Merkato is the first Ethiopian place I tried in Los Angeles. They distinguish themselves from the many other restaurants in Little Ethiopia in that the prices are lower, they are attached to a an Ethiopian groceries and miscellany store, and you can eat your meal while sitting on a stool with a saddle on top.
I didn't try the saddles on this visit or the previous one--they looked mighty uncomfortable. Some patrons seemed quite happy on them, and others moved to a regular table after a few minutes. The best tables are the dimly lit ones in the back, away from the glare of the adjoining store and the glow of the neon lights in the window.
As always, you can try several dishes by ordering the vegetarian sampler, which consists of the five dishes in the outer ring of dishes in the photo above (the menu inaccurately lists four dishes, and only three of those four are included in the above). The sampler consists of the usual: lentils, more lentils, something that might also be lentils, collard greens, and cabbage with potatoes and carrots. The meat dishes in the middle were a lamb stew and a beef stew. Plenty of extra injera for grabbing up the food came folded and stacked on a separate plate.
I didn't care much for the meat dishes, as they had a very meaty flavor, and I'm not the biggest carnivore. The veggie dishes were all good, but they weren't served hot, only warm, and the red lentil dish didn't live up to my memory of what it ought to taste like. I think I would have liked it had it been more heavily spiced. On both visits, service was slightly slow and indifferent, though there was a marked improvement in speed on my second visit.
In spite of my faint praise, I wouldn't damn Merkato. I think Rosalind's is better, but it also has a higher price tag. If you are less picky than I, sit at one of the tables in the back, and aren't in a hurry, Merkato is one of the best values in town. And if you want to try your hand at home Ethiopian cooking, you can stock up on injera at the store on your way out.
Total cost for two, including tax and tip: $18.00
Los Angeles, CA 90019