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Ethio Express Grill Introduces Fast-Casual Ethiopian to Silver Spring

21 May

When one thinks of fast-casual, the first thought that crosses your mind is Chipotle. But the Washington area has taken that successful model one step further and applied it to salads (Sweetgreen), pizza (&Pizza), and even Greek fare (Cava Grill), all with rousing success. So what happens when you take one of the area’s most beloved ethnic foods and transform it into an affordable, quick meal? You get Ethio Express Grill.

As much as the District has developed over the past decade, one downside of all this gentrification are the rising rents resulting in the smaller mom and pop eateries either closing up shop or moving out to the suburbs. Just several weeks ago, Ethiopian staple Meskerem shuttered its doors in Adams Morgan; representing the sea change of clientele that now frequents the Northwest neighborhood amidst newer, more upscale restaurants (this blogger still mourns the loss of Pharmacy Bar). Washington Post writer Tim Carman even wrote a eulogy for Meskerem as it was the oldest operating Ethiopian restaurant in the U.S.

Ethio Express GrillEthio Express GrillEthio Express Grill

So it goes without saying that D.C.’s loss is Silver Spring’s gain, especially now that Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema has dubbed the Montgomery County suburb “the new Little Ethiopia” in his Spring Dining Guide. And he’s absolutely right – with at least half a dozen Ethiopian restaurants in downtown Silver Spring alone, you don’t have to go far to get some tibs and kitfo.

Enter Ethio Express Grill. Located off of Sligo Avenue and sandwiched between several auto repair shops and Jackie’s, Ethio Express Grill offers diners a “build your own meal” menu that is comprised of four steps: a base (injera, pita, spaghetti, mixed greens, or brown rice), protein (grilled beef [tibs], chicken, lamb, or tofu), a choice of one of five housemade sauces, and then a choice of nearly a dozen hot and cold sides that range from ayib cheese to yellow split peas. All of the ordering is done at the cashier as opposed to watching it being constructed in line as the meat is cooked to order, but the wait time between placing your order and having it served to your table is minimal.

Injera Plate

The result is fresh, vibrant flavors in an efficient, cost-effective setting. The menu even offers half a dozen preconfigured plates which make it helpful for first-time visitors that get overwhelmed with the a la carte construction method. I ordered the Injera Plate, which was comprised of grilled beef, Ethio hot sauce, gomen (collard greens), spicy lentils (miser), yellow split peas (kik), and two pieces of injera. For $9.29, this was a considerable amount of food that is not only filling but also just as authentic as a meal from a full-service Ethiopian restaurant.

Grilled chicken plate

Rachel went the creative route and ordered grilled chicken, yogurt honey sauce, kik, green lentil salad (azifa), quinoa salad, and cucumber salad.

We were both impressed by our meals, and we’re so glad a place like this exists just down the road from us. If we could offer any critique, it would be to offer a paper menu with descriptions that someone can review before ordering. The list of sides to choose from could be somewhat daunting for a newcomer to Ethiopian food, and since you can’t look at an open counter to point at them, it would be helpful to have that option before going to the counter to order. While the location is a little off the beaten path, Ethio Express Grill has a lot of potential and makes for a terrific quick lunch or dinner should you be in the downtown Silver Spring area, or should I say the new Little Ethiopia.

Ethio Express Grill on Urbanspoon

Shagga Coffee and Restaurant - Ethopian Excellence

20 Oct

While DC has a plethora of Ethiopian restaurants to choose from, perhaps one of the best lies outside the District’s borders. Situated in Hyattsville in what used to house a former donut shop, Shagga Coffee and Restaurant is as unassuming as they come.

Written up in Washingtonian’s Cheap Eats column for the third consecutive year, I have driven by this establishment many times while traveling to and from DC. Little did I know that they were cooking up some phenomenal Ethiopian cuisine inside.

Beef Tibbs

Considering that my friend Betsy and I work near each other in Prince George’s County, we decided to make a lunch date at Shagga and see if the acclaim was justified. Located off a major thoroughfare in Baltimore Avenue and a stone’s throw from the University of Maryland, the dining room was barely occupied save one or two tables.

Nonetheless, we glanced over the menu which had a vast variety of options to choose from. From chicken to lamb to beef to vegetarian, selecting what to order could be a daunting task if you’re unfamiliar with Ethiopian fare. Fortunately, Shagga offers several meat and veggie combinations that allow diners a chance to explore multiple dishes.


We started the meal with a couple of sambusas. Similar to empanadas, they are pastry shells stuffed with vegetables as well as lentils, beef, or chicken. We opted for an order of the lentil as well as the beef. Freshly prepared, the sambusas were hot, crispy, and downright tasty.

While Shagga offers discounted lunch specials during midday, the full menu is also available which features combinations for two. Betsy and I felt that this was the best approach for our meal since we wanted to try a little bit of everything and not limit ourselves to one item.

Combination Platter

We decided to order “Combination #3”, which included Yebeg (lamb) Wot, Doro (chicken) Alicha, and Yesega (beef) Tibbs. It was also accompanied with four vegetable sides (lentils, cabbage, potatoes, and lettuce) as well as a basket of warm injera (Ethiopian bread).

When our combo arrived, we couldn’t believe the size of the portions. There were three huge serving bowls for each of the meats, not to mention the platter placed in the center of the table that included the four veggies. This was a combination for two, yet could have fed four easily.

Chicken Alicha

The Alicha was comprised of chicken simmered in onion, garlic, ginger and herbed butter with a hard-boiled egg. It was the mildest dish in terms of spice while the chicken was very tender.

Meanwhile, the lamb wot was the spiciest of the three plates but its sauce proved to be my favorite of the meal. The stew featured massive chunks of lamb (including shank) as well as a delicious red pepper sauce, onions, spices and butter. If you can tolerate the heat, then this one dish you have to try.

Lamb Wot

Saving the very best for last were the tibbs – tender pieces of beef sautéed in onions, green peppers, and herbs. Perhaps the most flavorful of the three meats, I could have eaten the pieces of beef by themselves let alone wrap them up in the fantastic injera.

If you’re ever in Hyattsville and/or looking for excellent Ethiopian cooking, then I cannot recommend Shagga enough. Even if you’re in DC, it’s a short drive up Rhode Island Avenue. It really is some of the best Ethiopian I have ever come across in this area, and considering that Little Ethiopia is just a few miles away, that’s saying something.

Shagga Coffee & Restaurant on Urbanspoon