Syltoya Sterling 5:30 p.m., Sept. 3
Ethiopia, San Diego, Part Four: Muzita
A trip to University Heights' upscale Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurant of note offers sharp contrasts with other restaurants featured in this tour.
Muzita Abyssinian Bistro (4651 Park Boulevard, 619-546-7900) in University Heights isn’t an Ethiopian restaurant per se. It’s more Eritrean. Eritrea borders Ethiopia and the two countries share much in the way of culture and cuisine. For hundreds of years, the Abyssinian Empire comprised territory from both modern countries, hence the bistro’s name.
Because of the culinary similarities, I was able to order kitfo at Muzita. Served as a $12 appetizer instead of an entree, the minced top round had been seared and served warm. A spoonful of mitmita and a small ramekin of salty cheese flanked the skillet of meat, the portion of which was much smaller than what I’d eaten at Harar as a main plate. Muzita’s injera was as good or better than any other. The soft, sticky, chewy rolls of bread had a deep, sourdough flavor that stood out even against the backdrop of spiced beef and warm butter.
A vegetarian entree of hamlit (braised spinach and collard greens, $12) came with a tomato-heavy version of atakilt, green salad, and the expected rolls of injera for the grabbing and scooping.
Muzita’s food was delicious, though no better than Harar’s and coming at a significant premium price. Entree cost pushed up to $18 for single plates! The service was excellent, friendly and professional, and the atmosphere in the restaurant was cozy and welcoming. Really, that’s where the difference lay. Muzita was much more of a complete restaurant experience than previous stops in this trip through SD’s Ethiopian restaurant circuit.
I think, for some people, that’s where the problem is. They feel that it’s “inauthentic,” precisely because the crowd that eats at Muzita includes more tourists and local North Parkers than people from the Horn of Africa.
But there’s the rub. Because of that fact, Muzita is better at being a restaurant, at making us feel served and catered to, than the other spots. The others are excellent places to get food, but not particularly great restaurants. At Muzita, you will pay more. Not because the food is any better, but because there is a wine list, a cordial host, attractive decor, heaters on the patio, and incense in the bathroom. Maybe that takes part of the charm out of eating with your hands, maybe not. It certainly makes Muzita the kind of place you might go every once in a while, instead of on any given day.