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Comparing Ethiopian restaurants

aliris | Jan 6, 201511:15 PM

Following a super-memorable meal at Genet's a couple summers ago, I finally got back to "Little Ethiopia" on Fairfax only to find Genet's closed (Mon/Tue).

Now, at the time (formerly) I had felt this was *the best* Ethiopian food I'd ever had, and I've been to several Ethio restaurants in several different American cities, Yet in truth, I liked them all more-or-less; I wasn't sure whether it was perhaps just the surprisingly pleasant service at Genet's that was in the end the real distinguisher. I wanted to really test whether it was as good as my memory claimed. And yet I couldn't re-test that wonderful meal as she was closed and settled instead on another yelp-highly-rated place, Buna.

Then tonight I decided to start going through some of these other places systematically. I've been to most on Fairfax in the past, but again, can't quite really distinguish them. I'm wondering whether others have attempted to really parse these all apart. So far then I've been to Buna and AWASH in an attempt to make a direct comparison. I'd love to hear others' explicit comparisons if possible.

Here's what I said about each on yelp:

Buna:
This food was really just delicious. From the that's-the-way-cappuccino-is-supposed-to-taste coffee I had while waiting for my order, to the marvelous flavors we all got to eat at home, I couldn't be happier with this food.

I've been worried that taking out Ethiopian food might be a mistake, that perhaps things get cold and soggy and won't taste so good from a styrofoam container? Or that the crispy fish will become not-crispy?

Nope: this is far from sub-par takeout (as I'd feared), Ethiopian food it turns out seems to be extra especially _good_ as take-out! Maybe because its flavors are all so blended to begin with? I think the stews and veggies were possibly even better for sitting around on the injera all that extra time. It was just an out-of-the-park favorite among everyone at home from teens to old-sters.

The fish is every bit as delicious, crispy and tasty as the photos here suggest. I don't know what kind of fish it actually is, but it tastes really wonderful. This dish is highly recommended. As is the lamb stew and the veggie platter with the fantastic tomato salad. Just terrific.

A couple years ago we happened on the internet-sensation just south of here "Meals By Genet" and in part for its atmospherics, that was a memorable Ethiopian meal I couldn't get out of my head. But I've long loved Ethiopian food and couldn't really tell how much was the pleasant atmosphere and how much just very special food. So I opted instead as a test of sorts for one of the many other restaurants on the strip; this one highly recommended by yelpers. And I still don't know whether Genet's is "more special" than this, but it doesn't really matter. This food was as good as needs to be: the whole family was so happy and enthusiastic eating it. If its famous cousin is better, the difference is subtle indeed. While not a white-table-cloth place, the people here do their very utmost to make you feel comfortable and well-served. It is a wonderful establishment and I am so happy to have happened upon it. I can't wait to try all the rest of the menu.

AWASH:
Wow, I am starting to get a feel for differences between Ethiopian-food restaurants! Yeah! In general, I do really like the 'differentness' of it all so much that in the past I've just sort of loved it all. But recently I've gone to several in a row within just a few days and I can begin to distinguish the way the food is cooked and between the restaurants. I would say, therefore, that while AWASH is good, it is no way as good as some of the others in the area. In particular, we took food out from Buna and from AWASH on successive nights and tried to order similarly in order to compare. There is no way AWASH is as good as Buna.

The fish at Buna was incredibly crispy and not oily, savory and really interestingly spiced. From AWASH it was just oily and greasy and with very little and very patchy sections of crispiness. Mostly, the skin was just kind of rubbery and gloppy. Ick. It was nice they included a lime with the fish from AWASH. But the fish from Buna was so savory it needed no supplement. From Buna we received a fish that was easily twice as large as AWASH's plus the entree comes with a variety of vegetable stews, absent from AWASH's. Just from a value standpoint, the fish dish from Buna was far greater than AWASH's, but from quality as well that choice was clear.

AWASH has a chicken tibbs dish that was very tasty but the vegetables included not even real carrots but carrot whatever-they're-called, those carrot "Stumps", those baby carrots from a bag. Flavorless, stringy - just not the real, nutritious thing. Their cooked greens were quite bitter and not well cooked or blended with spices. This may be OK, a stylistic difference, but I far preferred the greens stew of Buna. At AWASH there is a horseradish-heavy stew that others have commented on; it's quite distinctive. Some seem to really like it, others not. For me, I did not but I can understand how YMMV with that. It's definitely a dish with character.

The injera at AWASH may have been a little fluffier, but it tasted a little wheatier to me as well. It's color is darker than Buna's; not sure what that means if anything. I think the breads were different but I'm not certain which I preferred.

The salad from AWASH was pretty much over-dressed cut up iceberg; nothing special to me about it at all and I would have far preferred far less dressing. From Buna they give you a tomato-based cut up salad with little if any lettuce (can't quite remember) and a very distinctive dressing; it was memorably special. Much preferable.

If there was any chicken in the chicken tibbs I didn't get any! S'OK with me, but maybe not with some others. I did like the vegetable melange of that dish...

All in all, I would prefer Buna to AWASH hands-down, and I think Genet for sure too. But I think Genet is far more expensive than the other two. Buna seemed a far better value with the yelp incentives at least. Else, it may have been slightly more expensive without the coupon. But they also gave you far more food. Again, a better value from Buna.

Buna Ethiopian Restaurant - Cafe & Market,
Cafe Buna,
Little Ethiopia Restaurant
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