A Veggie Perspective: Oakland’s Ethiopian Joints

While at a friends party this weekend, I mentioned that I am looking into a more plant based diet. A friend piped up that Oaklavore could use a veggie point of view in reviews- what a great idea!! He, and other veggies, would appreciate this! Apologies if there are other Oakland bloggers reviewing restos from a plant based point of view, I hope to add to the chorus!
Let’s kick it off with Eritrean and Ethiopian food – based on healthy lentil and whole grain intensive dishes like the injera bread. It is used as a utensil, and is made from the tiniest grain around… Teff!
I have heard from many that Oakland has one of the largest collections of Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurants in the country. Why are there so many here? I will be doing some investigative reporting around this question as its been well over 10 years that I have been enjoying the cuisine with old friends and new acquaintances alike!
Without further ado, here come the veggie reviews!!

Enssaro (366 Grand Ave.): If you are down by the lake and craving a great veggie combo- I really like Enssaro. It is a small place but gives a real family vibe at night. The staff are all really kind and the food is delicious, and lighter in oil than most places. A cozy place on a cold night, I think I remember a coal fire in a covered container being brought to someones table to warm them- now THAT is service 🙂 Easy parking within a block.

Cafe Colucci (6427 Telegraph Ave.): Oh man, how people rave about this place! It’s good! They have a ‘hummus’ dish that friends adore, but just bring me the collards(gomen)! The staff are great, and it is nice to be able to sit outside with a group of friends to eat and drink while the sun goes down. I have never been too WOW-ed by the food here, however they have a real following amongst some of my friends. Parking within a block is usually available.

Asmara: This place is in Temescal and is great for groups. I always see this place full when I go by at night. I have been here a few times- each time has been just great. I have been here with vegans and had no issues ordering veg at will. A nice place for conversation over dinner. Parking can be an issue due to the popularity of the neighborhood.

Red Sea (5200 Claremont Ave.): Two words: Lunch Buffet!! It’s a choose your own adventure lunch! This is another restaurant with rave reviews and a serious following. Like Cafe Colucci, they have a hummus appetizer that sets them apart- AND you can order online- talk about convenient!! Easy parking!

Addis (6100 Telegraph Ave.): Addis is attentive to the needs of vegans and will make any dish using their herbed oil instead of butter. The greens were perfect here – so light they seemed steamed! The red lentils were just spicy enough, and the green salad in the middle seemed salty by comparison to everything else. This was my first time intentionally ordering anything vegan anywhere, ever. Even after concentrating on chewing my food and taking my time, I still walked out just as stuffed as any other time I had ordered the veggie combo! Lunch $11.50 plus tip, parking in the lot adjacent.

Messob (Piedmont Ave.): This is my go-to regular spot. I can call and order for pick up on my way home from work and have a hugely satisfying meal for two, or leftovers for one! The cabbage and carrots use more oil than some other places, but I like that. The red-brown lentils(Messer-wot) are spicy- good heat coming from this dish, complementing the buttery calm yellow lentil dish(Kik-alicha). The greens(Gomen) always get eaten first- I can’t stop it, the are rich, good for me and just.so.good. Parking on Piedmont Ave. is a challenge on busy nights- luckily Messob is at the top of the street where there is more parking available.

Yayu (3334 Lakeshore Avenue): I haven’t been here yet, but from reading the menu online- I noted they have a tofu Tibs dish! I hadn’t seen tofu on a menu in any of the other restaurants listed- that is totally noteworthy!! Their menu is more diverse than the rest I have seen, including a brown rice dish and Telba – flax seeds ground or in dumplings- go Omega 3s!

Shashamane (2507 Broadway): Haven’t been here yet, but they are billed as a bar and grill with live music! Parking is easy!

Café Eritrea D’Afrique (4069 Telegraph Ave.): Haven’t been here yet!

The Hide A Way (Telegraph Ave.): This place used to be the secret-morning-after-partying-too-hard breakfast joint. I was really sad when they closed, but have reopened as an Ethiopian place, across the street from Cafe Colucci! I’m not sure how the Colucci folks feel about this recent development, but I’m glad there are even more places to get down with some Tej and and veg!

If you are new to Ethiopian food: Tables share food from a common plate, signifying the bonds of loyalty, family and friendship. The traditional Ethiopian meal is served on a large platter lined with injera bread, and a selection of dishes decoratively arranged. You simply tear off a tangy piece of injera, use it to scoop up some food and eat with your hands, and it can be fun if you know what to expect. I have seen some cautious folks nervously looking around for silverware- feel free to ask questions and learn new things!! Discovering new experiences just might lead to a regular craving- and there are so many places to try!

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