If you’re looking for an authentic Ethiopian meal, you no doubt will be directed to Café Lalibela in Tempe. After all, the restaurant threw Ethiopian food into the Arizona spotlight after being featured on PBS’ Check, Please! Arizona. And though Café Lalibela has been a go-to restaurant for many years, we wanted to expand our horizons to other Ethiopian dining options — which landed us at Gojo, a quaint restaurant located in Central Phoenix.
Inside, the restaurant is decorated with Ethiopian memorabilia, and we were greeted warmly by a woman and allowed to pick our own table.
We started our meal with the meat sambussa appetizer, essentially the Ethiopian equivalent of an Indian samosa. Three medium-sized triangles of promising-looking golden baked pastry soon arrived, and the first bite revealed a particularly airy and light pastry wrap. The minced beef filling, flavored with scallions, onions, peppers and herbs, took the forefront with its strong and earthy herb flavor. The order also came with a mildly spicy red sauce that was a touch watery, but not too bad.
Though it is possible to order individual plates at Gojo, to get the full effect of the experience we opted for the highly sharable Gojo platter, a feast that could easily fill three. The platter started with a base of injera, the thin and spongy pancake-like flatbread integral to any Ethiopian meal. The injera had a distinct sourdough flavor due to a fermentation process during its preparation.
In a colorful array of dollops atop the injera were an assortment of Ethiopian wots, or stews, some meat-based and some veggie-based. The spread included doro wot (chicken), key wot (beef), and alitcha wot (lamb), all slowly stewed in a sauce flavored with the traditional Ethiopian spice mix known as berbere. Though the berbere infused many warm spice flavors (such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger) into the meats, the meats were a little dry in texture and none stood out.
Surprisingly, what really captured our interest were the modest veggie-based items, elevated by the use of spices and a slow cooking process to bring out very complex flavors.
Some of our favorites included the misir wot, a stewed red lentil dish with berbere and onions, and the ater kik, a stewed mild yellow split pea dish with onions, garlic and green peppers. The fosolian, a lightly spiced green bean dish with carrots and onions, and the tikil gomen, a lightly spiced cabbage dish with carrots and potatoes, also proved particularly enjoyable. The other veggie-based items on the platter — defen misir (whole lentils), mitin shiro (ground peas), gomen wot (collard), and mushroom wot — may not have been our top choices but were delicious nonetheless.
We closed our Ethiopian meal on a sweet note with an order of baklava. The phyllo pastry was filled with chopped nuts and spices, and generously drizzled with a honey syrup that made for a sticky, sweet dessert. For us the base was a bit too hard to bite through and the sweetness a tad overwhelming. However, for those who enjoy the floral sweetness of honey, this dish would definitely do the trick.
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Many bites later, we sat back in our chairs at Gojo, full from our Ethiopian feast. Only a few other diners had wandered in over the course of the evening, making for quieter surroundings.
The traditional Ethiopian fare and reasonable prices make Gojo worth a visit. And for those who want an even richer experience, every Monday evening from 3 to 5, Gojo features a traditional Ethiopian coffee-making ceremony.
The restaurant is located at 3015 East Thomas Road. For more information visit the Gojo Ethiopian Restaurant website.