For those who are unacquainted with Philly's Ethiopian restaurants or for those who have only visited one for a BYO, here are two places worth trying:
It’s one of those unusually warm February days when I head over to Kaffa Crossing with a friend I haven’t seen in far too long. We’ve budgeted exactly one and a half hours for this experience—she has class, and I’ve decided I’m going to declare my major at 4 p.m. sharp.
The sun warms us through the untinted windows as we watch Ubers whiz by and wait for our order. Autumn’s never had Ethiopian food before, so I spell out injera for her and explain that, alas, neither of us will be able to sample beef tibs, a perennial favorite, as we’re both pescatarian. But even without the meat, I tell her there’s no way we’ll leave hungry.
We order the vegetable combo ($10.25), a dish meant to share with samplers of stewed collard greens, split peas, and spiced lentils. Autumn also opts to try a the tofu wot, stewed tofu slopped into layers of injera—which, for reference, is a sourdough–risen flatbread that’s spongy and used in lieu of utensils.
The platters come out and we dig in. Except for the iceberg lettuce on the far edge of the platter, the food is hearty and delicious; we tussle over who gets the last of the split peas. Neither of us is wowed by the tofu wot, especially because it seems like the tofu was cooked in marinara sauce, but we tear off the injera anyway throughout the meal.
It’s a comfortable space, and the wait staff didn’t bother us to leave, which may have contributed to her missing her class and my deciding not to declare on the oddly temperate Wednesday. The food wasn’t stellar, but it hit the spot, and the atmosphere was inviting enough for us to order drinks and catch up. Three hours after walking in, we left Kaffa Crossing having spent less on food per capita than I’d paid at Sweetgreen the night before.
TL;DR: Casual, almost café–esque, popular with West Philly locals, full bar all day.
Location: 4423 Chestnut Street
Monday–Friday: 10:00 a.m.—10:00 p.m.
Saturday–Sunday: 10:00 a.m.–11:00 p.m.
Abyssinia has been a staple of my Penn experience. It’s a place I frequent when I want to show someone that I’m a “cool Philly native” with an “adventurous palate.” But it’s also a place for comfort food after an exam, or a meal to fill me up when I’ve barely eaten all day.
Abyssinia is ethnic food done well and done properly. It’s no–frills, but the injera is to die for and the combos will keep you so full you’ll contemplate unbuttoning your pants in the middle of the restaurant.
We get the vegetarian combo there, too, and it comes with the standard split pea, lentil, collard green combo dotting the injera. While Kaffa Crossing’s combos are sometimes hit–or–miss, Abyssinia’s are lick–the–plate good. We finish the platter in maybe ten minutes and think about ordering another.
The clientele is an interesting mix—earlier in the night, it’s more Ethiopian customers hanging out by the bar and talking; later, it switches to a mix of young West Philly families and college students clued in on the cheap beer list. But it never gets too loud or too crowded, perfect for catching up with a friend.
And to top it all off, there’s an upstairs bar called Fiume, somewhere between jazz attic and speakeasy. Apart from being a classic hole–in–the–wall, it differentiates Abyssinia from the other Ethiopian restaurant quite literally next door. Pro tip: Thursday is their bluegrass night, and their beer list is excellent. Take your next Tinder/Hinge/Bumble date.
TL;DR: Don’t expect fast service. The drinks aren’t always cold. But damn, the food is great, and there’s a hidden bar upstairs.
Location: 229 S 45th Street
Monday–Sunday: 9:30 a.m.—2:00 a.m.