Having been a while since I explored eclectic ethnic eats, my last one being that Jungle Foodventure Marathon, I jumped at the chance of checking out Merkato's when Wandering Chopsticks, Gourmet Pigs and I decided on having an Ethiopian foodventure. While that section of Fairfax offers a plethora of Ethiopian eats, we chose Merkato because 1) they were open for lunch on weekends 2) they serve meat dishes and 3) they have a picture menu (online) to help make ordering all the easier. So off we went in mid-March.
Part marketplace, part restaurant, the interior of the restaurant is quite a sight to behold - rich with colorful tapestries, ceilings decorated with vibrant upside-down umbrellas, and even saddle-like seats and barrel-shaped straw-woven tables called mesobs. Alas, we opted for more boring standard tables and chair so we can get better photos of the food.
With a pretty accessible menu, a fairly helpful waitress and a time-crunched schedule, we got our order in pretty fast, all of which were served on the same injera-lined platter (with extra injera on the side to scoop up the various dishes)
To break it all down, our order consisted of:
* Awaze Tibbs ($8.99): "cubes of selecte beef with onions, tomatoes, hot red peppers and spiced butter"
*Combo Platter of Yebeg Sega Wot and Yebeg Alicha ($10.99): former is "strips of beef braised in red pepper sauce and spices" and the latter is "mild lamb stew, delicately spiced with garlic, ginger and other spices"
* Veggie Combo ($6.99): a hodgepodge of seasoned and spiced collard greens, stewed peas and lentils, steamed cabbage and tomato salad
In the photo, the meat dishes are in the center and the veggies lined the sides. As for the taste? Hard to tell with the individual components, especially towards the end when all the stews and mashes blended with one another - but in general everything was rich with earthy, aromatic spices (particularly the meat dishes) -- like a hybrid between a chili and a mole sauce, but less spicy. The injera was spongy to the feel and slightly tart to the taste, but felt like a naturally perfect pairing to the gamut of courses we had there.
Even tastier was the injera lining the plate, since it soaked up all the stewy goodness throughout the meal, like using bread to sop up the last bits of soup. The soaked injera was too soft to be picked up by hand so we got another fresh order of injera (complimentary) to pick them up. It may seem weird, but I love my carbs-wrapped-in-carbs - be it zhaliangs, pieorgies or injera-in-injera (trying saying that five times fast!)
Alas, despite how light-tasting the meal was, I felt almost stuffed towards the end. I even skipped desserts after we walked to nearby India Sweets & Spices. Nonetheless, Merkato was a nice eye-opener into the world of Ethiopian foods and I can't wait to try a few more places on those few blocks of Fairfax.
What Do Others Say?
- ManBitesWorld did his "Ethiopia Day" here.
- It was fourth place for Best Ethiopian in '07, according to MyFOXLa
- What's to Eat LA considers this "cheap, amazing Ethiopian food"
- Four stars from the Yelperocracy
Merkato Restaurant & Market
1036.5 S Fairfax Avenue
Los Angeles, CA