Ethiopia, San Diego, Part One: Red Sea Restaurant

Beginning the search in City Heights

New mission: to eat at all the Ethiopian restaurants in town and pick a winner. This was partly inspired by Garrett Harris blogging about running, and partly by a friend who asked me which I liked best. I had no reply, not having eaten at them all.

Well, that’s about to end!

First stop: Red Sea (4717 University Avenue, City Heights, 619-285-9722). Typical of the surroundings, Red Sea has an underwhelming facade, inadequate parking, and occasional dodgy characters darting around the streets outside. Of course, that’s part of the City Heights mystique. Every now and again you find a great meal in a block of shabby buildings.

Red Sea, while quiet, was clean and well looked after. Instead of the wickerware mesob that some Ethiopian places opt to use as a table, the owners went for regular seating and a reserved decoration scheme. A portrait of (I believe) Olympic runner Haile Gebrselaisse presided over the dining room.

Timatim salad ($5) of chopped peppers, onions, and tomatoes came dressed lightly and loaded with cracked pepper. This dish can be good, but Red Sea’s underwhelmed with inferior tomatoes.

An entree combination contained three dishes (two beef, one chicken), arranged on a plate of injera with some green salad on the side. The spicy chicken leg stewed in a peppery red sauce was the best portion because the meat was appropriately tender. For the beef dishes--one of which was sauteed strips of steak while the other was cubed beef in a sauce much like the chicken--the texture was all wrong. I love when these stewed meats are allowed to break down, their flavors melding into a spicy palimpsest. While the spicing was on point at Red Sea, I didn’t feel it was a strong expression of Ethiopian cooking.

To the restaurant’s credit, I received plenty of injera and the entree combination was under $10. I could have spent as much eating at Burger King and been much worse off, but that’s hardly a ringing endorsement. This survey is young yet and I’ll no doubt find a strong contender in the coming days.

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