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Massawa Ethiopian Arrives In North Beach 

Wednesday, Nov 25 2015
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We briefly interrupt the 24-hour turkey-and-pumpkin-pie coverage to discuss okra. And injera. And a newly reopened, relocated Ethiopian restaurant in the San Francisco neighborhood where you'd least expect to find one. Formerly in the Upper Haight, Massawais now in North Beach, where most establishments are old-school Italian joints, restaurants that cater to post-bar munchies, and the bars that cause said munchies.

As a quick refresher, injera is the basis of Ethiopian cuisine. It's a thin, spongy, crêpe-like bread that's made from the grain teff and functions as your fork, spoon, knife, and occasionally your plate. Unlike most Ethiopian restaurants I've visited, Massawa didn't serve my entrée on a plate covered with injera (but I believe this is only the case for the smaller-portioned lunch specials).

Massawa's menu is more extensive than many of its peers, yet injera is still obligatory, and kitfo, a hot pepper-influenced beef tartare, is always a must-try. Breakfast features Ethiopian and American dishes, served all day. (Score one for fava beans with tomato and hard-boiled eggs along with French toast on a single menu!)

However, as anyone who has been to an Ethiopian restaurant knows, the strong points are the vibrant vegetarian dishes, best enjoyed in a trio sampler ($14 at dinner, $10 for lunch special). Okra(!) is the highlight, bathing in an alluring, berbere-spiced tomato sauce that complements the zucchini. Next door are soft potatoes and carrots in a yellow curry-fueled "veggie alicha." Lastly, spinach and collard greens get beautifully sautéed with onions, garlic, and tomatoes. The sauces were slightly soupier and less thick than at Tadu, which I'd consider the city's Ethiopian gold standard. But the sampler still provides a most enjoyable meal, however much injera you consume.

It's great to see Massawa find a home again, five years after the expansion of Gus' Community Market/Haight Street Market's displaced owner Asmerom Ghebrmicael from the Haight.

The new Massawa — in the former HRD Smokin' Grill — has wooden picnic benches, an open kitchen, and eye-catching traditional woven baskets as wall décor, and it's clearly a welcoming spot that already feels at home in the neighborhood. And the gender-neutral bathroom even reminds members of the masculine gender to kindly aim when firing. Having kitfo on injera might seem more out of the ordinary at this address than spaghetti or cioppino, but after seeing that sign, I remembered that this was still very much North Beach.

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Trevor Felch

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