Searching for your next date night or cultural experience? Look no further. At Awash Ethiopian Restaurant (19934 NW Second Ave., Miami Gardens; 305-770-5100; awashmiami.com), my palate experienced flavors so unique and foreign, I had to pinch myself to make sure I hadn’t stumbled into a vortex that transported me to a café along the Nile River. Nope, I was right in the heart of Miami Gardens, basking in African art, hospitality, and above all else the ancient cooking traditions of one of the oldest cultures on the planet, Ethiopian cuisine.
“If cameraman Korey (@KoreyDavisPhotography) doesn’t shoot it, I won’t eat it.”
Awash is owned by Fouad and Eka Wassel. The husband and wife duo, along with their amazing staff, have created quite possibly the best Ethiopian cuisine in the country. Yeah, I said that! I’ve eaten at about eighteen (18) Ethiopian spots – both high end and mom and pops – in New York, Atlanta, L.A., Houston, Chicago, Milwaukee, and I honestly didn’t enjoy the food.
I shared this with Fouad and he surprisingly agreed. Fouad explained that I probably have never had true Ethiopian home cooking, because most spots do not prepare their offerings in the home-style manner that his wife does. He did not lie. Guys, this food was incredible.
I started with a couple appetizers, including the meat sambusa ($5)—a delicious meat pastry filled with spiced ground beef fried to perfection. You can get a vegan version of the sambusa as well, with lentils, garlic and onions, which is as delicious as the beef version. Washing it down, I chose a glass of their Ethiopian Honey Wine, which has a 2,000-year-old history that included it being a favorite of King David himself!
The wine has an overwhelming honey taste with an impressive subtly that comes from the fermentation process, the type of honey used, and of course the wine’s barreling. A MUST HAVE! They also have a large selection of Black owned wines to select from if the honey wine isn’t your thing.
Now for the entrees, and there are quite a few. Each entrée is served with injera — an airy sourdough-like flatbread made with the flour of the iron-rich grain called teff, which is abundant in Ethiopia. This was the first thing I noticed when comparing Awash to other Ethiopian spots. I hated this bread elsewhere, but here, it is delicious when sopping up all the savory sauces, veggies, and meats.
As you’ve probably already guessed by my previous statement, you eat with your hands. I mean, you can ask for utensils, but don’t be lame, eat with your damn hands to respect the culture. Dining in this fashion had a warming and communal feeling, especially as we sat at the traditional Ethiopian table called mesobes; which was beautifully decorated with African motifs surrounded by squat leather-topped chairs which were super comfortable. The place had me daydreaming about what life would have been like if my ancestors (all of us) had never been shipped away from our motherland. Well, one can dream.
Oh, while on the cultural aspect of this amazing eatery, ask to take part in the coffee ceremony before you leave! Coffee as a beverage, was invented in Ethiopia thousands of years ago, and is still a huge part of Ethiopian life today. Abeba Laboy, an employee at Awash with the most amazing royal dreadlocks you’ll ever see, roasted coffee beans on a charcoal fire that filled the restaurant with such aromatics, I honestly felt a bit high. You must experience this amazing tradition after your meal! You won’t regret it! You can also purchase Ethiopian coffee for your home, along with other Ethiopian seasonings, snacks, and other products right in the store!
Back to the food! We started out with the Taste of Awash $24.99 (for two) that comes with combinations of most of the vegetarian, beef, and chicken entrees. For me, this was the best deal if trying Ethiopian for the first time. It allows you to experience mini versions of each entrée. From there, you’ll know which is your favorite and could easily order it as your main course. Well, at least, that is what I did. I loved everything.
The Vegetarian Platter for two ($19.99) would be a great accompaniment with the Taste of Awash because of the additional veggies. Collard greens, cabbage, lentils, you name it and it’s on there. I was tearing this ish up. I must admit, I had a real come to Jesus moment at this spot. I have hated beets since I was a kid, but Awash changed my mind completely. I was popping those little cubed beets in my mouth like popcorn. They were amazing. I was trying to figure out what sort of sorcery was at work here, as I gobbled down every ounce of food on the table.
More magic was happening in this kitchen as Chef Eka bought out this homemade bread that was a cross between a breadstick and a rosemary focaccia bread that literally melted in your mouth. Piping hot fresh from the oven, this bread comes out with Ethiopian spice mixes and sauces. I preferred to order the collard greens and Ethiopian cheese to put on mine. It was heavenly.
EVERYTHING in this restaurant is made from scratch, even down to the butter, which Chef Eka seasoned and cools herself. Every platter is served on a giant piece of injera, in which you will use as your utensil in sopping up every delectable morsel and sauce. One of my favorites was the doro wot ($12.99), which was pretty much stewed chicken.
Both spices and seasonings compete for dominance as your palate tries to pin down the explosions of coriander, allspice, cardamom and smoked paprika, in addition to secondary flavors with notes of nutmeg or cinnamon. You can order a beef version of this dish called zilzil wot ($12.99), with a slight difference in flavor profile due to a pinch of ginger permeating this braised version of the stewed chicken.
Not pictured is my absolute FAVORITE DISH HERE—the Kilkil ($14.99). It consists of lamb chunks sautéed with onion, turmeric powder, and assorted spices served with green pepper and is so good I started drinking the last bit of the broth. I mean, Lord Jesus I see why Ethiopia was the first country to declare Christianity as its national region in 322 AD, possibly before that day, because you need to call on the name JESUS when you taste this stew.
I got the Kuanta Firfir ($12.99) that was pretty much the Injera, with a tomato sauce along with onion, garlic, special dried lean beef and herbed butter. I thoroughly enjoyed this dish because of the marinara like quality of the sauce and bread. It was like an Ethiopian version of lasagna.
The last of my entrees were straight meat dishes that included Beef ($11.99) and Lamb Tibs ($13.99) both marinated in Chef Eka’s homemade marinade and then sautéed with onion, tomato, garlic, and green pepper.
On a practical level, let’s think about this for a second. The Awash River, for which this restaurant and many other Ethiopian spots are named, is literally the cradle of human existence. The valley that encompasses the area is where archeologists in 1974 found 52 fossilized bone fragments of the earliest hominid known to earth at over 3 million years old.
If humanity started here, what the hell you think the food is going to taste like? They’ve had more practice cooking and eating than just about anybody, not to mention the amazing healthy benefits of the food as well. As the new year approaches, maybe we should all take a couple trips to Awash to get our summer bodies ready with their incomparable legumes, veggies, and meats!
From the beautiful ambiance, to the incredible food and impeccable service, Awash Ethiopian has set the bar for any other Ethiopian eatery considering opening their doors. I am so grateful that the City of Miami Gardens was selected as the only destination for Ethiopian food in all of Miami-Dade and Broward County.
Follow The Hungry Black Man on Facebook @thehungryblackman and Instagram at #thehungryblackman! Sign up for great eateries around the country by dropping your email below!