Washington, DC, is home to one of the largest Ethiopian populations in the world, second only to that of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. While official census data shows that there are about 30,000 Ethiopians in the DC area, others estimate that the true number is closer to 250,000, many of whom came to the US as asylum seekers fleeing civil war in the 1970s and ‘80s. The circumstances of their emigration notwithstanding, their arrival has built up one of the city’s most vibrant culinary subcultures.
With such a concentration of Ethiopians, it’s no wonder that businesses and restaurants sprang up to service the East African expat community. Proprietors like Nafifa Said of Meskerem and Tefera Zewdie of Dukem opened up shop in the ’80s and ’90s to fill the market void for cuisine familiar to their compatriots, and neighborhoods like Adams Morgan and Shaw became known as Little Ethiopia.
Over the years, they and other business owners have created what may be America’s foremost destination for Ethiopian cooking. Sadly, Meskerem, one of the pioneering restaurants of Ethiopian cooking in DC, closed its doors in 2015, but new and notable Ethiopian restaurants continue to thrive in the District and, more recently, in neighboring cities in Maryland, such as Silver Spring.
The restaurants on this list deliver faithful representations of Ethiopian traditions; you won’t find contemporary interpretations or Ethiopian fusion. Instead, you can expect to enjoy meals comparable to those served on the streets of Addis.