Seeking out the bone-warming Ethiopian food at Addis Cafe in Malden is a bit like going on a treasure hunt. There are whispers of a modest, mostly takeout spot serving authentic Ethiopian fare on the Internet, but many have the incorrect address. The restaurant’s own website is buried deep in a Google search, and not a single citizen reviewer has gone online to rave about the restaurant, which opened in September.
Circling residential streets of Malden turns out to be worth it. Husband-wife team Dereje A Hailu and Addis Woldesenbet serve large portions of spicy, flavorful, and filling food from the couple’s native country. It’s exactly what you want to be eating on a dark, cold January evening.
For those unfamiliar with Ethiopian fare, the menu items can be a mouthful, but Addis won’t bat an eye if you butcher the pronunciation of, say, yemisir wot ($10), a savory vegetarian stew of red lentils with garlic, ginger, and the Ethiopian chile mixture, berbere. The spice blend appears frequently on the menu, staining everything a deep brick red — a good indication of its fiery effects on the mouth.
All entrees are piled on large rounds of injera, a unique, spongy Ethiopian flatbread made with teff, a high-protein grain indigenous to the region. When the steaming plate is brought to one of the two stone bistro tables (these are set beside a hard-working space heater, perched under a small TV playing local news), you’re also going to use the bread in place of a fork. Tear off a piece of the soft, warm injera and scoop up the filling. If you make it to the bottom, the flavor-soaked bread is especially delicious. If you hit the wall halfway through the meal, and ask to box up what’s left, you may be accused of not enjoying your fare by a regular at the other table. “Too spicy for you?” he asks. Well, actually, not. Just too much.
Lamb awaze tibs ($12) is sizzling, and heat-seekers will be pleased with the spicy meat cooked with tomato, jalapeno, and butter. Gored gored tibs ($12) is a slightly less piquant version of the dish, without tomato, and made with beef. It’s well seasoned, though the meat is quite gristly. At first bite, quanta firfir, billed as a “dry beef dish,” seems like injera, on injera, wrapped in injera. But the spicy tomato flavor, and bits of dehydrated beef accent the carb-heavy dish. It makes a lot of sense as a tasty, economical mode of salvaging stale bread; think Mexican chilaquiles or Italian panzanella.
Dereje, who moved to this country three years ago, owned restaurants in Ethiopia, but this is a first for his wife. The tiny spot feels as though you might be in their home. A customer arrives minutes after the restaurant opens, seemingly there to catch up with the owners as much as to eat a meal. When I call to ask for the restaurant’s address, Addis asks, “Who’s this?”
The menu is written on chalkboard, and there are no takeout menus. You get the sense the couple has seen many fresh faces walk through the door. With simply delicious food, kind service, and modest prices, Addis Cafe has already earned a place on the map.
Catherine Smart can be reached at email@example.com.