Ethiopia's Culinary Gems: the Best Restaurants in Addis Ababa
YOD Abyssinia Cultural Restaurant in Addis Ababa serves popular Injera meals | © Boaz Rottem / Alamy Stock Photo
Addis Ababa is home to Ethiopia’s finest foods. Culture Trip spoke to Xavi Curtis and Jerusalem Addisu from Addis experts Go Further
for the inside scoop on the best restaurants in the capital.
Spice-heavy stews eaten with spongey flatbread, grass-fed hunks of raw meat, potent home-brewed honey wine – nowhere does food quite like Ethiopia, and capital Addis Ababa is the centre of the action. Cultural restaurants specialising in the country’s traditional cuisine, music and dance dot the city, offering an insight into its special culinary heritage. For a newcomer, there’s no better intro to Ethiopian eating.
But beyond its cultural restaurants, a new breed of brunch spots, pizza places and cross-over restaurants are popping up to cater for the city’s growing middle class. Experience the many sides of Addis Ababa’s dining scene with 10 of the best restaurants.
Melt-in-your-mouth kitfo comes with traditional Ethiopian music and dancing at this local spot in Bole. Totot’s signature special kitfo is made hot to local tastes, with fiery mitmita, a chilli-based powder, and niter kibbeh (spiced butter). But what really sets this place apart is its Gurage heritage – the ethnic peoples of Southern Ethiopia who are thought to have created kitfo. The place gets packed, especially on weekends, so arrive early for a seat. “There are a lot of restaurants throughout the city, but what’s nice about Totot is that it’s really targeted at Ethiopians. It is not really a tourist spot,” says Xavi.
Restaurant, Ethiopian, $$$
A lively array of Ethiopia’s food, dance and music cultures, Yod Abyssinia is Addis Ababa’s headline cultural restaurant. The two main halls offer a nod to tradition, wooden huts filled with vivid art and tapestries, crammed with small communal tables, perfect for injera (authentic Ethiopian flatbread). The menu is a hit list of traditional Ethiopian fare, from tibs and kitfo, to shiro and doro wat. The highlight for most is the nightly performances of traditional dance and song taken from the country’s vast ethnic landscape. It is loud, joyful and, if seated close to the stage, filled with plenty of action. Find it in Bole, close to the airport.
Addis Ababa Restaurant
This old restaurant, tucked away on a back street in Arada, can be tricky to find. Persist, and be rewarded with Ethiopian food at its simple, no-frills best. Both the non-fasting and fasting (no animal products) combos are ideal for an intro into traditional Ethiopian food. Sometimes overlooked in favour of newer restaurants in the area, its shabby decor and long-serving staff have earned Addis Ababa a diehard following among locals in the know. “Many locals say the food here tastes like homemade food. It’s also known for its homemade tej (honey wine),” says Jerusalem.
Just outside the National Palace, flavourful Ethiopian food is served in the former residence of Empress Taytu, the founder of Addis Ababa. Set over two floors, Finfine has managed to preserve its impressive wooden-beamed historical interior; inside, the walls are festooned with colourful artworks and traditional pottery, while meals are served on low, circular wooden tables. Xavi says to try the bayenetu, a selection of stews, dips, vegetables and salads served platter-style on a single injera. Be sure to try mesir wat (a red lentil stew packed full of Ethiopia’s fiery berbere spice mix).
Restaurant, Ethiopian, European
This popular Addis hangout has two branches: one in Arat Kilo with a casual cafe vibe, and a slightly more formal restaurant in Kazanchis. “The one in Arat Kilo is right by the university – it’s a very happening place, full of young people,” says Xavi. You’ll find its large outdoor veranda usually packed with young Ethiopians tucking into pizza and draught beer. The food is a mix of European and Ethiopian, with a big focus on burgers, grilled meats, pizza and pasta, alongside traditional favourites, such as shiro (stew) and firfir (a traditional dish made with flatbread and spiced butter). Romina doubles up as a coffee exporter, so be sure to try a brew after your meal. Take it strong and black, traditional style, or the increasingly popular macchiato, with a dollop of milk.
A petit Paris in the heart of East Africa, La Mandoline serves traditional French cuisine to deliciously high standards. Run by a French chef with a penchant for authentic dining, this place is regularly – and rightly – tipped as one of the best non-Ethiopian restaurants in town. Find it tucked away along a dusty backstreet in Urael where its peaceful outdoor courtyard offers respite from the traffic-choked madness of Addis’s streets. “If you are looking for a great steak, La Mandoline is your spot. One of the pricier restaurants in town, but it is worth it for special occasions. And they have an extensive wine list,” says Xavi.
Butcher, Restaurant, Ethiopian, $$$
For the best meat in town, head to Yilma, a popular butcher house in Urael. This casual spot is known for its legendary tibs (rare strips of meat fried in clarified butter and spices). So good are they, meat-mad Ethiopians used to make the four-hour round trip to nearby Adama just to get them. Luckily, Yilma has since moved to Addis, making it easier to get a tibs fix. During weekends, this place is packed with people guzzling down meat and pitchers of turbo – a potent mix of beer, wine and lemonade. Ethiopians like their tibs rare, so be sure to ask for it to be lega for it to be cooked through.
Although Italy’s occupation of Ethiopia lasted just six years, its culinary fingerprints remain all over Addis – particularly when it comes to pizza. And while there’s no shortage of pizza places in Addis, finding a good one is a little trickier. Local chain Effoi Pizza serves up the best pizza in the city, according to Xavi, and the paired-back Chechinya “Effoi Red” location is his pick of the bunch. Go for its eponymous special, topped with ground beef and green peppers. After pizza, head upstairs to the stylish Ankober Lounge & Rooftop Bar for a sundowner or a fresh mint tea, picked from the garden outside.
A new breed of modern coffee shops has swept over Addis Ababa in recent years, bringing with them a modern twist on Ethiopia’s signature drink. In place of the traditional coffee ceremony, find macchiatos and brunch menus at this trendy Urael spot. “The place is known for weekend brunches so between 10am and noon you will find the place is full. A great breakfast option is fetira from Northeastern Ethiopia – a fried filo dough cooked with egg, cut into little square pieces and served with honey,” says Jerusalem. On Fridays, Chaka Coffee doubles up as a music venue, with live jazz from local artists.
Bistro, Bakery, Mediterranean, Pastries
Set in an airy, bare-brick house on the outskirts of Kazanchis, this bistro and bakery is one of the capital’s best new breakfast spots. Lauded for its take on egg dishes, Florentine and Benedict, it’s the bakery that makes Five Loaves stand out. Fresh breads and pastries are made daily in the deli (except Tuesdays and Thursdays when the whole place is closed). Meanwhile, the upstairs serves a Mediterranean-style à la carte menu for lunch and dinner reservations. “This place specialises in locally sourced, simply made fresh food. They do a good brunch, and they’re making things you don’t commonly find in Addis,” says Xavi.
This is an updated version of a story created by Becca Gomby.
These recommendations were updated on June 29, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.