An Ethiopian Pop-up Finds a Permanent Home in Chinatown
Ethiopian food arrives in downtown Honolulu.
Photo: Kawehi Haug
After about a year of gauging Honolulu’s taste for Ethiopian food as a pop-up operating out of a ramen shop on Kapahulu Avenue, a new Ethiopian spot has found a following—and a new dedicated space in Chinatown. Simply called Ethiopian Restaurant back in its pop-up days, it is now called Ethiopian Love and, when it opened April 3 in our ’hood (HONOLULU Magazine headquarters are on Bishop Street), we were thrilled to know that we only have to walk a couple of blocks for our tibs and wot fix.
It’s a nice change to eat Ethiopian food in a place that isn’t a noodle shop. The new place on Smith Street, while simply decorated with its white walls, black accents and large oil painting of an elephant herd, is inviting and welcoming and very obviously the dining room of people who make Ethiopian food. The space completes the experience, and we like it. There’s even a bonus outdoor courtyard space.
The menu is a short list of wots, or stews, and tibs, a sort of sautée/stir fry of various chunks of meat. The wots consist mostly of stewed lentils or split peas. The tibs are beef, chicken or lamb, sautéed with various combinations of stewed veggies, including cabbage, potatoes and tomatoes, and then punctuated with garlic, onions, turmeric or berbere, an Ethiopian spice blend made from chili peppers, garlic, ginger, basil and fenugreek. All together, the stews and meats create a warm and gently spicy medley that, while unfamiliar to many of us here who have lived without access to Ethiopian food until last year, is comforting and tasty. The most unusual component of Ethiopian cuisine is the traditional flat bread, injera, which doubles as a utensil. Instead of forks (or chopsticks), the injera is used to scoop up the food. Here, the injera, which is made by allowing teff to ferment before it is cooked into a crepe-like, spongy flat bread, is not as sour as it can be. That might be disappointing for folks who love the signature sourness, but, for first-timers, Ethiopian Love’s injera is a good entry-level sour.
Here, vegetarians, vegans and carnivores can all be happily sated—there’s plenty on the menu for everyone. A word of caution, though: All entrées arrive at the table on one communal plate, so be sure to request separate plating if you don’t want your friend’s meat commingling with the vegetarian portions.
Ethiopian Love, 1122 Smith St., entrees $11–$15, 725-7197