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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Portland
Food
Feel
Price
7.7
7.0
$30
Ethiopian
Casual restaurant

Hours
Tue–Fri 11:30am–3:00pm
Tue–Fri 5:00pm–9:00pm
Sat–Sun noon–10:00pm

Features Live music, outdoor dining, veg-friendly, Wi-Fi
Bar Beer, wine, BYO
Credit cards Visa, MC
Reservations Accepted

www.enjonicafe.com

North Portland
910 N. Killingsworth St.
Portland, OR
(503) 286-1401
E’Njoni Café
Rich, complex, and satisfying vegetables lie behind this dull-looking storefront

The people behind E’Njoni are actually Eritrean. Eritrea—like Ethiopia—was occupied by Italian forces for the first half of the 20th century, before being annexed by Ethiopia for a time, and the cuisines are similar, although they vary with respect to the level of residual Mediterranean influence. Some Eritrean restaurants carry pasta dishes and sandwiches, along with a few flavors that made their way down the Red Sea, like baba ghanoush with pita bread.

E’Njoni’s is perhaps the strangest setup we’ve ever encountered for an East African restaurant: a pristine storefront on a block of quaint, polished shops and cafés. It looks, with its sandwich board and outside tables and chairs, more like a chain sandwich shop than an Ethiopian restaurant, which we more often find carved out of the bottom floor of a homely building, or magically cheering up an otherwise grungy and ramshackle space. Once you get past the placid exterior of E’Njoni, though, there are warmer signs of culture: pepper-red walls; some artifacts here and there; and the smiling owners visiting guests at their tables.

Ethiopian food comes to mind when we feel frustrated by the abundance of gross, boring meat substitutes that constitute many restaurants’ vegetarian programs. For around 10 bucks, you can have a platter sampling each of the delicious vegetarian dishes available here. If you love Indian or Southern food, you’ll take to this easily: collard greens (somehow more flavorful here without pork than most versions of the classic meaty prep); spicy red lentils; tender, seductive eggplant; and curried okra. Scoop everything up with spongy injera bread, made with teff, one of those wonder grains full of absorbable iron, calcium, and amino acids. In fact, it is one of the few glutinous foods safe for celiac sufferers. Be somewhat sparing, as it expands in the stomach.

Meat eaters are also well served here, especially with alitcha zigni, in which lamb on the bone is slowly simmered to tenderness with complex chili and garlic flavors and a bit of spice. Oddly, the menu doesn’t list doro wat, one of the most popular Ethiopian dishes in the US. Instead, “dorho tibs” has unappealing chicken—breast cubes (rather than the whole drumstick)—to accompany the hard-boiled egg. But the berbere spices are abundant and the red stew thick and oniony.

It’s not the best version of this cuisine, but it’s up there, plus it’s pretty darn cute.

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