Ethiopian food is one of the most flavourful and unique cuisine you can find in Winnipeg. And, it provides a great excuse to gather a group for dinner.
This is communal cuisine bursting with flavour at a very fair price, where each person is paying no more than $20. Ethiopian restaurants were highly impacted during the pandemic as they rely heavily on in-house dining, so it's a great opportunity for us to support them now.
The spices and textures will make your tastebuds dance, plus it's healthy! The majority of Ethiopian dishes are nutrient dense, low in fat and vegan/gluten-free friendly. I always feel good after having a big meal.
The foundation of most Ethiopian meals centres around Injera, best described as a large and thin spongey pancake-like bread that soaks in all the flavour. It is gluten-free and made from teff millet. Common words you'll see in menus are wot (stews) and tibs (marinated barbecued meat).
I discovered Ethiopian cuisine more than 10 years ago through my friend, Merih, at a work potluck. I brought my mom's Vietnamese spring rolls and he brought Injera. His family is from Eritrea, which borders Ethiopia and they have similar cuisines.
If I can be honest, eating Ethiopian at first is a learning experience as you ditch your utensils and eat with your hands. My friend Merih taught me the proper way of tearing off the small pieces of Injera and forming a cup shape in my fingers to scoop/pinch the delicious curries, veggies and stews.
Our Ethiopian and Eritrean population in Winnipeg grew during the early 2000s, stemming from the Eritrean-Ethiopian War, which has also led to the openings of many restaurants that still thrive today. I had the pleasure of visiting these restaurants and meeting their proud owners.
Here's my picks for some of the best Ethiopian restaurants in Winnipeg:
Gojo Ethiopian Restaurant | 593 Sargent Ave.
Open seven days a week, Gojo has always been a fave of mine for a quick Ethiopian fix that is walking distance from University of Winnipeg. It's always a pleasure to visit my friend Solomon Meshesha, who is the owner and a great resource on his homeland's cuisine. I usually get the veggie and meat combo, a safe order at all Ethiopian restaurants as you'll get a good lay of the land. Lentils, chickpea stews with qeye wot (beef cooked in berbere sauce, onion and tomatoes) and alecha wat (beef stewed with tumeric sauce and flavoured with garlic, onion and ginger root) are all served on a huge plate of Injera. Always a great upbeat and happy vibe at Gojo!
Gohe Ethiopian Restaurant | 595 Notre Dame Ave.
I discovered Gohe four years ago from my friend who is Vegan and took me out for dinner. It's been one of my favourite Ethiopian spots ever since. It's owned by Mekete Zwede, who moved to Winnipeg over a decade ago from Ethiopia, and whose restaurant is conveniently located on Notre Dame Ave. and guarantees a vibrant atmosphere. My go-to order at Gohe is the veggie combo, featuring misir wot (lentil stew), kik alicha (split pea stew), cabbage, azifa beets, potato and house salad. It's just $13.99(!) and for each additional person it's $11.99, the best dinner for two in Winnipeg for under $30. So good and filling!
Merkato Restaurant | 352 Cumberland Ave.
When I think of Ethiopian dining I think of big dinners with lots of friends. I was able to reconnect with my work friend Merih, who I mentioned earlier and two other friends for a feast at Merkato. We met the owner Simneh Tsegaye who has been running the restaurant for one year after purchasing it from his aunt Kelemwa Gorfe, who had run it previously for 19 years. We ordered the Merkato combo (alcha wot, key wot, yebeg tibs, yebere tibs, yedoro tibs) with a sizzling hot plate of zilzil tibs (tender lean beef sautéed with onions, jalapeño, garlic and a touch of rosemary) which was amazing, just bursting with so much flavour! Merkato looks very cool in the evening; I love the neon lights that transport you to a bar-like setting in Ethiopia.
Habesha Ethiopian Restaurant | 594 Ellice Ave.
I had the best time at Habesha. After being greeted immediately by the owner Mimi Tesema I met an Ethiopian family who gave me recommendations on which dishes to order, just the best hospitality. The Ethiopian artwork on the wall is very impressive, depicting scenes from ancient times. I had the yegul tibs (slow smoked beef marinated with spiced onions and green peppers) presented on a hot clay bowl with lit coals underneath. The Injera is all made fresh daily by Mimi and you can taste the quality. I finished off the meal with Ethiopian coffee that was served in a very elegant set accompanied by soothing burning herbs, which was super relaxing. Habesha has been open for only 18 months - throughout the pandemic - so it deserves our support. Mimi recommends calling ahead with big group reservations while I highly recommend it for the experience.