If I had to name my very favorite restaurant anywhere, it would be Rahel Ethiopian Vegan Cuisine in Los Angeles. Rahel was the first restaurant where I ever tried Ethiopian fare, and it set the bar very high. They introduced me to slow cooked stews called wots and spongy, sour bread made from protein-rich teff flour called injera. It was there that I discovered the joys of using that pancake-style bread as a utensil, scooping up each bite of stew from a large shared platter, using a torn bit of bread to encase it.
The platters of wots are reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock painting with loud splashes of colors. The bright trays give a glimpse into the array of flavors that lay across the trays with chickpeas, collard greens, lentils and split peas, dashes of turmeric, and sautéed ginger and garlic. Each stew has complex layered flavors and nuance with none of the oiliness that can easily dominate when infused oil (niter kibbeh) provides so much of the flavor.
Over the years, I’ve made many wonderful memories at Rahel. When I lived in Los Angeles, it was a regular stop for birthdays, anniversaries, or Valentine’s Day. Even though Ethiopian cuisine wasn’t something that I ate growing up, it’s now very much comfort food to me. A plate of soft injera and warm, enveloping stews feels like going home. Plus, there’s something very intimate about eating from the same platter with a significant other or group of close friends. So obviously I couldn’t go to the West Coast and not eat at Rahel. I invited some friends to join me, picked up a couple of bottles of wine from Trader Joe’s, and made sure to leave plenty of room in my stomach for the deliciousness that awaited.
To drink, they offer juice, tea, and coffee. They don’t serve liquor. However, you can bring in your own bottle(s) of wine or beer, and they will bring you an opener and glasses. They don’t have a corkage fee.
On the walls there are large, dramatic black and white photographs, giving the restaurant a clean, open feel. There’s a mixture of standard tables on one side of the room, and on the other, traditional Ethiopian tables are available with basket-like messob and short, low-backed chairs. Because of the size of our group, we ate at one of the standard restaurant tables. However, if our group had been a little smaller, it would have been fun to eat in the one semi-private hut that is available.
Before the meal, a server comes to the table with a pitcher and basin to rinse guests’ hands since dinner will be eaten from shared platters and without utensils. (Although, plates and forks are available upon request if you’re feeling squeamish about a shared dinner or if you’re nursing a cold that you don’t want to give anyone.)
We usually order one of the combination dishes to get a mixture of flavors, and the Hudade Special Combo is my favorite since it doesn’t include an appetizer. (Their lentil-stuffed sambussa appetizers are very good, but I always walk away from Rahel stuffed to the maximum. Instead of getting full right away, I want to keep as much appetite as I can for devouring their wots with injera.) Gluten-free injera is available upon request.
We ordered two large platters for our group, and everyone walked away satisfied with even a bit remaining for leftovers.
The Hudade Special Combo comes with:
- Shiro wot & Yeshimbra assa – two different chickpea stews
- Yemisir kik wot – a spicy lentil stew
- Yeatkilt stew – a mild dish made with potatoes and carrots that is wonderfully earthy
- Yeater Alica – a homey, mushy yellow split pea stew with onions and garlic
- Yefasolia wot – a mixed vegetable dish with soft string beans and carrots
- Yebagela siljo – broad beans paste
- A green salad
- Sunflower mixed with injera
- And my favorite of the bunch – greens that have been slow cooked until tender and seasoned with garlic
All of the wots are packed with spices but not spicy hot. However, they do have trays of hot sauces if, like me, you prefer things on the mouth tingling side.
As I mentioned in my post about Viva La Vegan, David and I also picked up a couple of Rahel injera wraps when we were at that all vegan grocery store for the plane ride home. It was such a delightful treat eating a Rahel wrap while flying over Nevada. We both chose the wrap with yellow split peas. (The one with greens is my favorite, but they didn’t have any of that type at Viva La Vegan when we were there.)
The wraps are made with gluten-free injera and were filling without being overly heavy. When you’re flying, it’s nice to have something that feels healthy and substantive. On the label, the ingredients for the filling are listed as yellow peas, olive oil, sea salt, turmeric, onion and ginger. For the injera wrap, the ingredients are teff, buckwheat, and water. It is amazing what they are able to do in terms of flavor with a few simple ingredients.
If you should ever find yourself in the Little Ethiopia neighborhood of Los Angeles, I can’t recommend a trip to Rahel highly enough.