It all started with a photo on Instagram of a turmeric-pineapple elixir.
I asked my Insta-friend — who’s vegan — where she got it from. She asked me to lunch. I invited another vegan friend, who posted this comment: “I heard there is a vegan Ethiopian restaurant in Kapahulu now?”
And that was it. The lunch date was on.
I had read about this restaurant in Frolic Hawaii last week. It opened on May 17 — as the sign outside would indicate (above) — inside Takahashiya Ramen on Kapahulu.
Yes, inside. Not near, not next door, but literally inside. The two restaurants share a dining area and kitchen. In fact, when you walk in, the server will ask you, “Ramen or Ethiopian?”
The backstory: The smiley Abraham Samuel owns and runs this restaurant with the help of some family members from Ethiopia. He’s friendly and helpful and will go over the menu with you if you have questions.
And I certainly did have questions about the menu.
I hadn’t eaten Ethiopian food since living in Chicago back in 1999. And I remember it being cheap, tasty and filling.
But ask me WHAT I ate and I couldn’t answer you.
The menu here was pretty advanced for me. There’s something called kitfo (prime beef tartar seasoned with Ethopian clarified butter and spiced chili powder), derek ribs (beef sautéed in onions, chili, ginger and garlic), and asa dullet (tilapia sautéed with onions, rosemary, hot peppers and spices.
Here’s how it went down: You sit anywhere in the restaurant and ask for the Ethiopian menu. (You can also order ramen and gyoza, too.) Then you order and wait — and wait and wait. We had to put more money into the meters outside because the food took so long. But it’s OK — I prefer the food takes awhile to make if it’s being made entirely from scratch, which is was. But just a fair warning: if you’re pressed for time, you might want to reconsider.
We started with the veggie sambas (above, $2.95 for one), filled with brown lentils, green peppers, onions and garlic. Very tasty and a great way to start the meal.
We ordered two vegan dishes — all vegetarian dishes here are prepared vegan; not sure why they don’t just label them vegan instead — and the meat combo plate. All three were served with injira, that delicious spongy bread used to wrap the food in lieu of utensils.
All three dishes came on the same platter, which I had expected from my experience in Chicago. But the vegan dishes were mixed with the meat ones, which sort of defeated the purpose.
I wanted to try the dinch wot (above, $10.95), which is basically just potatoes and carrots sautéed with garlic, ginger and turmeric powder, and eaten with the injira. This was incredibly delicious, though pricey for the amount we got. (And, to be honest, I always thought, perhaps inaccurately, that Ethiopian food was more affordable. But hey, I’d pay good money for anything delicious!)
This was part of the meat combination platter (above, $15.95 for one, $28.95 for two), which comes with key wot, alicha wot and kik alicha (yellow split peas simmered in a mild-flavored onion and herb sauce).
The vegetarian combo ($14.95 for one person; $27.95 for two) included red lentils spiced with red pepper sauce, yellow split peas, chopped cabbage and potatoes and carrots.
The food was a bit on the oily side — the restaurant uses canola oil, we found out — but super flavorful and tasty. I loved the textures, the spices, the warmth, the fact that I could use my hands.
Will I be back? Definitely. Next time, I’ll be sure to bring more quarters for the parking meter!
Ethiopian Restaurant, 730 Kapahulu Avenue, inside Takahashiya Ramen. Hours: Tentatively open at noon through dinner, though times may change. Phone: (808) 725-7197