My Favorite Restaurant: Rahel Ethiopian Vegan Cuisine in Los Angeles

Rahel Ethiopian Los AngelesIf 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.

Rahel Ethiopian Los AngelesOver 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.

Menu Rahel Ethiopian Los AngelesOn 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.)

Rahel Ethiopian Los AngelesWe 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.

Rahel Ethiopian Cuisine Los AngelesThe 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.

Rahel To go WrapsAs 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.)

Rahel To Go WrapsThe 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.

Review: Nile Ethiopian in Orlando

exterior nile restaurantAs I’ve mentioned many times on my blog, if there’s one type of ethnic cuisine that I wish I had easy access to, it would be Ethiopian.  I was completely spoiled for amazing Ethiopian fare when I lived within driving distance of Rahel Ethiopian in Los Angeles.  I’ve made my own at home many times (using recipes from Vegan Lunch Box and Vegan Eats World).  However, nothing beats having it at a restaurant, especially when you consider the convenience of not having to make your own spice mix, infused oil, several types of stews, and injera for scooping all of them up.

So when my husband and I were in Orlando recently, I was only too happy when he suggested that we hit up Nile Ethiopian Restaurant for dinner.  Located on busy International Drive (known as I-Drive), it’s situated in a strip mall and surrounded by theme parks, restaurants, and hotels.  While the area doesn’t seem like the likeliest of places to find mouthwatering and authentic Ethiopian cuisine, looks can be deceiving.  Nile isn’t a vegetarian restaurant, but the plant-based stews on the menu are all made with infused oil (not dairy butter) and are vegan-friendly.

interior nile restaurantThe interior of the restaurant is a large room with standard tables and chairs (and oddly a television playing, which felt more like a sports bar than a sit-down restaurant).  Then there are several small rooms made with dividers for eating in a somewhat private setting on small stools and sharing a meal on a basket dining table called a mesob.

David and I tucked into one of the rooms and ordered the Taste of Nile Vegetarian platter to share for $29.95.  It included portions of several of their vegan items and was a chance to try multiple things.  They were very busy that night, and so the service was on the slow side.  I wondered if dining in one of the rooms was a bad idea on such a night, and at one point thought we’d been forgotten altogether.  However, after waiting for a while, the man who seated us came in to see if we’d been served, and before too much longer we were brought our drinks and then dinner.

ethiopian wotsAs is typical, the wots were served on injera, a sour, spongy bread, in addition to a basket full of more bread to use in place of utensils.  Their injera was light in color and texture, almost crepe-like in its consistency.  The sourness of the bread didn’t overwhelm and allowed the wots to take center stage.

Tikel Gomen, made with cabbage and carrots, was slow cooked with garlic and ginger.  The soft, moist cabbage was mild but hearty.  Gomen, made with collard greens, is always one of my favorites.  Cooked with onions, garlic, and oil, the rich collards melt in your mouth with a vaguely metallic quality.

The Kik Alecha and Shiro, both made with split peas, and the Misir Wat, made with red lentils, were smooth and creamy.  They were cooked with onions and garlic, and the red lentils had the addition of a red pepper sauce.

ethiopian wots - nile restaurantI usually opt out of Tomato Fitfit, which is made with ripped pieces of injera, tomatoes, green peppers, onions, oil, and lemon dressing.  It sometimes feels like it’s just a way to use up yesterday’s old injera, and I’ve never been much of a soggy bread fan.  However, the dish at Nile is different.  It has a strong citrus flavor.  (It tasted like lime to me, but it says lemon on the menu.)  The fresh, bright fruitiness was a wonderful compliment to the spicier and more melded flavors of the other wots.

Azifa is a cold lentil dish made with onions, green peppers, lemon juice, and Ethiopian mustard.  The mustard must have a fair amount of horseradish in it, because it was the kind of dish that clears your sinuses.  Although I am a horseradish fan, I definitely couldn’t eat a whole platter of it.  However, it was a strong, pungent kick to have as an occasional bite.

The plate was finished off with a romaine lettuce salad for fresh, neutral bites to clean the palate from spicier flavors.

nile ethiopian orlandoBecause Ethiopian food often uses the same spices (berbere) and the same infused oil (niter kibbeh) for all of the dishes, the stews can sometimes taste a little same-y.  While the vegetables are different in each dish, the overall tone can start to feel pretty similar.  Luckily that wasn’t the case at Nile.  All of the stews were markedly different from one another.  Each one had its own layers of flavor that balanced and complimented each other well.  Plus, the wots were not too oily or heavy as can be the case at some restaurants.

After polishing off our wots, we leaned back very comforted by the authentic and satisfying flavors.  In an area of Orlando known for spills and thrills more than gomen and wots, Nile is a jewel!

Nile Ethiopian Restaurant on Urbanspoon