We just tried Nyala, part of the Little Ethiopia restaurant row on Fairfax. We had been to Messob and had a great experience there, and we were looking forward to Nyala, supposedly the most popular and "upscale" of the bunch. Although it has been recommended many times on this board and gets a favorable review in Jonathan Gold's book, we were strangely unsatisfied.
The decor is admittedly nicer than the other Ethiopian places we've been, and the prices were tough to beat ($9.95 for the vegetarian combo). And the supply of injera (pancake like bread) was plentiful, which is sometimes a problem at Ethiopian.
The first thing I noticed was there was not a single Ethiopian customer in the place. Not a good sign. The menu was fine, but despite advertizing vegan and vegetarians, there was nothing unusual here.
We started with a house salad, which consisted of iceberg lettuce, canned green olives, and a few slices of tomato, with a plain vinaigrette dressing (could have been Kraft). For the entree, we got the vegetarian combo. It comes with the standard veggie dishes -- chick peas, lentils, red beans, potatos, and collard greens. It also came with another iceberg lettuce salad. Nothing was bad (except the iceberg lettuce) but everything was bland and underspiced. The chick peas in particular tasted like mashed up chick peas mixed with water. Also the service wasn't great, our water was never refilled and we were staring at ourselves for about 20 minutes between the last bite and the check.
By contrast, the vegetarian combo at Messob was flavorful and spicy. It comes with the traditional tomato and chili salad instead of the iceberg lettuce. And best of all, it came with two unique dishes, a ricotta-cheese-like mixture (weird, but good) and an outstanding pumpkin dish with just the right balance between sweetness and spice.
After all the hype we were hoping for the best at Nyala. The atmostphere was fine, but it was a real letdown.