In the ’90s, a one block stretch of South Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles became known as Little Ethiopia. The block, just south of Olympic Boulevard, is now lined with Ethiopian shops and restaurants, many of them featuring the colors of the East African country’s flag: red, yellow and green. But Meals by Genet isn’t like other restaurants in Little Ethiopia. While many of the dish names will sound familiar to Ethiopian food lovers, the ingredients are markedly higher quality and the setting more refined than at neighboring restaurants. The prices are nominally higher than at surrounding Ethiopian restaurants, but chef/owner Genet Agonafer’s deft touch in the kitchen ensures that it’s well warranted.
Meals by Genet features a green awning lined with white Christmas lights and a row of large potted plants that serves as the perimeter to a tiny sidewalk patio. Inside, white walls feature framed Ethiopian paintings and decorative dark wood silhouettes of Ethiopian people smoking pipes. More large plants filled out the décor, along with white clothed tables and a dark wood bar.
Genet Agonafer bills her restaurant as “The only authentic gourmet Ethiopian restaurant in Los Angeles,” and the flavor and quality of the food validated her claim. On another visit, a waiter posited why; Genet’s spices are sun-dried in Ethiopia, then flown to Los Angeles by relatives. Genet also takes her time to make dishes the correct way. He said that many Ethiopian restaurants on the block whip up a dish of dorowot in twenty minutes, where Genet takes three days to produce the complex red pepper and spice mix used to coat chicken drumsticks and hard-boiled eggs.
There were six of us at the table, and our decidedly non-Ethiopian waiter, David, said five entrees would be more than enough to share. Portion sizes were generous. The food came on a huge injera-lined platter. We were each given an additional stack of injera. Never in short supply at Ethiopian restaurants, injera is everybody’s favorite spongebread. Not that I’ve tasted, or even heard of, another spongebread. An Ethiopian staple, the sour, crepe-like bread is made from teff, a tiny, round grain. There are no forks or knives at Meals by Genet; the idea is to rip off a piece of sponge bread, fold it around your intended meat or veggie, and drop it in your mouth. Surprisingly, the experience doesn’t get that messy.
Back to the injera platter. One corner featured a pile of Yebere Siga Tibs ($14): beef sautéed in onions, green chiles and Ethiopian butter. [Ethiopian butter is clarified butter blended with cardamom.] Another corner featured Chicken Tibs ($12): chicken sautéed in onions, green chiles and Ethiopian butter. Each tibs featured tender chunks of lean, tasty meat without the fiery heat I expected from preparations that incorporated green chiles. They were nice dishes.
Based on a prior experience, I made sure to order the Vegetarian Combination ($14), which is one of the more interesting dishes in Los Angeles, ten different piles of distinctly flavorful and colorful veggies. There was so much going on flavor-wise that it was tough to keep track of what we ate, but I can’t remember a dish I didn’t like. There was Ethiopian salad (featuring diced tomatoes and romaine); sunflower seed puree; a spicy green chile stuffed with tomato, lemon juice and olive oil; green lentil with hot Ethiopian mustard, which was a wasabi-like sinus-clearer; two variations on split peas, one spicy (orange) and one mild (yellow); red lentils; collard greens; cabbage with carrots; garbanzo beans; and a mix of thin-sliced potato, carrot, green bean and onion. In addition to blending so many great flavors, the Vegetarian Combination is a great conversation starter. There weren’t many “This reminds me of” moments.
The middle of the plate featured a double order of Hirutye’s Yebegsiga Alitcha ($14): lamb stewed with garlic, ginger and “other spices.” It came covered with a “shroud” of what else, injera. Peeling back the spongebread revealed a mammoth stewed lamb shank piled with lamb hunks and sauce-soaked strips of MORE INJERA. The flavor of the brown-sauced dish was very good, the meat incredibly tender, but the stew also hid plenty of bones. Be careful when eating the Yebegsiga Alitcha.
To drink, we split a bottle of Kent Tej, Ethiopian honey wine ($15), which was dangerously sweet.
Meals by Genet offers very good food that’s a good break from the standard American/Italian/Mexican//Chinese fare. It’s also a fair price. For five dishes, a bottle of honey wine and six cappuccinos, we only paid $20 per person, including tax and tip. Most importantly, eating at Meals by Genet is fun. Especially after multiple glasses of honey wine.