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Friday, April 24, 2009

From SMS: Little Ethiopia Restaurant Opens

Shaw Main Streets recently sent out the following e-mail announcement regarding a new Ethiopian restaurant that just opened in the 1900 block of 9th Street, NW:

The latest restaurant to open in Shaw’s Little Ethiopia is…Little Ethiopia Restaurant at 1924 9th Street, NW. . . .

Using the unofficial nickname for the 1900 block of 9th Street, NW, as the name of their new venture was a no-brainer for husband and wife co-owners Tutufik “Tutu” Belay and Yehunie Belay. “Our goal was to create a little piece of traditional Ethiopia here on 9th Street,” says Tutu, who publishes the Ethiopian Yellow Pages and owns the building where both the directory business and her new restaurant are located. “And since so many people know this block as Little Ethiopia already, it made perfect sense.”

The Belays, who have been married for 16 years, have succeeded in incorporating traditional furnishings and art in their 49-seat venue, which opened on Inauguration Day 2009.

Asked why she decided to open yet another Ethiopian restaurant on a block where so many are already established, Tutu responds, “We offer a complete Ethiopian experience in an environment that recalls the heritage and landmarks of our country. Some may have photographs of monuments from Axum and Lalibella, but no one else has used them for inspiration for their restaurant’s furnishings and décor.” Little Ethiopia features chairs, an entrance menu holder, and a hostess station evoking landmarks in those Ethiopian cities.

Traditional wicker tables, known as mesobe; gojo, the rattan roofs over some of the booths; leather benches, formerly seating for kings, and rattan mats and rugs on the floors are other traditional decorative elements. Portraits of women with regional hairstyles and traditional musical instruments decorate the dining room’s walls.

A handwashing ceremony is performed tableside at dinner, and coffee beans are roasted at tableside in a ritual familiar to patrons of Ethiopian restaurants everywhere.

The menus at Ethiopian restaurants are practically identical, a mix of vegetarian, beef, lamb, and chicken dishes prepared with flavorful sauces ranging from mild to hot. Three preparations of beef tibs (ribs or cubed beef sautéed with seasoned butter, onions, peppers, and other ingredients); the triangular pastry triangles filled with beef or lentils known as sambusas; kitfo, finely chopped lean beef usually served raw like steak tartar, but also available rare or medium; and rolled up injera, the spongy flatbread used instead of utensils, are found here, as elsewhere. Sample platters include one featuring three meat stews, known as wot, and a six-item vegetarian sampler, with split pea, collard greens, and lentil dishes, among others. Ethiopian beer and wine highlight the bar’s offerings. Cheese cake and chocolate mouse cake are offered for dessert, a rarity at Ethiopian establishments. Coffee and honey wine, more traditional ways to end an Ethiopian meal, are also available.

Yehunie has been a singer since age nine, and his music videos are often played on the flat screens at the restaurant’s bamboo-wrapped rear bar, another Ethiopian touch. The restaurant will feature entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights, with Yehunie and others performing traditional Ethiopian music.

Little Ethiopia Restaurant is open Monday through Thursday and Sunday, 11:00 AM to 2:00 AM, and Friday and Saturday, 11:00 AM to 3:00 AM. For more information, visit or call 202-319-1924.

This announcement got me thinking -- should we do a better job of capitizing on the unofficial name of "Little Ethiopa" for this stretch of 9th Street, NW, or would doing so hurt the non-Ethiopian establisments along this stretch? If we wanted to make a more concerted effort at owning this nickname, we could install sign toppers (see, e.g., this example from a neighborhood in Atlanta), increase marketing of the area as Little Ethiopia and maybe even street festivals celebrating Ethiopian heritage. On the downside, doing so might marginalize the significant non-Ethiopian busineses in the area. Thoughts?

All to say, be sure to try out this latest Ethiopian restaurant to open on upper 9th!

Little Ethiopia Restaurant
1924 9th Street, NW


Kevin said...

i highly doubt dc9, nellie's, and dan the man's would care if they suddenly found themselves in little ethiopia. i think it's a good idea (plus, dc loves subdivisions of subdivisions!).

IMGoph said...

the problem is that jim graham tried to help shepherd through a "little ethiopia" designation a few years back, and some of the "old timers" in the neighborhood threw a fit.

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear that the restaurant features chairs and a hostess station. Good additions!

wolfytoo said...

On Friday, I ate at Little Ethiopia and met the owner. I highly recommend the restaurant for its ambiance and the quality of its food. I am organizing a dinner there for a Monday in July when guests will have a cooking class and dinner. The cost of the evening will only be your dinner, drinks, tax and tip. If interested, please let me know.
Namaste, Karl