A little east on T street, a couple blocks from the Shaw-Howard University metro stop sits Zenebech Injera. Walking from the west, one might mistake Zenebech for the nearly identical Ethiopian carryout that sits next to it, separated by a row house, and without a discernable English name. Passing this establishment by, one comes to Zenebech, a hole in the wall storefront with a small grocery in front holding a couple of tables and window seating. There are no posted menus or prices and most of the spices that are sold in small bulk containers are unlabeled but the man working the register was happy to answer any questions. The same man handed me a printed page with the menu to make my selection while I chose one of the two empty tables.
The menu comprises twenty three dishes (reproduced at the end of the post) that includes all the Ethiopian standards and nothing over 8.50. If you aren’t accustomed to Ethiopian cuisine the choices may be confusing as the sparse menu does not describe the contents of the dishes. I settled quickly on the Veg. Combination ($7.50) and settled back to wait for my dinner. As I waited the phone rang nearly constantly and the local Ethiopian population streamed in and out place and picking up orders or grabbing a beer. The place had a congenial atmosphere; this is clearly a popular and important spot within the community. After about fifteen minutes one of the women chefs came out with my platter. The food looked great and I greedily dived into the first of five selections, collard greens (gomen). These had just come out of the pot, like the rest of the food, and were hot but delicious exuding freshness with every bite. The preparation was simple, just chopped collard greens cooked with some oil, but what it lacked in complexity it made up for with spot on doneness. Not the best I’ve had, though that owes perhaps to my affinity to garlic and jalapenos in my gomen (Addis Ababa in Silver Spring having I believe the best preparation). The next dish I tried was the shiro. Shiro isn’t one of my favorite Ethiopian dishes, the super smooth texture somewhat off-putting. This however was the on par with the best renditions of this dish I had, a savory, silky smooth combinations of pureed chickpeas and spices. Not to be outdone were the yellow split peas. These, like the collard greens, were prepared simply but were similarly very fresh and flavorful. The contrasting texture between the few split peas that were left whole made this a great selection. Next up was the tomato/onion salad. I was pleasantly surprised to see that this dish was not an afterthought; there was a certain amount of pride taken in the carefully chopped tomatoes, onions and bits of jalapeño dressed lightly in a vinaigrette. Thankfully tomatoes are in season and these were obviously quite fresh, with a firm bite and exuding lots of juice with jolts of heat from the jalapeño. Last but the standout of the meal was the misir wat (red lentils). These were outstanding, the perfect combination of savory and spice. The first flavor note was one of the perfectly balanced berbere mixture as the lentils melted on the tongue followed by a back of the mouth burn that had me reaching for the water on occasion but never overwhelming the flavor or building to the point of discomfort. The injera itself was great, pleasantly sour and the right thickness throughout. Zenebech makes their own injera, along with the spices and it shows.
The service here is what one would expect from a carry out which just happens to have a couple of tables. However, the staff were very friendly, answering any questions I had and offering to bring more food had I wanted any. For any vegetarians out there, the Veg. Combination is vegan; all the dishes are cooked in corn oil. Overall this was a step above most of the local Ethiopian restaurants. I would put the food above Dukem’s quality wise, on par with Etete’s. Comparatively Zenebech doesn’t have the pleasant location or interior of the Adam Morgan’s restaurants (or places on nearby 9th street) but if you want an authentic experience, the kind of place that Ethiopian cab drivers frequent, stop on by.
1. Kifto - $8.50+tax
2. Gored Gored - $8.50+tax
3. Ye Adbar Tipps - $8.50+tax
4. Lamb Tipps - $8.50+tax
5. Lamb Tipps over Rice - $8.50+tax
6. Lamb Tipps Firfir - $8.50+tax
7. Dullet - $8.00+tax
8. Doro Watt - $8.00+tax
9. Key Watt - $8.00+tax
10. Alicha Watt - $8.00+tax
11. Beef Tipps - $7.50+tax
12. Beef Tipps over Rice - $7.50+tax
13. Beef Tipps (yes it appears twice on the menu) - $7.50+tax
14. Kikil - $7.50+tax
15. Gomen Besiga/Zilbol - $7.50+tax
16. Buzena Shiro - $7.50+tax
17. Veg. Combination - $7.50+tax
18. Fish Dinner - $7.50+tax
19. Thimatim Fitfit - $7.00+tax
20. Fish Sandwhich - $6.00+tax
21. Zenebech Salad - $6.00+tax
22. Extra Side Order - $2.00+tax
23. Sambusa - $1.00+tax
Zenebech Inejera, Deli and Grocery
608 T Street, N.W. – Washington, DC 20001 – (202)667-4700
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