One day last week, traffic really sucked on the 5 south and so I exited on Beach Blvd. and turned left into Ball Road.
As I passed the corner of Dale, I thought, "That didn't say 'Eritrean and Ethiopian food'... nah." But, lest I be accused of being derelict in my duty, I turned in the form of a U and investigated, and sure enough, Merhaba Eritrean Restaurant popped out of a dark corner of a dingy minimall in a forgettable neighbourhood on the border of an unknown city (that'd be Stanton) in Orange County.
Today, I convinced a co-worker, a virgin in the delights of the food of the Horn of Africa, to come explore this unexpected place with me for lunch.
As we pulled in to the virtually-empty plaza, four men went in. As we went in, they were watching Angola play Mexico in the FIFA World Cup on the television. The hostess came out and looked shocked to see us there. She stared. One of the men said affably, "Sorry to seem surprised, we don't get a lot of white folk in here."
The menu had the usual Ethiopian taste treats (but translated from the more usual Amharic into Tigrinya, the major language of Eritrea), with combination plates sold by the person (2 people, $20). We opted for the "Traditional Combo", which had (to use their Amharic names) doro wat (spicy chicken stew), yebeg alecha (mild lamb stew), a fiery Eritrean take on yebegsiga wat (spicy beef stew), kik alecha (yellow lentils), abesha gomen (collard greens), salad, and an unidentified orange paste that tasted of spicy carrots.
It was a mountain of food, a ridiculous surfeit of food for two people. It would have served four -- more than a cup of each of the foods, and three pieces in the doro wat.
It was very tasty, though unusually for this kind of food, the meats were tastier than the pulses and vegetables. I particularly liked the beef and the yellow lentils, though the greens came a close second. I could take or leave the chicken... it was dry and overcooked.
The injera was properly sour, unlike the stuff served at Nyala in Little Addis, but was cut in halves and rolled. More was available, but we were stuffed after the first basket. We ate to the point of gluttony and still left nearly a third of the food.
The service was a bit slow and was completely informal -- drinks are served in whatever they came in, from a can of soda to a bottle of water (both $1). The decor is not exactly chic -- posters of Eritrea and the usual messobs decorating the place, but plastic tablecloth covers and paper napkins.
Would I return? Sure. I'd vary the food a bit and try some of the more Eritrean specialities, and I'd go for dinner (same prices) rather than lunch, when I'm up against the clock. It's the only East African restaurant in Orange County, and while it's no Meals by Genet, it's pretty tasty in its own right.
2801 West Ball Road
Anaheim, California 92804
1 714 826.8859