Tastes of Africa
Eritrean and Ethiopian Café offers a flavorful menu for adventurous diners.
A combination of beef and vegetables is served with injera, a spongy Ethiopian flatbread.
Let’s start with the fun part: You eat with your hands.
This isn’t exactly novel if you’ve lived in or visited parts of Asia or Africa, but it’s certainly not something you see in Tulsa. So when the food arrives at the Eritrean and Ethiopian Café, many customers call the waiter back with a question: “Can you bring some silverware?”
Owner Yonas Abraham, a native of the East African country Eritrea, will gladly return with a fork and knife for those who insist. But he encourages diners to try it the Ethiopian way. He can’t count how many times he has given a quick lesson on the proper way to eat with your hands since he opened the restaurant this past fall.
I visited Eritrean on a quiet Monday night. A friend and I were two of only a few diners, leaving us with attentive service from Abraham and his family.
We had an idea of what we wanted to try, but Abraham is quick to offer suggestions for those unfamiliar with the food. Eritrean has many types of stewed, curried and roasted chicken, lamb and beef, as well as vegetarian and vegan options.
The sambusa ($6.50) appetizer is the East African equivalent of the empanada. It’s a crispy pastry shell filled with beef, chicken or lentils, plus onions and jalapeños. These addictive little bites are served with a red chili sauce. It’s a perfect starter for those new to Ethiopian food.
My introduction to the cuisine was years ago by a co-worker who made meatballs using berbere, a spice mixture often used in Ethiopian and Eritrean foods. At potluck lunches of casseroles and cupcakes, those meatballs stood out. So, I had to try the key wot ($10.99), a beef stew seasoned with berbere sauce. It’s served with a green salad tossed with a tangy vinaigrette dressing and Ethiopian flatbread.
All entrees at the restaurant are served with the flatbread, a thin, pliable bread similar in thickness to a tortilla. This bread, called injera, is sourdough with a spongy texture, making it ideal for scooping and holding the weight of stewed meats and lentils.
Abraham sees himself as an educator when it comes to Ethiopian food, and he brought out a small bag of teff — a grain about the size of a poppy seed — to show us what the bread is made from. Though an ancient grain and common in Africa, teff is now gaining popularity in the West as a gluten-free alternative.
Lamb tips ($15) were tender, with an aromatic mix of peppers, onion, tomato, garlic and rosemary. The same dish is available with beef, and either would be good choices for those who prefer milder flavors over more pungent curry.
These stewed meats were delicious when scooped in the teff flatbread and topped with the green salad. The mixture of rich, savory meat with the slightly tart dressing from the salad makes for a perfect bite.
Lentils in spicy berbere sauce ($8.95) and atkilt ($7.95) are both good vegetarian entrees. The atkilt is a curried vegetable stew made with carrots, potatoes, cabbage, peppers and onion. Split peas, collard greens, green beans and beet roots also are available as entrees, stewed and simmered with curry and other seasonings.
In Eritrea, coffee is a major part of the culture, and Abraham holds that tradition. He offers a nice selection of Eritrean and Ethiopian coffee and espresso and takes his time making each cup of strong coffee.
Abraham’s wife and mother-in-law make the restaurant’s pastries and cookies. I brought two boxes home, and we loved the coconut cookies, pumpkin and coconut turnovers and flaky, bar-shaped pastries sprinkled with sugar.
Abraham was an engineer before venturing into the restaurant business. He has lived in the United States for 20 years.
“Oklahoma is my home sweet home. I love this place. I actually call myself a native Tulsan,” he says. “We love sharing our food with the people of Tulsa.”
Eritrean and Ethiopian Café
6934 S. Lewis Ave. | 918-477-9227
Hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Sunday