The city’s Ethiopian options took a hit when Pleasant Ridge staple Emanu shuttered earlier this year, but a kindred spirit still exists in a tiny, west side plaza storefront more befitting a vape shop than international dining. Walking into Habesha Restaurant and Cafe feels like entering a long lost relative’s home. A mounted TV plays East African music videos, a miniature stage hosts musicians on Saturday nights, and billiard balls click in a hidden back room. It’s a friendly vibe cultivated by owner Dawit Zeleke, who moved to Cincinnati from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city, 15 years ago, opening Habesha in 2015.
Because it comes from one of the only African nations to stave off colonialism at the turn of the 20th century, Ethiopian cuisine is of its own making. Don’t be intimidated. Begin with the mehaberawi, a hearty combo platter featuring pickled vegetables, lentils, and collard greens served on injera, a spongy sourdough bread. Our server chuckled at the thought of two people trying to eat more, but we piled on an order of derek tibs, rich, thinly-sliced beef strips sautéed in butter. If you’re (understandably) not as hungry, opt for the house special quanta firfir. The spicy combo of beef, onions, and injera is typically a breakfast dish but works just as well as a small entrée. Order a cup of Ethiopian joe, too—after all, Ethiopians discovered coffee.
In keeping with authenticity, all food is served without utensils. Yes, forks and knives are available. But that would deprive you of messy fingers commemorating a meal well-eaten.
Habesha Restaurant and Café, 5070 Crookshank Rd., Westwood, (513) 429-4890.