Restaurant Review: Addis
Experiential dining in Columbus can often be watered down, gimmicky, overpriced and inauthentic—you know, the hibachi restaurants or trendy spots with Instagrammable walls. But at Addis in northeast Columbus, it’s spot on. This Ethiopian restaurant opened its doors in 2014, and while the dining experience may be out of the ordinary, it’s the food that brings you back for more.
Situated on the corner of Cleveland Avenue and Pegg Road, Addis has a small parking lot, with guests frequently overflowing into the surrounding neighborhood. It’s not uncommon to get blocked in by someone picking up carryout orders, of which there are many.
Décor is an afterthought at Addis; instead the large platters of colorful stews and vegetables act as decoration. Aside from a small “shrine” to Ethiopian coffee near the entrance and a few faded travel posters on the walls, the two brightly lit dining rooms are minimalist, with red tablecloths and a television that will show anything from Jimmy Kimmel Live! to what’s going on in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city. With nothing to absorb the sound, multilingual conversations and a phone that doesn’t stop ringing fill the restaurant. The occasional incense stick brings that vague, exotic feel into the dining rooms.
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“You eat with your hands” and “it’s spicy” are typical starting points when introducing Ethiopian fare to the uninitiated. But to limit this East African cuisine to those two statements is to miss the intricacies of a culinary tradition that embodies family-style dining and “slow food.” Take the nearly omnipresent spice blend berbere. When it’s slow-cooked with familiar ingredients like onions, beef and tomatoes and combined with sour injera, you get a perfect savory-meets-tangy flavor combination. Yes, there’s a bit of heat, but Addis offers to adjust, if desired. And the prices for its big-enough-for-two mains cannot be beat.
The service style at Addis is kind and direct. On one visit, three different people warned me that a dish may be spicy. Another said to my dining partner that, due to fiber, it could be a rough night and apologized to him in advance. In a similar vein, when I asked why some (but not all) customers received a banana with their dish, the answer was equally to the point and refreshing: “The Somalis like banana.” (According to Somali-owned Hoyo’s Kitchen, located just up the road from Addis, this is indeed true.) Friendliness aside, Addis is not fine dining, and it may take patience—or equal directness—to get things like a check or a refill of water.
The menu skips appetizers and jumps straight to shareable mains, with the Veggie Lovers combo ($12.99) being one of the best. Alongside a simple salad of chopped lettuce, tomato, onion and Italian dressing (similar to the one served at every mom-and-pop restaurant in America) are a series of cooked vegetables and stews, lining the edges of a sizable pan. A typical combo platter includes al dente red lentils, a tart stewed cabbage, potato and carrot combination, a mixture of sweet roasted red beets, cooked greens (called gomen) and a small pile of large, smooshy (and bland) yellow lentils.
It all comes served on top of injera, the sour-and-spongy unleavened flatbread made from teff flour that is fundamental to nearly every dish in Ethiopian cuisine. (Up for debate: Is injera bread or is it entirely in its own category?) Injera serves as the base for the food, the vehicle by which to grab the stewlike dishes, and sometimes as an extra ingredient.
Accompanying the veggie platter is fit-fit, a mixture of torn injera, garlic, ginger, vinegar, onion and tomato, plus shiro, a spiced chickpea purée.
The fir-fir ($9.99) is equally enticing. Torn injera meets cubed beef simmered in tomatoes and a tangy berbere-spiked sauce, topped with a hard-boiled egg and garnished with pepper and plenty of onions. Italian flavors arise in this slightly messy dish.
The kitfo ($11.99) at Addis showcases the spice. Lean minced beef is marinated in a cayenne-heavy, spiced, clarified butter (niter kibbeh) with fresh jalapeños. Comparable to steak tartare, kitfo is traditionally served (and much preferred) raw, but Addis serves its cooked unless ordered otherwise. The traditional style is one of the best dishes in all of Ethiopian cuisine, but when cooked, it’s a completely different experience—more like a cheeseburger sans bun. Kitfo is served with ayib, a small-curd Ethiopian cottage cheese with a ricotta texture, and several rolls of injera for scooping.
Gored gored ($11.99), a cubed beef dish that is often served raw, is instead served here cooked in a bowl of garlicky butter and broth. The hot (in spice and in temperature) dish, with its grabbable pieces of meat, is one of the more easy-to-assemble entrées.
It’s not all beef. One version of zilzil tibs ($11.99) is well-seasoned marinated chicken, grilled red and yellow peppers, grilled onions, jalapeño and tomato served over a fragrant, long-grain, cardamom-kissed rice. The approachable dish has a fajita feel.
Addis is a dry restaurant, but I did see a couple bring in their own bubbly. During my visits, I stuck with the delightfully fresh mango juice over ice ($2) which took time to be served but was worth the wait. The lone smoothie ($3.99) on the menu appears to be a carryout favorite. Mango pulp, ice and the sweet, berry-based Vimto soft drink create what is a non-dairy mango milkshake with a ribbon of magenta.
Not to be missed is the Ethiopian coffee ($2), which takes on the characteristics of a full-flavored espresso. The coffee, poured into a cup a tiny bit larger than an espresso cup, is simple, strong and not bitter; the shrine is well-deserved. (On Sundays, the restaurant offers traditional coffee ceremonies.)
While I’ve written many a restaurant review, in very few cases have I craved the food I’ve written about. Addis stands out among the gastropubs, the trendy bistros and the white-tablecloth restaurants in the city’s newest developments. Not into eating with your hands? Ask for a fork. Concerned about the heat? Tell your server to bring it down a few notches. But if you’re not stopping by Addis, you’re missing out on some of the best cuisine Columbus has to offer.
3750 Cleveland Ave., North Side
Hours: noon to 9 p.m. Sun–Thu, noon to 10 p.m. Fri–Sat
Price Range: $9–$15 entrées
Reservations: Not accepted
In Short: With a tight menu, this no-frills northeast Columbus restaurant is a standout for authentic Ethiopian fare and friendly service. You can’t go wrong with the veggie combo, a colorful platter of flavorful lentils, collards and more served on spongy injera. Spicy kitfo is served cooked by default; ask your server for the more traditional raw version. A cup of Ethiopian coffee is a great way to end a meal; on Sundays the restaurant holds traditional coffee ceremonies.
Two Stars (Very Good)