Walter Mencken 11 a.m., May 24
Ethiopia, San Diego, Part Five: Asmara
Back to City Heights for another tasty Eritrean/Ethiopian dinner in an ugly bunker of a building.
After Tour de Cheesesteak, a mere five days of consecutive Ethiopian food is nothing. Nothing, I say! I could do this forever. With a spring in my step, I set out for City Heights and Asmara Restaurant (4155 University Avenue, 619-677-3999). Much like Red Sea, Asmara had little more than a door and a sign on the side of an unattractive building. There’s a parking lot out back for anyone who might like to drive, but it would be easy to cruise right past the restaurant in the low light of a city evening. Inside? Better. Adequate coziness and a lively crowd of regulars watching Lebron James reinvent the game of basketball.
I ordered a Harar beer ($4) and a sambusa ($2.50) to start from the super-friendly guy tending bar, who also disappeared to work on the kitchen with help from “the woman” in the back, whom I did not see all night. Try as I might, I cannot find the East African sambusa a favorable dish, especially in comparison to the more opulent Indian version. African beer and wine, on the other hand, I have always found to be simplistic but refreshing. The Harar was almost like a golden Belgian beer, great for drinking alongside a simple meal.
Keeping with the “try lots of everything” mentality, I ordered an entree that combined tibs (spicy and not) with an order of zighini, beef stew spiced with copious amounts of berbere. A combination of better meat and better cooking made Asmara’s tibs more tender than Red Sea’s, though still a little chewy, as sauteed lean meats tend to be. What made the real difference was a veritable ocean of kibbeh (seasoned butter) had been applied to each meat. The buttery goodness was all over everything, soaking into the injera and making some OK meat taste, if not outstanding, at least better than it should have.
I ended up paying about $20 to eat to absolute distension (I do it for the readers!) and have a beer, which isn’t too bad. Still not Awash Market cheap, but within the realm of “popping out for a quick bite,” which is wear I like these restaurants to fall. A big part of the draw to Ethiopian food is that it’s going to be a quick, nutritious, inexpensive meal that’s a change of pace from yet-another-burrito dinners.