Restaurant Review #152: Rosalind's, Little Ethiopia

Rosalind's interior

Rosalind's is unquestionably my favorite restaurant in Little Ethiopia, the stretch of Fairfax between Olympic and Pico that's home to around ten Ethiopian restaurants (along with a couple of wedding cake stores, furniture stores, and a grungy 7-Eleven). Though I have a compulsive need to try new restaurants, I go back to Rosalind's over and over.

The $12 vegetarian sampler is big enough for two to share, making it one of the best dining bargains around. Rarely can you get so much good food in a nice, sit-down setting. Rosalinds' atmosphere is peaceful--the service is friendly (usually), you're never rushed through your meal, and it's pretty quiet--though if you're sitting in the middle of the restaurant, you may have the cacophonous experience of hearing Ethiopian music in one ear and hip hop in the other. The restaurant is divided in half, with one side housing a bar and an Ethiopian-themed dining room, and the other a dimly lit party room with a wall of mirrors that make the restaurant look double its true size. On most of my visits to Rosalind's it's been largely empty, but this is one case where a lack of customers does not indicate bad food.

Talk about atmosphere

Some of the seating in the dining room is at conventional tables, but some is underneath small huts. The chairs and tables look interesting, but they're far from comfortable--you can't lean comfortably against the chair backs, so be prepared to practice your best sitting posture. While many restaurants in LA suffer from putting their tables too close together, at Rosalind's, the tables are plenty far apart, but the backs of the chairs in the hut section of the restaurant are so close together that you can barely squeeze into your table. Fortunately for us, the surrounding tables were empty, but under more crowded circumstances, it would be pretty unpleasant. The best table is probably the one in the front corner (on your right when you first walk in). That table is under a hut and relatively secluded from the other tables, making it a great choice for a date or a small group.

If you're new to Ethiopian food, Rosalind's is a great place to start. Not only is their menu extensive, but they also have a page long "how-to" on eating Ethiopian food. An extra plate of injera (a spongy, tangy, pancake-like bread made from a flour called teff) will arrive with your food, and rather than utensils, you eat the food by scooping it up with torn-off pieces of injera. Done properly, your hands will still be clean at the end of your meal. Rosalind's menu is very encouraging though, saying that adjusting to a new way of eating is always a challenge and it's okay if you're messy at first. I love to eat with my hands, so Ethiopian food is great fun for me. Though the plates are enormous, the portions can seem small, scattered out as they are. Keep in mind that you'll be eating bread with each and every bite--you'll get full fast.

Yam balls

For an appetizer, I like the deep fried yam balls, which are actually a Ghanian specialty. They're sweet, slightly gooey, and come with a tangy, spicy dipping sauce. They're filling, too, so watch out.

Vegetarian sampler plate

Going clockwise and starting with the green stuff at the bottom, the vegetarian plate contains:
- sauteed collard greens
- yemiser wet, a spiced lentil dish easily identified by its deep red color
- salad
- another variation of spiced lentils
- vegetables alicha, a mildly spiced sauteed cabbage dish with carrots and potatoes
- more salad
- yet another spiced lentil dish.

Each dish has a very distinct flavor, with the lentil dishes being the most heavily spiced (spiced as in containing many spices). The dishes are also spicy hot, but in a way that sneaks up on you after several bites when you suddenly notice that your lips are tingling.

The vegetarian sampler also comes with salad. Rosalind's used to serve their salad as an appetizer on a plate before the meal, which I liked better because I don't think injera tastes good with salad, but I can understand why they switched to a more streamlined presentation.

Vegetarian sampler plus meat dishes

Some of the meat dishes I've tried include a yellow colored lamb dish and a deep red beef dish. The beef dish was richly spiced and disappeared quickly. The lamb dish, however, contained large chunks of bone, which was a turnoff. The meat sampler we ordered only came with two meat dishes, providing a bit less variety than the vegetarian sampler, but it was actually served with most of the dishes from the vegetarian sampler, as well.

The specialty of the house, special tibs, is reminiscent of fajitas--beef served with bell peppers and onions on a sizzling platter. The meat is not tender though, and not nearly as flavorful as the other dishes. Aside from the dish's large meat content, I'm not sure why it's considered a speciality. I wouldn't recommend this dish.

For dessert, Rosalind's serves baklava--and that's it. It's not the greatest baklava--it's a little dry, and I prefer the honey-drenched kind.

Overall, Rosalind's beats out other Little Ethiopia dining choices in every area: the service is faster and friendlier; the atmosphere is prettier, cozier, and more tranquil (unless you sit on the dark side of the restaurant); the menu is more extensive, and most importantly, the food is more flavorful. While I love trying new places, sometimes I'm not in the mood to take a chance on the unknown--in my experience, I only like about a third of the restaurants I try. That's not a bad success rate, but at Rosalind's, my success rate is 100%.

1044 S Fairfax
Los Angeles, CA
Rosalind's Website (10% off coupon, too!)
Rosalind's Menu
The online menu is not the same as the in-restaurant menu, but it will give you a general idea of the types of dishes served.
Rosalind's on Urbanspoon

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