Ethiopian immigrants found their way to Colorado in large numbers beginning in the early 1980s, adding their food and culture to metro Denver. The population has continued to grow, as have the number of Ethiopian restaurants — many run by one person or family who takes care of seating guests, describing the menu, cooking and serving the food, tending the bar and making sure every customer is comfortable and happy. Dining out Ethiopian-style isn't a hurried, modern experience; instead it's a chance to savor the many spice blends and cooking styles of the country — especially its meatless offerings. Here are the eight best Ethiopian restaurants in metro Denver, in alphabetical order.
Axum Restaurant5501 East Colfax Avenue
Just as Axum is a very important city in the history of Ethiopia, Axum Restaurant is very important to the Ethiopian expats who call Denver home. The focus here is on tradition, and the menu lists many preparations of meat and veggies typically served atop spongy injera bread and without utensils. A meal here is a shared, familial experience, one that takes you far away from East Colfax — exotic as that stretch of road might be. Come later in the evening; Axum becomes something of a dance party for the Ethiopian community once the sun sets. You have to see it (and feel it, and taste it) to believe it. axum-restaurant.com
Comal Heritage Food Incubator3455 Ringsby Court
A comal is a metal or clay griddle used in Mexico for cooking tortillas and other foods, so you're probably thinking we picked the wrong restaurant for Ethiopian fare. And, yes, Comal Heritage Food Incubator does serve Mexican cuisine for lunch every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but Thursdays are reserved for chef Sara Gebre's Ethiopian cooking and coffee ceremony. Don't expect the lengthy menus found at many other Ethiopian eateries; this is the kind of meal that makes you feel you're in someone's home, being served a warming lunch from the heart. Soft injera, almost purple from the dark teff flour imported from Ethiopia, serves as the base of a number of veggie dishes and stews made with red or green lentils, split peas, and potatoes and carrots. The aroma of complex spices fills the air, and the bold flavors make every drop of sauce worth mopping up. After the food, the aromas of roasting coffee and gentle incense replace the spice. If you miss Thursday, you can also find Gebre serving up a buffet-style lunch at Food Bridge Marketplace (998 Navajo Street) on Tuesdays. facebook.com/comalkitchen
The Ethiopian Restaurant2816 East Colfax Avenue
For many, this red, yellow and green restaurant on East Colfax is their first Denver experience with Ethiopian cuisine. After all, this is the Ethiopian Restaurant, and the colors on the building recall the country's flag. Fortunately, the kitchen represents that country well, with an array of dishes designed for both everyday meals and celebratory occasions. This is a family-run operation, so the pace is slow and relaxed, offering a chance to enjoy Ethiopian beer or honey wine before platters of food heaped on injera arrive. The doro wot here is exemplary, with slow-cooked chicken in brick-red sauce, but a vegetarian combo platter is a great way to sample the variety that can be found in lentils, chickpeas, greens and other veggies. facebook.com/TheEthiopianRestaurant
Megenagna306 South Ironton Street, Aurora
Two doors open to Megenagna Ethiopian Restaurant and Grocery; pick either one. If you go in through the market, you can peruse fresh-baked goods and packaged Ethiopian specialties before heading for the dining room. The other door leads directly to the restaurant, decorated with palm-leaf awnings that straddle the tables, supported by bamboo posts. Heavy, rough-hewn chairs and a bamboo coffee bar add to the village ambience of the charming little space. Friendly staffers are happy to talk to you about the different types of kitfo and tibs offered. Orders come with generous amounts of injera and vegetable stews made from lentils, chickpeas and rich spices. facebook.com/megenagna.grocery
Nile Ethiopian Restaurant1951 South Havana Street, Aurora
Some Ethiopian restaurants in Denver are intimate and cozy — great for getting to know a cuisine without distraction. Then there's Nile Ethiopian Restaurant, which is so raucous on weekends, you almost feel like you've stumbled into a family wedding. But with big sampler platters that arrive as a mosaic of colorful stews atop spongy injera (the deep color is a sign that Ethiopian teff flour is the main ingredient), you can explore the vegetarian choices made with lentils or soft-cooked vegetables while still getting your fill of beef, lamb and chicken dishes like spicy, buttery kitfo (similar to tartare); complex, brick-red doro wot complete with hard-boiled eggs; and fiery lamb awaze, with tender cubes of meat in chili-like sauce. The Nile is a celebration of Ethiopia that you won't want to miss.
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Ras Kassa's Ethiopian Restaurant802 South Public Road, Lafayette
For years, Ras Kassa's was the only Ethiopian option for folks in Boulder County — but then the quaint eatery, run by chef Tsehay Hailu, was forced to close in early 2015 because of redevelopment (you can thank the Google office campus for that). Hailu limped along for more than a year in a temporary location at Boulder's Broker Inn with a takeout-only menu, and while the food was still great, we're glad to see that Ras Kassa's has settled in at its new, permanent home in Lafayette. Customers who've followed Hailu for the past thirty years can once again enjoy Ethiopian hospitality with honey wine, tangy injera and some of the best vegetarian offerings around — no small feat in Boulder County. Meat lovers will also enjoy the spicy kitfo with collard greens, housemade cheese and rich lamb stew. Welcome back, Ras Kassa's. raskassas.com
Queen of Sheba7225 East Colfax Avenue
Denver’s thriving Ethiopian population supports a surprising number of restaurants devoted to the complex, spicy and warming cuisine of the East African nation. But few stand out quite as much as Zewditu Aboye’s Queen of Sheba, a one-woman show. Meals here start with tart, springy injera and progress through stewed legumes and vegetables into an array of tender meats in rich sauces. A shared platter loaded with miser wot, kitfo, doro wot and gomen (spicy lentils, seasoned raw beef, stewed chicken and collards, respectively) at Queen of Sheba is as integral a part of Denver’s diverse dining tableau as pho, ramen, enchiladas and red sauce.
Saba's Ethiopian Food Truck720-722-1925
Food-truck menu prices from Denver's gourmet trucks can often be a little steep. But the moment you're handed your hefty meal through the window of Saba's food truck, you'll know you've chosen wisely. Get a trio of vegetables (stewed lentils, potatoes and beets, slow-cooked collard greens, for example), a duo of lamb and chicken, or a combo plate with a little of everything, and you'll have enough food for two. The house injera is as plentiful as it is tasty, and an order also comes with fragrant rice and a green salad. If you're just looking for a quick snack, lentil-filled fried sambusas are a great option. During food-truck season, Saba can be found at rallies, special events and breweries around town, but during the winter you can call and get lunch catered for your office. sabasethiopianfood.com