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Habesha Restaurant & Cafe
5720 Crookshank Rd Cincinnati, OH 45238 (513) 429-4890
I’ve testified that the Westside is strangely devoid of serious ethnic food. Middle Eastern is rare, Indian is nonexistent and Asian is common but far from authentic. In an odd 180 twist, the Westie’s now have an Ethiopian restaurant to call their own. Habesha’s opened recently on Crookshank. Between Patrick’s and Thai Taste (the only authentic Asian I’ve had on the Westside).
Habesha’s is unique to say the least. First, no silverware. What!? Yeah that’s right. You simply rip off chunks off a small rolled crepe and snatch up a spoonful of your “wat” or entree (right handed is proper). The crepe is called Injera. Made from Teff a Ethiopian native grain. Rather bland, grey in color and it’s soft, almost steamed. Thicker than crepe, thinner than ihop. It’s not bad by itself, but it’s not sweetened, salted or spiced so all us Americans may find it bland. I have a feeling it’s healthy.
Second, communal style serving. It all comes on one big silver platter for sharing.
The menu is short but certainly authentic. A single sheet of b&w printer paper (low on ink) reads;
Breakfast - Dulet (minced beef, peppers, garlic & spices) $9, Siga Firfir (spiced beef stew with bread) $7, Kuanta Firfir (beef jerky stew with bread) $9.
Lunch - Kitfo (raw minced beef with herbed butter & red pepper & seasoned cheese) $10, Godin Tibs (riblets, onions, green pepper with rosemary) $11, Zilzil Tibs (beef strips with onion, green chilies & herbs) $9, Lega Tibs (beef chunks, onions & peppers) $9, Awaze Tibs (cubed beef with onions & peppers and special red peppers) $9, Derek Tibs (beef tenderloin in butter with onions & peppers) $9. Lastly, Ye Som Beya Ynetu (veggie combo platter) $11.
I went with a veggie platter (as it has good online mentions) and an Awaze Tibs (to try the “special red pepper seasoning”). Both were interesting. The veggie platter had five selections (wats). A chick pea dish, a bean dish, a salad, a cabbage & potato dish, a string bean & carrot dish and scratch made cheese. All were basic, heavily spiced and well received. Quite Indian-ish. Especially the bean dish which featured a Skyline-esque spice that was the table fave (center in photo). The other were all worth ordering. The potato dish was soul satisfying. The cheese is a cross between feta and paneer. Quite nice.
The cubed beef dish came loaded with beef, but the texture was tougher than I prefer. The sauce is light with mild spices. A side of hot sauce cured our curiosity of what the Ethiopians call “hot”. It was interesting except for the “old penny” flavored aftertaste. And not truly hot at all. Most high level hot wing sauce packs more fire so fear not of the heat level here if you can eat the hottest wing sauces (Not true with Korean hot sauce... watch out!).
The process of eating soft texture food and stews with fingers only is hard to get used to. I didn’t mind (as they had clean restrooms to wash up in first) but I’m not sure how many American diners are going to embrace the concept. If we’re not eating out of a bag, we prefer oversized forks, spoons, plates, bowls, cups & mugs. Shovel it down fast. Even our to-go drinks need to be in 32 oz mini-tubs to satisfy us. Perhaps if Habesha served a pile of rice and fork with every dish, locals would order more frequently. Habesha is preserving the Ethiopian experience. Finding a balance between authentic and profitable is the key around here though. The Chinese just discarded all authentic tradition and created a whole new Ameri-Asian menu for us fat bellied round eyes. Our local “Chinese” is no more Chinese than Harley Davidson. They just want to make a buck and it works (Hey, we like it).
I was excited and satisfied with my Habesha meal. It wasn’t cheap, it wasn’t expensive (I did eat again later so it wasn’t truly filling either). Question is - Will the Westie’s crave a taste of East Africa often enough to keep Habesha in biz? That I cannot say. However with the unusual no fork concept and hardcore authentic (healthy) menu... I have to worry if it were my investment. We don’t like healthy or unusual. We want hardcore calories and dripping slabs, hunks or chunks of meat. “Everywhere there’s lot’s of piggys livin’ piggy lives”.
Sadly... sugar, grease and fried fat (coupled with over the top portions) are the only sure sellers in our bible belt food biz. Habesha offers none of the above. They do offer an interesting look at an ancient culture very removed from our own, for an affordable price. It’s a dining exploration worth a look see for certain. I’d do it again.
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