Tina's Ethiopian Cafe at New Location: Her Fans Are Ready, But Is Tina?

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After unexpectedly shutting down her Chandler restaurant in 2008, Tina Tamrat Hildebrand, owner and chef of Tina's Ethiopian Cafe, re-opened her eatery this August at a new location: in a strip mall on the southeast corner of Warner and Cooper roads in Gilbert.

Tina's is located in the former home of a Chinese bistro, whose exterior sign still remains; I popped by the new spot for a visit, and judging by the crowd, it was evident she'd been missed. Inside the small, simply decorated eatery (where a laptop played African music videos), tables were filled with families and couples out for an evening of Ethiopian fare, many greeting Tina by name as she darted back and forth from the dining room to the kitchen.

But with the packed house came problems. Un-bussed tables, long waits on food delivery, guests trying desperately to cash out or grabbing their own "napkins" from a paper towel dispenser behind the counter, and several newcomers who, after being asked to wait outside, where the heat and wait time proved to be to much, left in search of other dining options.

My server strongly encouraged my dining companion and me to order the house watt combo -- a platter containing a sampling of Ethiopian spicy vegetable and meat dishes, in the form of thick stews, served atop injera (sourdough flatbread) -- her reason being that any other dish would incur a long wait time.

When it arrived, it was sorely lacking in selection. The server explained that the samplings of grilled beef, and lentil and yellow split pea stews were all that Tina had left, and there wasn't enough for two (I would have preferred this information at the time of ordering). What I did have was tasty, but the selection wasn't diverse enough or large enough to fairly gauge the menu.

Like her fans, I wish Hildebrand and her re-opened Ethiopian Cafe much success. And since it looks like she'll have no problems keeping busy, I'm hoping she'll be able to address issues of service and timing so that admirers old and new can enjoy her Ethiopian cuisine along with an overall pleasurable dining experience.

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