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New Ethiopian Restaurant in Phoenix Is in Back of a Convenience Store Behind a Curtain (Stay With Me on This One, Folks)

Do This: Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
Do This: Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions. Share a few photos, some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

Watt goodness.
Watt goodness.

Restaurant: Ethiopian Famous Restaurant & Coffee Location: 905 North 16th Street (in the back of the convenience store, behind the curtain) Open For: About a month. Eats: Ethiopian Price Point: $8-$15

Looks like there's (finally) a solution for Phoenix folks who may be tired of trekking to Tempe for Ethiopian food. (Thanks to the reader who pointed out the place to me last week.)

Ethiopian Famous Restaurant & Coffee opened about a month ago courtesy of Abebech Ejersa, who came to the United States four years ago from Ethiopia. Located at 16th and Roosevelt streets in Phoenix in a small strip mall, the restaurant is located at the back of a convenience store behind a curtain.

That may sound a bit strange, but stay with me on this one folks. The initial oddity pays off and my experience was (thankfully) much more positive than at another Ethiopian restaurant you may be familiar with.

Behind the curtain.
Behind the curtain.

Ejersa's small menu consists of meat and vegetarian dishes she used to serve at her restaurant in Ethiopia. On my visit, I asked if she would make me a selection of her favorites and received deliciousness in the form of a wat combo (a platter containing a sampling of Ethiopian spicy vegetable and meat dishes in the form of thick stews, served atop injera, or sourdough flatbread).

There were lentils in hot sauce, yellow split peas, spicy cabbage, tender grilled beef and peppers, the classic Ethiopian dish Minchetabesh (made of finely chopped beef in a spicy sauce with a boiled egg), and homemade cottage cheese for a cool down.

If you're lucky -- or simply ask for it -- Ejersa or one of her friendly team will bring you a small bowl of the Ethiopian spice mitmita, which elicits a slow, blooming heat on whatever it's lightly sprinkled on.

Look for the banners outside.
Look for the banners outside.

And don't pass up the opportunity to experience an Ethiopian coffee ceremony. This ritualized form of making and drinking coffee is commonplace in Ethiopian cultures and consists of roasting the beans, letting guests take in the aroma, grinding the beans, and then pouring the coffee into small, handle-less cups. Poured over sugar to offset its strength (cream and milk are not used), it is delicious and accompanied by the burning of incense and a serving of tasty popcorn.

The interior, like the location, is a bit strange, but the unintentional kitsch gives the place its charm. The room is bright with purple walls, Ethiopian art and posters, and furniture cobbled together from other restaurants.

Good food, good people, and finally a place in Phoenix for Ethiopian food. I can't wait to go back.

Ethiopian Famous Restaurant & Coffee 905 North 16th Street 602-275-5663 Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., but call first (I was told they don't open until 1 p.m. on Sunday)

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