I’ve never been one to be swayed by the idea of “All You Can Eat”. I don’t enjoy buffets. Foods marketed by their weight (e.g. a two-pound burrito) do nothing for me. I prefer quality over quantity. However, at my favorite restaurant, Rahel Vegan Cuisine, I must confess that gluttony almost always gets the best of me.
When my husband, David, and I are planning to visit Rahel in Little Ethiopia in Los Angeles, we like to arrive famished. I want to stuff myself with as many stews (called wots) as I possibly can, scooped with injera, which is a spongy fermented bread made of teff flour. (This means that Ethiopian food is a fabulous choice for our gluten-intolerant friends.)
Rahel is nowhere near our home, which could be a deal breaker for most restaurants. However, the food at Rahel is so delicious, we’ll brave the 10 freeway, no matter how geographically undesirable the location might be for us.
The interior of Rahel is simple and unassuming. Umbrellas hang from the ceiling as decoration. When we enter, we are greeted with a friendly smile and taken to a table of our choosing. Depending on the size of the group, diners can sit at standard tables and chairs or traditional Ethiopian chairs with basket-like tables called mossab. Underneath the lids of the mossab there is enough to space to hold a round serving tray. The chairs only extend to the lower back, and that encourages diners to sit forward towards the meal and the others dining with them.
To drink, I enjoy the mango strawberry juice. It is thick almost like a smoothie and full of the deep flavors of mango. David prefers their Kombucha tea sweetened with raw agave syrup. For those wanting to imbibe, the restaurant does not serve liquor; however, you can bring your own wine or beer, and they don’t have a corkage fee, which is unheard of in Los Angeles. The 7-11 a few doors down sells Yellow Tail for those needing some last minute Shiraz. The servers will bring a wine opener and glasses to the table.
Before the food arrives, a server comes to the table with a basin and pitcher, so that all of the guests can wash their hands. It’s the little details like that which elevate the meal from just a dinner to a dining experience.
Traditionally, Ethiopian food is eaten with no utensils and injera is used to scoop the stews. However, silverware is also available. We never use the utensils. A big part of the fun is eating the tempting stews by hand. It’s wonderful for a date night, because there’s something very tactile and sexy about eating with fingers instead of forks. The server returns to the table as soon as the injera runs low and will offer to bring more.
In addition to stews available a la carte, there are a variety of combination plates. To satisfy our palates, we always pick one of the combo meals. My personal favorite is the Hudade Special Combo. It comes with Shiro wot (chickpea stew), split lentil stew, yeakilt stew, split-pea stew, string beans mixed with carrots, yeshimbra assa (powder chickpea stew), greens, yebagela siljo (broad bean paste), stuffed green peppers, tomato salad, sunflower mixed with injera, and salad. The stews are simple and succulent. The flavors are deep and almost melt in the mouth.
With full bellies and satisfied sighs, we walk out into Little Ethiopia. Each time we leave we like to rub our tummies and say with a laugh, “Why did you let me eat so many lentils?”