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Ethnic Dining Guide

Tyler Cowen has released the 17th edition of his Ethnic Dining Guide, a most useful resource for those of us residing in the Washington, DC area, though it would be more useful if I had a car (reminder: buy a car!). I had the pleasure of joining Tyler for lunch recently at one recommended spot, Sodere, right by my house:

Sodere, 1930 9th, just south of T St.

Currently the best Ethiopian restaurants are found on the 9th St. row, just south of T.  This corner is rapidly becoming the center of the Ethiopian community.  If I had to pick one from that group, it would be Sodere.  Their sauces are especially good.
SodereAt any rate, the pedant in me feels compelled to note that Sodere, 1930 9th street, and the row of good Ethiopian restaurants in general, are all actually just north of T street (though there are some Ethiopian restaurants south of T as well), as you can see on the accompanying map. The mistake is understandable because, as the map demonstrates, the DC grid has a near-total breakdown in the area in question, featuring the weird jag called "9 1/2 street" 10th street's curve as it hits Vermont followed by a discontinuity around the Metro station and its revival north of U as the street I live on, U street goes discontinuous ending at its intersection with Florida and popping up again way to the east, 7th becomes Georgia Avenue for no real reason, V street curves and experiences discontinuity, etc., etc., etc. But Sodere is good -- try it out.

January 25, 2005 | Permalink


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The irregularity of streets in the area in which you live (trust me, I know, I've gotten screwed up trying to STAY on Florida when it hits U more times than I can count) is due to the fact that that area was just off the original L'Enfant grid but developed independently before any kind of official planning or real estate interests (as in the area west of the park) got involved to standardize things. For example, LeDroit park was once one of DC's first suburbs with a separate street grid altogether (as you can tell when you walk around that area, and also by the names of the streets). I think your neighborhood is probably actually right around where the grids come together (hence some of the wierdness)

Posted by: flip | Jan 25, 2005 3:50:24 PM

Anyone know a good Ethiopian restaurant in the Bay Area? There's one in Campbell that didn't impress me. The only other one I've been to was in New York and there was no comparing the two.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Jan 25, 2005 3:52:38 PM

A bit of DC history: Florida avenue used to be the effective boundary of the town (not the political boundary, but the extent of planning and surveying -- ignoring Georgetown, which already existed). L'Enfant's plan essentially went that far. That is why Florida loops around in the curious way that it does. Given that, grid anomalies (such as those shown in the map) for the most part happen around Florida.

Posted by: David Margolies | Jan 25, 2005 3:56:26 PM

I've never been to Sodere, but I prefer Meskerem. My favorite restaurant in the world.

Posted by: MattB | Jan 25, 2005 3:57:03 PM

Dang! Flip was faster than me.

Posted by: David Margolies | Jan 25, 2005 3:58:25 PM

How can you prefer Meskerem if you've never tried Sodere? The latter is much better, in my opinion. Meskerem's a good mainstream choice for people afraid of Ethiopian food, but if you get into the cuisine you've got to check out some more authentic alternatives.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Jan 25, 2005 4:05:06 PM

Anyone know a good Ethiopian restaurant in the Bay Area? There's one in Campbell that didn't impress me. The only other one I've been to was in New York and there was no comparing the two.

Paul, when I lived in Berkeley I occasionally went to The Blue Nile (gee, never heard of an Ethiopian restaurant with that name) on Telegraph Avenue. I'm no connosieur, but I thought it was pretty good. There are others in the East Bay as well, and undoubtedly also in San Francisco.

Posted by: Haggai | Jan 25, 2005 4:05:44 PM

Just looked up Blue Nile. According to one reviewer: "Of all the many Ethiopian restaurants I've eaten at in Berkeley and Oakland, Blue Nile is hands-down the worst." http://yumfood.net/reviews/ca/berkeley/bluenile.html

The silver lining is that apparently there are lots of others in the Oakland area. I guess it'd be expecting too much to find any in South Bay.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Jan 25, 2005 4:10:24 PM

Matt -- had never heard of Sodere. I went to others and didn't like them as much. Next time I'm in DC, I'll try Sodere.

Posted by: MattB | Jan 25, 2005 4:38:18 PM

PS -- I shouldn't have used "prefer" in that context -- I meant, "prefer" to the other Ethiopian places I've been to (and I've been to them from coast to coast).

There is one in Boulder, CO. Used to be in this isolated building at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere south of town. Best food ever. Then it moved creekside in downtown Boulder, and went mainstream and crappy. Saddest thing ever.

Also, oddly enough, I had good Ethio in Indianapolis, IN.

Posted by: MattB | Jan 25, 2005 4:41:35 PM

Dude, don't buy a car if you don't absolutely have to have one. You'll save yourself a lot (a *lot*) of money and hassle, and besides, geopolitically speaking there's never been a better time to scale back your participation in the petroleum-based madness.

Posted by: live | Jan 25, 2005 4:55:48 PM

Queen Makela, 1917 9th St., 202-232-5665.

Matt Yglesias likes this one.

Any reason in particular? Just curious.

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Jan 25, 2005 5:19:55 PM


There is an ethiopian restaurant on lower Haight (Axum?) which I've enjoyed. It's in no way as good as the ones I remember in DC, but it's pleasant, and worth going back to...

Posted by: Eva | Jan 25, 2005 5:24:59 PM

It's unfortunate that my comments are so snarky, since it's clear Cowen put a lot of work into his labor of love. That said:

1. Anyone who only reviews one Salvadorean restaurant in DC (and that on Capitol Hill, to boot!) either doesn't care for Salvadorean food or doesn't care for DC.

2. Anyone who treats the phrases "New Haven, Connecticut" or "Elizabeth, New Jersey" as endorsements of a pizza place clearly does not love pizza, which can be found in its native habitat only within 80 miles of Chicago.

Posted by: David Vacca | Jan 25, 2005 5:27:59 PM

Matt and the area described (including Westminster St., which is the best street!) is just barely inside the L'Enfant Plan, and does not suffer from a lack of planning. The boundary of the original City of Washington was, strabgely enough, Boundary St., which is now Florida Ave. Go to Yahoo! or MapQuest, follow the very vexing course of Florida as it changes from a NW/SE to a closer to N/S and then to slightly a slightly NE/SW at about 11th. Then compare to the L'Enfant Plan map, here:


My street is not on the L'Enfant Plan. 10th below U is FUBAR because of the highly planned Metro stop and the Af. Am. Civil War Memorial.

Posted by: Will Wilkinson | Jan 25, 2005 6:12:47 PM

Sorry, I missed David comment about Florida Ave. In any case, for incredibly amateur illustration of the boundaries of the old City of Washington, go here:


The fat red line is Florida Ave, most of the way, until it gets by Georgetown. The two red dots inside the lavendar circle-like thing are Matt's house and Sodere (the stars on Matt's map.) As you can see, the area in question was inside the L'Enfant grid.

Posted by: Will Wilkinson | Jan 25, 2005 6:22:34 PM

" Anyone who treats the phrases "New Haven, Connecticut" or "Elizabeth, New Jersey" as endorsements of a pizza place clearly does not love pizza, which can be found in its native habitat only within 80 miles of Chicago."

This is nonsense. You've got a much better chance of getting a good slice of pizza in Elizabeth than in Chicago. Now, I will grant you that there is a dish served in Chicago that goes by the name "pizza" and can be very good, but if you've grown up with the East Coast style stuff, it's not really pizza. That said, the most consistently good pizza I've had was in Croatia.

Posted by: MattT | Jan 25, 2005 6:24:55 PM

Does anyone have an opinion on Fasika? That was the first one I went to in D.C. and it's been my default.

Blue Nile (in Oakland) didn't seem that bad that bad, although I preferred the one right next to it whose name I can't recall right now.

We actually have an Ethiopian restaurant in Pittsburgh now; opened about 3 months ago.

Posted by: Mike Collins | Jan 25, 2005 7:11:25 PM


I'll second the great pizza in Croatia. Nothing better than a warm pizza, a cold pivo, and a view of the Adriatic...

Posted by: MattL | Jan 25, 2005 7:36:46 PM

New Haven indeed has some of the best pizza on the east coast. Better than the thin crunchy stuff we've got in Manhattan. Around here, you have to go an hour north to find anything worth eating, though maybe there's some place on Staten Island I haven't tried yet.

Posted by: phil | Jan 25, 2005 8:15:32 PM

I actually like Karlovacko even better than Pivo, but yeah, that pretty much sums up my perfect afternoon.

Posted by: MattT | Jan 25, 2005 9:55:13 PM

Queen Makela does some excellent, very flavorful Ethiopian vegetable dishes. I love Ethiopian meats and sauces, but often find that the sauces don't complement the vegetables very well. But while Sodere has what I would call an "authentic" atmosphere, Makela is closer to "sketchy." Let me also recommend in the same neighborhood Ooos And Ahhs, a fantastic hole-in-the-wall soul foul joint on the north side of U between 10th and 11th. Out of this world sides (mac & cheese, yams, greens, stringbeans, potato salad), excellent chicken offerings (fried, grilled, barbecued, etc.) and crab cakes, plus disappointing corn bread and a fun, friendly staff.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Jan 26, 2005 12:22:22 AM

Have you tried the Islander? I can't stop recommending the Islander. Its really damn good... ummm... island fare.

I'll have to try Sodere; I really enjoyed Dukem and should probably start making my way toward "Little Addis Ababa."

Posted by: Kanishka | Jan 26, 2005 10:28:41 AM

"Now, I will grant you that there is a dish served in Chicago that goes by the name "pizza" and can be very good, but if you've grown up with the East Coast style stuff, it's not really pizza."

Y'know, I was thinking how odd it is that the tasty East Coast dish of sauce and a sprinking of cheese on cracker crust is, for reasons surpassing knowledge of man or God, referred to as "pizza." Because, funny coincidence, there already is a dish by that name, as all of us growing up in the shadow of Chicago know full well.

Posted by: David Vacca | Jan 26, 2005 11:58:31 AM

And why did L'Enfant put Boundary Ave (now Florida) where he did?

Because that was the base of the escarpment that surrounds most of downtown, i.e. original Washington. Below Boundary, the street grid was fairly level and easy to traverse by foot, horse or cart. Above Boundary, the steep incline of the escarpment was too steep for 18th century transportation.

Just consider the steep inclines going up 7th and 13th streets from Florida and you can see what I mean. Better yet, try biking up those hills.

BTW, the best maps for DC are at the "Find It" feature of the www.dc.gov website.

Posted by: Brendan | Jan 26, 2005 1:49:27 PM

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