300 N Killingsworth St., 285-4867, enatguada.com. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.
The thing with Ethiopian restaurants is they all serve the same basic lineup of dishes—the red lentil thing, the yellow lentil thing that's never quite as good as the red lentil thing, those collard greens that taste better than they look, something with lamb...if you order the combo plate (and you should always order the combo plate), you only know them by sight, anyway. So you go to your closest Ethiopian restaurant, and you're served some familiar-looking mounds of goop, and they taste fine, and so that becomes "your" Ethiopian place and you never bother trying anywhere else. Why drive/cycle/longboard further for basically the same goop when it's just fine right here?
Enat Kitchen is worth the journey. Yeah, the menu is basically the same as your local joint, but no matter where you're eating now, this is just better. The spicing is more complex, the flavors are bolder, the injera is fresher and tangier. Even the salad—usually just there to bulk out the plate and take the heat off—is elevated here to a lick-your-fingers delicious standout.
Always, always order the combo plate except if it's lunchtime and you're feeling the burn on your wallet, at which point you should avail yourself of the all-you-can-eat buffet for $8. And if you're looking for super-hot food, you'll have to ask specially when you order; they don't heat your tonsils by default.
But in all cases, whatever "your" local is, you really won't know how much better those mounds of goop can be until you make the trek up here—unless your neighborhood joint is at 300 N Killingsworth St., in which case you've already hit the holy grail of Portland Ethiopian cuisine; you need look no farther. RUTH BROWN.
4134 N Vancouver Ave., 808-9604, dalos-kitchen.com; (food cart) SE MLK Jr. Boulevard and Washington Street. Dinner Monday-Saturday.
Dalo, I'm pretty sure, is the Ethiopian variant of Waldo. After years in a venue both well-hidden (its entrance is nowhere near its postal address) and vaguely requiring a security clearance far above your own, they've moved to the food cart pod no one knows about on SE MLK and Washington. Their tangy, balanced curries aren't the best in town, but they get the job done, especially the almost-citrusy sigga tibbs, which goes for $14.99 for two very hungry people. A $7.99 lunch or an $11 dinner buffet is a welcome chance to both stuff injera-wrapped morsels into your face and try more esoteric dishes, like the perfectly tender goat curry that tastes, well, like goat. MITCH LILLIE.
3833 NE MLK Jr. Blvd., 288-3787, sengaterarestaurant.com. Dinner and late night daily.
Ethiopian restaurants always bring the party. The restaurant can be sleepy during the early evening, a comfortable spot to drink one of three Ethiopian lagers and eat a pleasant $9.95 veggie sampler out of a giant-bottomed circular basket that doubles as a lazy Susan. Paired with one meat plate—especially the raw minced Kitfo beef and cottage-cheese dish gunpowdered with mitmita chili, which you'll probably have to convince them you actually want raw—you'll have a beautifully relaxed finger-food date for two. But on weekend nights? Total reggae and African dance party, with occasional live indie R&B or Afropop. T'chen chen! MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
Queen of Sheba
2413 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 287-6302, queenofsheba.biz. Lunch Thursday-Saturday, dinner daily.
Injera is the foundation of Ethiopian cuisine. Literally, the spongy bread is the platter on which the food is served, as well as the utensil used to consume it. Thus, Queen of Sheba's long-held royal status begins there. Theirs is soft but durable, with hints of sourdough. As with a lot of African restaurants, the menu can make a newbie go cross-eyed, but Sheba—which also sells its own line of teas, grains and spices—makes it easy: One can sample all 10 vegetarian options, from the flavorful lentils to their signature chickpea stew, for $23 (this feeds many). On the carnivorous side, choices are divided among beef, chicken and lamb, each topped with spicy berbere sauce or mild alicha seasoning. You can't go wrong, so just close your eyes and point. MATTHEW SINGER.
10175 SE Stark St., 896-7204. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, lunch Sunday.
Rahel's is the second Ethiopian cart in town, meaning Portland has twice as many Ethiopian carts as there are Ethiopian restaurants in the states of Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi combined. The cart even sells $5 bags of green coffee beans to be pan-roasted before being ground and brewed in the traditional Ethiopian way. Rahel's sells six main dishes, including doro watt (slow-cooked chicken in spicy berbere sauce, $8), siga watt (stewed beef, $7), tibs (pan-fried beef cubes, $7) and miser kay watt (red and yellow lentils simmered with berbere spices, $6). All are served on a blanket of thicker-than-average injera with a side of crisp, pleasantly bitter collard greens. And 50 blocks east of its nearest Ethiopian competitor, I'm happy to see it. MARTIN CIZMAR.
NEW! Safari Restaurant
7815 SE Powell, 775-2998. Lunch and dinner daily.
Portland's few non-Ethiopian African eateries can be hard to parse—often sporting irregular hours and no web sites, and generally home more to cabbies (and occasional domestic disputes) than curious light-skinned tubobs. But Somalian spot Safari is a great place to start if you're looking to explore African cuisine beyond the injera. I arrived before ugali, a dense porridge of cornmeal, was ready so instead got a plate of bony but flavorful roasted goat with rice, saffron-colored onion strips, peas and corn kernels, with sweet red sauce and green chutney on the side. I also enjoyed a beef sandwich, Steakumm-type slices of beef on a roll from Binh Minh next-door, with creamy sauce and a large pile of lettuce and green peppers. MARTIN CIZMAR.