All Articles 7 must-eat restaurants in Los Angeles's Little Ethiopia

7 must-eat restaurants in Los Angeles's Little Ethiopia

Get your fill of injera, sambusa, and more delicious East African fare.

Eric Berry for TravelCoterie in partnership with Tripadvisor
By Eric Berry for TravelCoterie in partnership with Tripadvisor22 Dec 2022 4 minutes read
The veggie platter served at Rahel Ethiopian Vegan Cuisine
The veggie platter served at Rahel Ethiopian Vegan Cuisine
Image: Eric Berry/Travel Coterie

Los Angeles is home to one of the largest Ethiopian and Eritrean populations in the United States (second only to Washington, D.C.), and the heart of this sizable community is concentrated along a small but buzzing corridor on Fairfax Avenue.

Locals who began settling in the area in the 1970s originally referred to it as Little Addis, after Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. Restaurants, markets, and other businesses run by Ethiopians and Ethiopian-Americans flourished along the avenue throughout the '90s and early 2000s—and in 2002, the city of Los Angeles officially designated the thoroughfare “Little Ethiopia.”

Although there are many shops as well as educational sites like the Little Ethiopia Cultural and Resource Center in the area, this neighborhood’s calling card is its food. With plentiful vegetarian options, Little Ethiopia is a haven for L.A.’s non-meat eating crowd. Beyond the ingredients, the food scene is really about the communal approach to dining (it’s customary to eat Ethiopian fare with your hands) and an appreciation of rich flavors, from spongy injera bread to the national dish, spicy beef kitfo (similar to beef tartare).

Hungry yet? Here’s where to get your fill in Little Ethiopia.

Rosalind’s

An exterior view of Rosalind’s, the oldest Ethiopian restaurant in L.A.
An exterior view of Rosalind’s, the oldest Ethiopian restaurant in L.A.
Image: Eric Berry/Travel Coterie

The oldest Ethiopian restaurant in Los Angeles, Rosalind’s opened as a diner in 1988. Owner Fekere Gebre-Mariam began encouraging fellow Ethiopians to open their own restaurants, bars, and shops to create a distinct community in the city. In an Instagram post written over 30 years after the opening of his now-legendary restaurant, Gebre-Mariam marveled at how hard it was to get Angelenos to sample Ethiopian food in the mid-80s. Today, however, the restaurant is a beloved landmark. The zilzil tibs is a favorite dish, featuring sautéed beef served with sizzling peppers, onions, garlic, rosemary, and spicy jalapeños. On Friday and Saturday nights, you can enjoy live, traditional Ethiopian music while you dine.

Meals by Genet

Self-trained chef Genet Agonafer moved from Ethiopia to Los Angeles in the 1980s, and worked as a waitress before breaking into the culinary world as a caterer. Word of mouth helped her business flourish—so much so that in 2000, she moved her operation from her apartment into a restaurant space on Fairfax Avenue. Over the next 20 years, she drew increasing crowds of diners (including plenty of A-listers) with her tried-and-true interpretations of flavorful Ethiopian dishes. Meals by Genet pivoted to takeout, delivery, and catering in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and though dine-in service is now only available to patrons who rent out the entire space, anyone can still order classics like doro wat (a hearty, spiced chicken stew), alitcha (lamb stewed in a curry-like sauce), or azifa (green lentils served with Ethiopian mustard) via carry-out on Thursday through Sunday evenings.

Rahel Ethiopian Vegan Cuisine

A slice of vegan mango cheesecake served at Rahel Ethiopian Vegan Cuisine
A slice of vegan mango cheesecake served at Rahel Ethiopian Vegan Cuisine
Image: Eric Berry/Travel Coterie

In 1985, chef Rahel Woldmedhin started serving meat and vegetarian options at her first restaurant, Messob, but in 2000 she decided to go fully vegan with Rahel, located next door. With chickpea stews, refreshing salads, and thoughtful spins on Ethiopian classics (see: gluten-free injera), diners who might normally struggle to find an appetizing selection will only have trouble narrowing down their options here. One perennial favorite is shiro wot—powdered peas in a red pepper sauce. You can also opt for the veggie platter to sample most menu items (it features 11 different sides), but save room for the restaurant’s signature vegan mango cheesecake, a standout dessert.

Merkato

A customer takes in the overwhelming amount of merchandise inside Merkato
After a meal, stop by Merkato's store for Ethiopian ingredients, gifts, and more
Image: Eric Berry/Travel Coterie

Snoop Dogg, Andre 3000, and Anthony Bourdain are just a few of the big names who have broken bread—or injera, to be precise—at Little Ethiopia’s historic Merkato restaurant (it even made a cameo on HBO’s Insecure). For nearly 30 years, this neighborhood staple has kept customers coming back for traditional Ethiopian dishes like asa tibs (fried trout served with a hearty helping of veggies) and ful (a fava bean–based stew).

Shoppers looking for treasures from Ethiopia and other parts of Africa can visit Merkato’s store, located next to its namesake restaurant, where you’ll find Ethiopian coffee beans, berbere spice, fragrant oils, art, and more.

Lalibela

A plate of crispy, golden vegetarian sambusas served inside Lalibela
A plate of crispy, golden vegetarian sambusas served inside Lalibela
Image: Eric Berry/Travel Coterie

Named after a sacred region in northern Ethiopia known for its rock-hewn churches, Lalibela is a sanctuary for those seeking the city’s best sambusas. The doughy fried appetizer comes stuffed with seasoned lentils and grilled onions, with a jalapeño relish that adds a kick—and pairs perfectly with Ethiopian iced tea. Kitfo, an Ethiopian version of beef tartare, is another favorite menu option for meat-eaters. Vegetarians can experience a plant-based version of the delicacy that’s served with peppers, onions, and jalapeños.

Buna

Coffee originated in Ethiopia, and the husband and wife team behind Buna named their combination cafe, restaurant, and market after the Amharic word for the fragrant beverage—so suffice to say they take their brew seriously. Beans are roasted onsite, where you’ll notice the aroma of coffee mingling with other tantalizing scents like frankincense and honey, from the fresh-baked baklava. After filling up, you can browse the shelves, stocked with beans, spices, and sundries (textiles, books, movies, and more) imported from Ethiopia. This bustling spot is also known to broadcast football games featuring the Ethiopian national team.

Flavors From Afar

World photography on display inside Flavors From Afar
World photography on display inside Flavors From Afar
Image: Eric Berry/Travel Coterie

While there’s more than Ethiopian food on the menu at Flavors from Afar, its unique concept makes it well worth a stop if you’re in the area. The executive staff work with chefs, most of whom are refugees or otherwise displaced, from all around the world to develop a changing monthly menu highlighting dishes native to the chefs’ respective homeland. Chefs hailing from Palestine, Guatemala, Haiti, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Navajo Nation, and elsewhere have shared the flavors of their home through inventive dishes. Recently on the menu? Beef au grille, a Haitian slow roasted goat dish that’s marinated in an aromatic epis sauce and served with flavor-packed djon djon rice and sauteed vegetables.

This article orginally appeared in TravelCoterie, a Black-owned publication featuring travel news, tips, and cultural experiences.

Eric Berry for TravelCoterie in partnership with Tripadvisor
Eric has revolved in and out of passport controls for over 20 years. From his first archaeological field school in Belize to rural villages in Ethiopia and Buddhist temples in Laos, Eric has come smile to smile with all walks of life. A writer, photographer and entrepreneur, the LA native believes the power of connectivity and community is enriched through travel.