Looking for good excuse to eat with your hands? The Dibabu family, who previously ran the San Rafael Cafe, have set up shop in North Portland, dishing up hearty Ethiopian food in a deli-like atmosphere. Dalo's Kitchen offers neither gourmet perfectionism for the snootypants diner nor precious, "ethnic" ambience for the romantic armchair traveler. What it does offer is an array of interesting flavors and excellent injera, that spongy, crepe-like bread used for eating Ethiopian food.
Dalo's entrees range from small and vegan to large and meaty. The vegetarian platter (small $4.99, large $8.99) lets you choose four of their vegan dishes: a savory, occasionally spicy lentil dish, misir wat; a bland but nicely textured spinach and onion sauté called gomen; a fragrant, addictive veggie mix, atkilt; a delicate pea stew, shiro; and timatim fir fir, a tongue twister in more than one sense—it mixes tomatoes, peppers and bits of injera in a snappy, sharp salad.
And carnivores, rejoice: Dalo's busts out with beef, chicken and lamb in various guises and sauces. Skip the greasy chicken tibbs, with its odd imbalance of spices, and move onto the amazing kitfo (small $6.99, large $11.99). An African steak traditionally served raw, it still caresses the mouth when cooked medium-rare at Dalo's. You'll receive a sweet little bowl piled high with finely chopped lean beef, gently sautéed in Ethiopian butter, and a plastic dish of hot chili powder (mit'mit'a) to carefully sprinkle on top. The traditional serving ritual apparently involves mashing the kitfo into a piece of injera, then breaking off pieces to dip into Ethiopian cheese and mit'mit'a. Here, the serving is far more matter-of-fact.
In general, Dalo's is as unpretentious as Portland gets. No über-modern architectural touches or retro-hipster flair distracts from your meal. After all, you're sitting in a bright cement box—a format not unlike that of many places where you might dine in Africa or India. Except here, inside the Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs building, the sunlight is replaced by blinding fluorescent lights, and on the walls hang the same "13 months of sunshine" tourism posters that decorate Ethiopian restaurants across the United States. But it's a friendly place to share family-style platters. Finish your meal with a subtle, housemade lemon bar ($1.50)—the filling not too sweet, not too tangy, melting into a superb crust. And, of course, there's no fork required.
4134 N Vancouver Ave., 808-9604, daloskitchen.com. 9 am-8 pm Monday-Friday, 10 am-8 pm Saturday. Closed Sunday. $-$$ Inexpensive-moderate.