This article first appeared in the Portland Sentinel
The building that houses Dalo’s Restaurant on North Vancouver looks like an unassuming business park. Inside, though, is a warm, family-run restaurant filled with the earthy herb-laden scent of some of the finest Ethiopian food I have ever eaten. On the walls hang African art, photographs and carvings, and the tables are covered in handwoven cloths brought back from Ethiopia. Owner Dibabu Gurmu’s beautiful daughter, Mimi, one of three Gurmu children, greeted me and seated me right away. Gurmu’s son, Yohannes, waiting on tables that evening, offered menus and water before taking my drink order. I ordered the Ethiopian tea, which was sweet, smooth and richly cinnamon — so lovely I had two cups.
The ever-popular vegetarian platter features four dishes: Alicha Misir (a mild, slow-cooked lentil stew), Kay Misir (spicy lentil stew cooked with berbere chili), Gomen (spinach sautéed with onions) and Atkilt (a lightly curried mix of cabbage, carrots and potatoes). All four of these offerings were savory; nothing was overcooked — the spinach was bright green and gently infused with the flavor of sautéed onions, the carrots and potatoes were cooked thoroughly but still firm and the cabbage still possessed some snap.
The Awaze Tibs is usually prepared with Chicken or Beef but for $2 more you can have lamb. I ponied up the two bucks for a bowl full of succulent chunks of lamb, slow cooked in the spicy berbere chili sauce. The resulting taste was spicy, rich and so good you want to lick your fingers after every bite.
The last dish I sampled was the Kitfo, a finely chopped lean beef is sautéed in a homemade spicy butter, which I had “lub lub,” which means “half-cooked” in Ethiopian. Traditionally, though, it is served almost uncooked. I had to talk Gurmu into letting me try it lub lub because he thought that I, being non-Ethiopian, might want the fully cooked version. I did not, and in the future will not have the fully cooked version — “lub lub” was “delish delish” and next time I will have it the traditional way. It comes in a small black bowl, served in the center of your large plate of injera (the Ethiopian bread made from the ancient grain teff, which is smaller than a mustard seed).
The deep red of the finely chopped lean beef looks a lot like a tomatoey puree but upon closer inspection is much firmer than salsa, though just as flavorful. There is something hedonistically gorgeous about this dish — the lush feel of the Kitfo in your mouth as you chew, the deeply spiced flavors, the sumptuous taste of the beef itself. As if that weren’t enough, it’s served with a small dish of finely ground spices providing an extra kick. Although my meal had the requisite spiciness that this region’s food is famous for, it never overpowered the careful flavoring of these dishes and Dalo’s Injera is quite simply the best I have ever tasted, with no bitter aftertaste or sticky residue.
It was a masterful meal carefully prepared by a family that wants to share their best with the community. “We only serve the dishes that we can prepare fresh every day. We don’t want things that have been leftover or made the day before lying around and reheated,” said Gurmu. That makes all the difference.
Dalo’s, 4134 N Vancouver Ave., Suite 207, (503) 808-9604.