Toronto is undoubtedly a melting pot of amazing international cuisine, bolstered by restaurants that give not just an authentic food experience, but an amazing cultural one, too. One of the city’s favourite food trends in recent years has been Ethiopian restaurants that offer something slightly different—and some of the best Ethiopian food outside Africa—if you’re seeking a memorable dinner.
Just like the name suggests, this restaurant is the perfect spot to pique your interest in Ethiopian food. It’s just steps from lively Yonge-Dundas Square, so it’s an ideal place to start or end your night on the town. You may miss this modest restaurant at first, as it’s located on a quiet stretch of Church street, in a tiny low-rise building sandwiched between two fast food chain restaurants. But don’t be fooled by its exterior—Ethiopiques offers an authentic dining experience you won’t soon forget. If you’ve never tried Ethiopian before, you’re in for a treat. The best way to go is to order two big sharing platters (one vegetarian and one meat) to sample many of the different items on the menu. When they arrive, you have to make extra room at your table to accommodate the giant round platters with heaping piles of divinely spiced meats and vegetables arranged atop a spongy pancake called injera, which is what you use to scoop up your food. To end your night, you try a delicious cup of Ethiopian coffee. The sweet, mild Tusker beer from Kenya is a nice way to wash it all down.
If you’re on the west side of town, African Palace is a must-stop for a satisfying dinner, especially as the weather cools down. Grab the wicker woven chairs surrounding the colourful basket-weave circular table by the window. If you happen to go during the week, it can be much quieter, as then the restaurant is occupied only by regulars who treat this place like home. If you’re with a larger crowd, the platters are the best way to go. You get to explore beloved Ethiopian staples like kitfo, an Ethiopian steak tartare seasoned with cloves, cardamom, and a chili pepper similar to cayenne. The result is an irresistibly tender meat ideal for scooping up in large handfuls with injera. Part of the experience of Ethiopian cuisine is eating with your hands. It creates a communal atmosphere, and it’s surprisingly gratifying to forgo utensils.
On the east side of town on Danforth Avenue, in a neighbourhood well-known for its historic Greek restaurants and culture, there’s an unassuming orange sign that’s known and beloved by locals: Rendez-Vous. Enter through their doors and you’re met with a gush of warmth and happy voices. The restaurant is an extremely popular weekend spot for those looking for a bit of an escape from the day-to-day of city living. Find a seat towards the back and soak up the inviting atmosphere. The restaurant is decked out in sun-baked shades of deep red and orange, and giant straw lampshades give a cozy rural touch. Make sure to ask for the coffee ceremony to top off your rich meal. They roast their coffee in house and bring the smoking beans around for you to smell as they’re being prepared. You get a bowl of popcorn alongside the coffee, which is poured into cute little cups for everyone at the table to sample.
Ethiopian food is so flavourful and satisfying, you’ll want to make it a staple when dining out in Toronto. What many locals love about Ethiopian isn’t just the food, but the whole atmosphere: warm, communal, ceremonial. These Ethiopian spots will make you feel at home immediately, from the first hearty bite to the last sip of excellent coffee.