AWASH Ethiopian Restaurant
4947 El Cajon Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92115
By Judi Curry
For someone that has not had Ethiopian food for many years, I wondered the wisdom of having dinner last night at “The Red Sea” and lunch today at “Awash.” While pondering what to do, I called my friend Joe and asked him if he would like to have lunch with me and he readily agreed. (Of course, we had discussed this already before I ate at the Red Sea.)
The outside of the restaurant is non-nondescript. It almost looks like a store front rather than a restaurant. Upon entering, the image changes dramatically. The first thing that you smell is incense – a pleasant odor, not over-powering. There are two sections to the dining room – one by the window that is very bright; the other in a more secluded area, and consisting primarily of individual booths rather than table.
The menu, although smaller than the restaurant last night listed two appetizers, both for $3 each. There were 10 meat entrees and 4 vegetable entrees. In addition, there were 3 “Specialties”. Although the same in one respect – it was totally different in another.
There were two desserts listed – Baklava and fruit. The beverage list included beer and wine, and Ethiopian Tea.
Joe and I studied the menu for some while. Niter, our delightful waitress, must have asked us if we were ready to order 4 or 5 times. She made some suggestions, and we finally decided to listen to what she recommended. Joe ordered the WOT – spicy stew – beef cooked in a spicy berbere sauce, with onions, garlic and butter. It was $11. I ordered the Tib Chicken – sauteed with onion, tomatoes, green pepper and butter. It cost $10.
After placing our order, Niter brought us a plate of Kategna. This was listed on the menu as an appetizer but it was complimentary. Basically it is injera bread baked in a old fashioned pan, with butter and hot pepper. The taste was totallydifferent than anything else either Joe and I have ever tasted. We tried to pin-point the spices, but were unable to do so. The aroma was different than the taste; spicy but not hot; unique in its flavor.
The WOT and Tib were served on a “community plate”, and although we had our choice of two sides, we received all of what was offered – split peas, lentils, potatoes, carrots, collard greens, cabbage, and a cheese not unlike cottage cheese. (Niter gave us a hint I’d like to pass on to you. “The reason,” she said, “that the cheese is served is that if the spices are too hot, take a bite of the cheese and it will cut the pain of the hot spice.” As I think about it I remember being told in a Mexican Restaurant if the meal is too spicy, to take a drink of milk – not water – to eliminate the hot sensation.)
The salad was in the center of the meal. Joe’s immediate reaction after tasting the WOT was one of ecstasy – it was absolutely delicious. In one bite it tasted like barbequed ribs; another bite tasted different. The injera bread was nice tasting, and as I mentioned in my review of Red Sea there are no plates nor eating utensils. One eats with their hands, using the injera as the “holder.”
The TIB was served as it was last night – one drumstick and one hard boiled egg in a wonderful tasting sauce. It was delightful.
In concluding our meal, Joe said, “ . . . everything about this meal was fantastic”. I concur. If I had to choose between the “Red Sea” and “Awash” I do not think I could do it. They are both equally good; the wait staff delightful; and roughly the same price. Joe and I paid $28 – $14 each including the tip –Last night the 5 of us paid $11 each. his restaurant did not have a TV, but since we were the only ones in the restaurant the lovely music was playing too loudly. I would think that if there were more people in the building the music would have been muted. I hope that during the other days of the week there are more eating at AWASH; they are missing a good thing.
For more information about the restaurant, check out Beryl Forman’s article Awash Ethiopian Restaurant: A Home Away From Home for African Immigrants.