Where To Eat In Little Ethiopia
photo credit: Jessie Clapp
The one-block stretch of Fairfax between Olympic and Whitworth is one of LA’s most infamous gridlocks, but it’s also home to Little Ethiopia: a thriving, walkable mini-neighborhood with great restaurants, markets, coffee shops, and antique dealers. It’s the first neighborhood in America named for an African nation and a spectacular place to spend an afternoon drinking Ethiopian coffee, window shopping, and eating copious amounts of doro wot. Here's what to expect at the eight Ethiopian restaurants you’ll find there, plus details on a fantastic coffee shop.
Rosalind’s opened in 1988 as the first Ethiopian restaurant on Fairfax. Not only is this a true staple of LA's Ethiopian community at large, but chef/owner Fekere Gebre-Mariam is credited as being the “godfather of Fairfax.” He was instrumental in getting the neighborhood officially designated by the city in 2002. These days Rosalind's is an all-out party. Come to their large, festive space any night of the week and you’ll find a dining room full of families and friends eating gigantic “emperor” sampler platters (with doro wot, kitfo, awaze tibs, key wot, and more, all on a bed spongy injera), swigging Ethiopian beer, and doing a little cutting on the dance floor.
After shifting to takeout and delivery only in 2021, the most recognizable Ethiopian restaurant in LA (thanks to the late Jonathan Gold) is back open for dinner service. The tiny, romantic dining room is open from Friday to Sunday from 6-9pm, but even a small window of time is better than no window of time when it comes to eating Meals By Genet’s peppery chicken doro wot and creamy foul. Takeout and delivery are still available from Thursday through Sunday.
Messob is another longtime neighborhood spot that's been around since before the area was officially dubbed Little Ethiopia. The dining room is usually pretty busy with groups huddling around woven mesob baskets, families sharing combination platters inside the semi-private dining area up front, and dates biting into the best sambussa in the neighborhood. The art of gursha (hand-feeding your dinner companion) is also taken quite seriously here—there’s even a whole page in the menu that explains the tradition. So tear off some injera, scoop up some warm, creamy lentils, and put that baby right into your date’s mouth.
Like its name suggests, Merkato is a functioning market. But there’s also a tiny adjacent dining room with delicious, affordable food that's ideal for a quick lunch. Our go-to is the #13 asa tibs, a gigantic platter consisting of six vegetarian sides such as collard greens and stewed lentils, and a gorgeous whole fried white fish sitting on top like a July centerfold. It’s warm, flaky, and easily enough food for two people, making the $20 price tag a very good value.
Directly next door to Merkato is another market and restaurant, Buna. It opens at 9:30am—the earliest in the neighborhood—making it a natural fit for breakfast. There are a handful of tables inside, but we like sitting out on the sidewalk where you get a front-row seat to nearby markets unloading produce and people walking around, all while scarfing down platters of scrambled eggs and timatim fitfit. They also offer a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony where beans are roasted in a pan and passed around the table for everyone to smell, then ground and brewed in a jebena.
Lalibela is our go-to date night spot in Little Ethiopia. The minimalist dining room is calm and quiet—a stark contrast to the busy, big group spots down the block. Our order is usually the "veggie utopia," a 14-dish sampler platter highlighting Lalibela’s best meatless options. Berbere spice blends turn chickpeas into a fiery, mouth-burning stew. Collard greens live next to sunflower seeds and spiced red lentils. These all sit on top of sour, spongy injera bread that sops up all the juices as you eat.
Paradocs definitely isn’t an Ethiopian restaurant, but it is in Little Ethiopia and it’s a great place to know about. They serve a wide range of both tea and coffee, but their specialty is matcha. We particularly love their iced blueberry matcha, which is shockingly not too sweet and goes well with just about any of the daily pastries. If you live in the area, roll in with your laptop, grab a cup of coffee, and get some work done.
Though Ethiopian cuisine is generally vegan-friendly, Rahel on Fairfax is the only all-vegan restaurant in Little Ethiopia. This longtime neighborhood spot with a well-deserved cult following specializes in dishes like tender mushroom tibs and meat-free dulet. Expect a menu of vegetable and legume-focused things like shiro wot dusted with sweet paprika and spicy cayenne. Stop by for a casual weeknight meal and order the "veggie paradise" combo, which includes nine slow-cooked stews on a massive platter, plus injera and crispy sambussa.
Just around the corner on Pico is Awash, a small Ethiopian restaurant that does meat better than most other places in the area. 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 spicy mitmita seasoning and homemade cheese.