriously. You read that right. You’re not feeding yourself, you’re feeding your date. So roll up that ball of injera, stuff it with lentils, and put that baby right into their mouth. Someone’s getting laid tonight, and it’s you.
Like its name suggests, Merkato is very much a functioning market. But there’s also a tiny adjacent dining room that’s cranking out some of the best and most affordable food in the neighborhood. Our move is to always to go vegetarian at Merkato because frankly, it’s too good to pass up. Their Vega Combo is a must-order, with gigantic helpings of four different vegetarian options clocking in at a cool $9.99. Grab yourself a quick glass of Ethiopian honey wine and have yourself a lunch.
OK, so this is definitely not an Ethiopian restaurant, but it is in Little Ethiopia and it is an excellent coffee shop. They have a fantastic range of both tea and coffee and a solid grab-and-go sandwich menu as well. There’s free wifi, and if you live in the area, there isn’t a better place to roll in with your laptop, grab a cup of coffee, and get some work done.
Directly next door to Merkato is the other market/restaurant Buna. With about six tables in the whole joint, this is easily the smallest restaurant on the block, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in everything else. The delicious food and cheap prices are one thing, but what really sets Buna a part is their open kitchen, allowing you to sneak a peek at how the whole operation goes down. And it’s awesome. Our move at Buna is the meat combo, involving both the lamb and beef stew, and all the injera one can handle.
Ethiopian food for breakfast? Get into it. Little Ethiopia Restaurant is the only place in the neighborhood that serves fit fit, which is basically shredded injera, spices, and butter. It’s like Ethiopian breakfast hash and you want all of it. Also, go in with some friends on the coffee ceremony (order before the meal) and watch your coffee being roasted right at your table. And the $6.99 lunch special never hurt anybody either.
Ethiopian cooking certainly doesn’t shy away from fish and meat, but that’s not to say there aren’t outstanding vegetarian and vegan options. And Rahel is here to prove it. The only all-vegan restaurant in Little Ethiopia, Rahel has developed a cult following with its vegetable-focused menu and a yemitin shiro wot (chickpea stew) we can’t get enough of. And every day from 11am-3pm they host an all-you-can-eat vegan buffet. See you there.
Just around the corner from the main Fairfax strip on Pico, Awash is an old-school Ethiopian restaurant that revolves around one thing - meat. If ever there was such a thing as an Ethiopian steakhouse, this would be it. They offer vegetarian selections of course, but stick to the beef and poultry here. Particularly, the Special Kitfo - an Ethiopian-style steak tartare mixed with garlic, onions, and jalapenos. Don’t forget your Altoids.