We had quite an Ethiopian chow feast at Queen Makeda last Thursday for lunch. Thanks to John for organizing a great meal. Named for the owner's daughter, the (very) casual restaurant offers some of the best Ethiopian I've ever had.
For drinks, most of us ordered the iced tea, brewed with spices, while others tried an imported Ethiopian mineral water.
Relying on the recommendations of the owners,our group of five sampled and shared five entrees: lamb tibs served with spiced smaller chunks of lamb and peppers and onions; shredded beef in a thick, curry-like paste; ground beef in an onion-coriander marinade; chopped greens (collard) cooked with small pieces of beef; and chopped spiced cabbage served with onion and black pepper. A simple salad -- iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, dressed in a light, lemony vinaigrette -- was served with the dishes. As is typical in Ethiopian restaurants, the dishes were brought out on platters along with injera, the spongy Ethiopian bread that a diner uses to scoop up the main dishes.
All of the entrees were well prepared and had a rich depth of flavor. The shredded beef in the spicy paste (we never saw a menu so forgive the lack of specificity of the names of dishes) was my favorite of the meat entrees. The sauce was complex with layers of flavor that made the dish addictive -- we scooped the bowl clean within ten minutes. The cabbage was also very well prepared with a perfectly pliable, but not squishy, consistency. As with the beef, the cabbage was perfectly seasoned -- bold, but not overpowering. Despite being from the South, I've never had a liking for greens, but I must confess I helped myself to the greens here quite a few times. The flavor was sharp, but not bitter, and the meat added a smoky edge. The classic Ethiopian dish, tibs, was also a standout: nicely browned with a perfect spicy kick. While the ground beef in cardamom was tasty, it did not meet the high standards of the other dishes. The flavor of the beef was thin and the cardamom, to my taste buds, overwhelming.
Service was friendly, helpful, and efficient. The decor is pleasant but basic and the dining space, both upstairs and down, was not spacious. While we met for lunch, Queen Makeda is primarily a dinner and late night destination. According to the owner, the restaurant stays open until two a.m. and I would imagine serves as a dining and gathering space for the city's large Ethiopian community. I had to leave before the bill for lunch came, but the prices would appear to be very reasonable. Certainly, for the quality of the food, the restaurant is quite a bargain.
One word of warning: the place is not easy to find. The location (1917 9th Street, NW) is not in a neighborhood rich with popular restaurants and the small store front is small and easy to miss.
Again, thanks to John for organzing the lunch and recommending a place I would never have known to try. I'm looking forward to a return visit.