Our Favorite LA Ethiopian Restaurant, Merkato
Dining simply yet culturally rich in the Fairfax District.
While I have taken the time to write about more extravagant cuisine, there are a few dives in Los Angeles that are among my favorite indulgences. In LA, you can find any kind of food imaginable. There are varying degrees from fancy to the local hole-in-the-wall place and that is the sheer beauty (and often stomach churning) adventure of dining anywhere in the Los Angeles area. So one day, about 12 years ago, I came upon what’s known as the “Fairfax District”. Located at 3rd and Fairfax, this street is filled with textile stores and Ethiopian dining. There are some well known and more upscale restaurants, however they are not among the more tasty. Amidst them all, there is an Ethiopian gem — Merkato: both market and restaurant. Before delving into it’s offbeat yet endearing qualities, here is a bit they have posted on their home page:
There are tables against the walls that look “sturdy” at best and some booths dressed in African fabric BUT do not let the questionable and shady decor deter you. This is probably the most tasty, heavy, wonderfully filling Ethiopian food I’ve ever tasted. It’s not light and healthy, it is saturated in fat and flavor and once in a while it is an indulgence I welcome. However the real wonder (and genius) is that Merkatooffers cuisine for Vegetarians and Carnivores alike.
Onto the food. I think my favorite part is the mystery spongy-tortilla-like bread they bring that looks like a tortilla and a sea sponge mated and then upon tasting it, you feel like you’ve just eaten sourdough bread (don’t knock it til’ you try it). The kicker? You will use this as both a utensil and side dish. I love it! As for what I cannot do without, I tend to gravitate towards the same things on the menu because years might go by and I find myself craving it and I inevitably come back. My menu picks are:
#14 Combo plate: Yebeg Sega Wot (Strips of beef braised in red pepper sauce and spices) and Yebeg Alicha (Mild lamb stew delicately spices with garlic, ginger, and other spices)
#30 Veggie Plate: Combo of Special Shiro, Lentils, Collard Greens, Yatklt Alicha, Yekeke Alicha, and Timatim Fit-Fit
I top it off with Honey wine. No idea if it’s cheap or bad because in truth it is entirely unique to this restaurant and when you take a sip, you run your tongue across your lips and you get remnants of honey. It is part of the experience and experience, in my book, is why any food should be ingested.
So when you’re down in LA and you want something different, go to Merkato. The staff is always really friendly, the food is unforgettable, and while this is “out of the norm”, this is still my LA pick and will remain on my list of favorites until they either: change management or just stop being so deliciously unexpected.
Ethiopian Merkato | 1036 South Fairfax Avenue | Los Angeles, CA 90019