Not unlike yuppie culture elsewhere, the question of where to eat ends up being a central preoccupation of ferengi life in Addis. I figured listing some of my favorite spots so far can provide some color on my life here—for better or worse—while minimizing any need to get serious. I’m not calling these the “best restaurants in Addis,” they’re just those which I’ve been to and to which I’m most likely to want to go back.
(By the way, I am a fan of eating Ethiopian fairly regularly—I’d say half my lunches and a smaller proportion of my dinners—but the list below is mostly the non-Ethiopian places, which tend to be more distinguishable.)
· Sangam Restaurant – This Indian place about a five minute walk from my house seems like it must be tied in some way to the nearby presence of the Indian ambassador’s residence. It offers pretty good tandoori chicken, saag paneer, and chana masala; as well as the naans, chai tea, and dingy white tablecloth ambience of a classic outside-India Indian place. The clientele is a mix of NRI’s, white ferengis, and locals – including at one point a delegation from one of the Ethiopian regional states we saw dining here.
· Bunni Restaurant – A small, leisurely brunch place, Bunni sits in a sixth-floor spot near the Greek Embassy that offers excellent views of the city below and the hills in the distance. The décor (dark wood floors, comfy armchairs, glossy magazines) and the menu (fresh juices, pressed sandwiches, pancakes and omelets) both speak to a relaxed international style less widespread here than it might be within a more developed expat scene. A good place to work away a weekend day.
· Da Ting Restaurant – The most “authentically Chinese” place my little group has found so far in Addis, this place has it down to the chintzy imitation-temple façade, the clouded fish tank of seafood offerings, the China Central Television programming of costume epics, and the private room of intoxicated (Chinese) businessmen. Excellent offerings of spicy Sichuan soup, among other dishes.
· Juventus Club – A legacy of the colonial past that Addis had only for the briefest of moment, Juventus offers home-cooked Italian within a down-on-its-luck private club setting that seems to automatically equate to charm. There’s still a member’s only room where old Italian men play cards. My first time in the confines, I watched an afternoon soccer match on the grounds between two local sides. My second time I had pretty decent pesto spaghetti.
· Yeshi Bunna – One outpost of this chain offering Ethiopian basics is near my office and a favorite lunch place for the foreign staff (not so much for locals, as it’s slightly more expensive than the alternatives). Not something that would be recognized as “chain” or “fast” food by those who think we know what those terms mean, it’s packed with knee-level stools, arrayed around tables of traditional wood, has the Ethiopian origin legend of coffee posted on its wall (this involves a shepherd named Kaldi, the hyperactivity of whose sheep lead him to the small, red bean they’ve been eating), and offers a good representation of typical Ethiopian dishes.
· Bata Cultural Restaurant – Representative of a genre of restaurant in which the array of Ethiopian regional costumes and dances are presented not just for foreign but also local enjoyment, Bata has the advantage of an impressive entrance courtyard that has led some to believe its primary revenue comes from wedding photos. It also has a creepy stuffed lion set in rocky a bar area diorama alongside oversized liquor bottles that it would seem tough not to mention. The range of classic Ethiopian dishes is available, and the performers—a seemingly unsupportable number based on business volume the one time I was there—will pull audience-members in to attempt Ethiopian moves. (The style is heavy on shoulder gyration, and each of the two times of gone to cultural restaurants, one of the more Addis-seasoned ferengis proved to have a hidden talent for this.)
· Dodi Restaurant – The second chain on my list, the Dodi I know as a restaurant of pleasant courtyard tables and a spacious, if overly florescent, interior is apparently an outpost of a Sudanese chain with at least five locations in that country and one more in Egypt. The draw of Dodi is good juices (which aren’t actually hard to come by here), reliable Middle Eastern offerings like falafel and hummus, and delicious fried chicken that should single-handedly be enough to promote the need for more widespread poultry production in the country. Sits across from the office of the EU.
· Rainbow Korean Restaurant – This place, too, offers excellent spicy soup, along with delicious meat (e.g. pan-fried pork belly), and the free pickled appetizers common to all worthwhile Korean spots. It has a pleasant courtyard interior ringed by three small indoor and outdoor dining areas, with large windows and white tablecloths. It also has, as became apparent on our last visit, a karaoke machine available free of charge.
· Sichu Burger – Run as a social enterprise, and set in large and fashionably appointed warehouse near the animal market, this place has what many call the best burger in Addis.
· Mexican Family Restaurant – This outpost of Americanized Mexican food, undoubtedly set up by return diaspora, is a good place for the occasional lunch meeting. Sitting just outside the compound of the World Food Program, I think it has become their de facto dining option of choice.
· Café Parisienne – I prefer this local chain to the more well-known Starbucks clone, Kaldi’s Coffee. Parisienne has red awnings, clean interiors, and a little more of a grand promenade café feel.
Not yet tried:
· Kitfo houses – I have yet to go for this Ethiopian traditional dish of seasoned raw (or half or fully cooked) meat.
· European fine dining – At least a few places, particularly Le Mandoline and Le Grande Reve, apparently represent pretty decent takes on standard European fare at quite-high-for-Addis prices. (Mandoline apparently is French enough to follow the closed-for-August tradition, which here happens to also correspond to the rainy season).
· International hotels – The Hilton, Radission, and Sheraton offer international meals at international prices. The latter two, at least, come well-recommended.