Dukem The Best Ethiopian Restaurant in DC?

DSCN0200, originally uploaded by Prince of Petworth.

I have heard people rave about this spot. So tell me two things – is this the best Ethiopian restaurant in DC? What makes it stand out from all the others? I’m personally not a huge fan of Ethiopian restaurants in general and I don’t mean to sound ignorant or uncultured but in DC people seem to go bananas over Ethiopian food and I just don’t get it. So, secondly, tell me what is the great appeal? Is it the communal eating or is it something specific about the particular dishes, flavor, spices, etc.? Alright, I recognize I might sound like a lout but I’m seriously curious.

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    I love the spice palate, which is really unlike anything else you’ll get in DC, and the wonderful variety of vegetarian dishes the area restaurants offer. I haven’t been to Dukem yet, but the vegetarian sampler at Etete is a serious guilty pleasure of mine – earthy chickpea and lentil stews, cabbage, potatoes, and the sweetest, mildest collard greens you’ve ever had. I also love doro wat, the spicy chicken stew that is flavored with berbere (a spice mix made up mainly of cayenne and paprika), spiced butter, and red wine and cooked down until the meat falls off the bone. I also love injera – sourdough flavor in soft, bubbly crepe form. Yum!

  • You’re allowed to not like Ethiopian food. My mother can’t deal with ANY Indian food, she hates all the spice combinations.

    I got bored with Ethiopian years ago, so I rarely go anymore. When I was 18 or 19 it was so new, so strange and so fresh, that we’d always go. 20 years later…

  • meh….tis ok, but i think it’s overrated. some of the smaller, hole-in-the-wall ethiopian places are better, in my opinion

  • We used to live nearby, so Dukem was our convenient Ethiopian place, but I still maintain that the standard-bearer is Meskerem in Adams Morgan. I don’t care that its not a whole in the wall, their combo plates are the shizz.

  • I have heard people rave about this spot. So tell me two things – is this the best Ethiopian restaurant in DC?

    Absolutely not. Etete.

    I’m personally not a huge fan of Ethiopian restaurants in general and I don’t mean to sound ignorant or uncultured but in DC people seem to go bananas over Ethiopian food and I just don’t get it. So, secondly, tell me what is the great appeal?

    One word: Kitfo.

    Make sure to tell them to serve it to you Ethiopian style.

    And to the person that said the standard barrier in Ethiopian food is Meskerem, I say, for shame. For shame.

  • Etete is definitely better than Dukem, IMO. In fact, of the five or so places I’ve been, I’d say it’s the best, while the second best was the now-closed Roha. Additionally, the service at Dukem each time I’ve been has been marginal to poor.

    There is one good reason to go, however. I’m not sure if this is offered year-round, but Dukem offers certain platters with the option to add on a whole roasted fish. For the 3 or 4 bucks they charge you, this is a steal, and both times I’ve gotten it the fish has been juicy and delicious. Eating a whole roasted fish with your bare hands is a little weird, but well worth the effort.

  • No no no no no. I live across the street from Dukem, it’s fine and all, but hands-down, in my opinion, Etete is the best Ethiopian in the city. I LOVE the vegetarian sampler from Etete and man they’re injera is soooo good.

    What’s good about Ethiopian? The food is good, it’s spicy, flavorful, and really filling. And it’s fun to eat with your hands. Go to Etete and try it, PoP.

  • Etete is definitely fantastic, the only reason I go to Dukem more often is because I don’t find the super cramped city-style tables-two-inches-from-each-other atmosphere very appealing. You’re practically in your neighbors’ laps most of the time — but hey, for their plates, it is worth it once in awhile.

    I’ll admit part of the enjoyment about Ethiopian food for me, at least, is that I’d never had it, or seen it anywhere until I came here — and now it’s on every street corner. The Ethiopian culture here is actually a little defining slice of DC, and I’ll often take out-of-town friends to dinner at one of these spots, as their official DC meal — better than a half-smoke at Bens!

    And, you know, most importantly, it’s just really delicious.

  • The whole fried (not roasted) fish at Dukem is awesome. The rest of the food is all right, but not the best, as others have said. Also, I’ve had slow and inattentive service every time I’ve eaten there. Etete is the best (get the doro wat!), but Meskerem is also pretty good.

    The reason I like eating Ethiopian is because you can experience a myriad of flavors all at once. Each dish is complex and deeply spiced–the food tastes totally different from most other cuisines. If you get a sampler platter, you can switch it up with every bite. I suppose it’s not for everyone, but it’s great if you like lots of strong flavors.

  • the food at dukem was fine, but i’m no connisseur – i’ve only been to dukem and meskarem (though i liked the latter better). my issue was the incense – the potent stuff was floating like agent orange all around the restaurant. it ruined the taste of the food and gave me a bad headache to boot. unfortunately, it’s common to many ethiopian restaurants, and many other restaurants as well . . .

  • Another vote for Etete. Although Dukem has a bigger more relaxed space.

  • cannot believe all these votes for Etete over Dukem. We tried Etete the other night after going to Dukem for years and Etete could not compare. Dukem is always filled with at least 50% Ethiopian customers, which for us is a real sign of food quality in a ethnic restaurant. The only Ethiopians in Etete were the wait staff, the customer base was solely white 20 somethings. Ditto for Meskerem the last time we ate there.

    The Dukem specialty lamb tibs—if you’re a carnivore, they’re great. And get the honey wine (tej)—even if you don’t like sweet wines—the tej goes great with the spices.

  • When I was in high school, Dukem used to be a liquor store that never EVER asked for ID. It was pretty awesome.

  • I have to disagree with all of you. Lalibela on 14th and P is definitely the best Ethiopian in the city. Plus, the Ethiopan cab drivers seem to agree. Definitely a smaller “hole in the wall” type place, but always filled with natives and perfectly spiced food that is unbelievably addictive! The Lalibela combo for two is the way to go – includes all of your standard meat and veggie options to share.

  • Etete is great – my all around favorite. I think Dukem has great food, but since they have live music & dancing many nights it’s packed and so loud you can’t have a conversation – so I don’t go there anymore. The food is really nice though. There’s also a very simple cafeteria-style Ethiopian restaurant across the street from Etete, but don’t remember the name. They don’t have a liquor licenses, so no alcohol. It’s very inexpensive though, and the food is good – a great take-out option.

  • Etete is by far the best Ethiopian food west of Ethiopia! It is the only place that I would eat Kitfo or Gored Gored (raw beef) and feel safe – and those dishes are to die for!

  • Ethiopian is okay to me, but i never crave it. Maybe i haven’t been to great places….Lalibela and Almaz. Both were kind of underwhelming.

  • Also, Prince, I would point out to you that the reason we in DC have so many Ethiopian restaurants and, therefore, rave about all the Ethiopian restaurants, is because DC has the largest population of Ethiopians outside of Ethiopia.

  • Takeout at Zenebach Injera at 6th and T is the tastiest, spiciest Ethiopian in DC. For sit-down, I’ll vote for Queen of Sheba (9th and P), but Etete is awesome, too. Dukem’s fine for sitting outdoors.

    I like Ethiopian both because it’s a delicious, exotic taste, and because it’s one of the most filling and inexpensive–an important quality for a poor and hungry young man.

  • Dukem is quite good, but often too crowded.
    An excellent and quiet place is Queen Makeda, 1917 9th St (1/2 a block off U…or Florida?).
    Fantastic food and cozy atmosphere, serious “hole-in-the-wall” feel. Quick, attentive service as you’re never more than 10 steps away from the bar (the place is that small).
    We’ve been there twice and loved it. I’ve been able to tune out the soccer match on the TV that hangs above the bar.
    Bummer is – no outdoor seating.

    For even more out-of-the-way Ethiopian food in a place that’s yet smaller than Queen Makeda, check out Flamingo, on the 1100 block of V St. We went there once – I felt as if we were the first non-Ethiopians to ever visit them. I think there’s only 3 tables. I’m guessing they stay in business selling drinks to the many Ethiopians who hang out back smoking.


  • I do not like Dukem! The only time I’ve visited I’ve really felt like a tourist, what with hoards of U-street visitors, unfriendly staff, etc… and besides that, meat was dry and somewhat tasteless.. Give me Lalibela any day! I LOVE that place.

  • Dukem is the middle-ground for Ethiopian places in DC- decent seating, mediocre service, decent food and entertainment, and the prices aren’t off the charts. It’s where I take out of town visitors for decent Ethiopian.

  • Queen of Sheba, every time I have gone in there I and my companions have been the only non Ethiopians in the place. The curry lamb is amazing, and the rest of the food is generally top notch. Furthermore the staff is extremely attentive and friendly and its usually easy to get a table. There is also a secret Ethiopian nightclub downstairs, but I haven’t figured out how to get invited into it, yet.

  • Most Ethiopian restaurants in this city were started to serve the local expatriot Ethiopian community, which I knew was big, but the above poster informed us is the largest outside of Ethiopia. I don’t know if that’s true, but it certainly seems reasonable. With that said, I don’t know if any of the restaurants caters to non-Ethiopian tastes. I had the food once, made by someone Ethiopian I knew. But I’ve never been to any of the numerous DC Ethiopian locales. Maybe I’m not adventurous. Really, really spicy is just too hot for me. And with the exception of fried chicken or pizza, I just may be too stuffy to eat with my fingers. I should break down and try one of the above-mentioned places.

  • If eating baby food with dishrags is what you’re into, Queen Makeda can’t be beat. Tell ’em Monkey sent ya! Then run.

  • I like Madjet best.

  • Dukem used to be much better — the food hasn’t really changed, but the place is mad crowded now. It’s like an Ethiopian Lauriol Plaza now. And Etete??? Again, the food is OK (not great, just OK), but the decor is HORRENDOUS!!! It scores a whopping ZERO on the charm and character meter. The place looks like something from an IKEA showroom now. The place across the street next to the bakery IMO is a much nicer spot to eat (although the food is comparable). Meskerem doesn’t even register. Now, for the best throw-down Ethiopian spot (no fancy chairs or swirly blue lights)….. Nile on Georgia Ave is my favorite. Was there last night, in fact, and I live at 16th and Irving.

  • I realize that my comment is coming almost two months late, but I’m surprised to see not even one single mention of Almaz (1212 U St). I have not been to any of the other Ethiopian places yet (hope to soon), but I have been to Almaz several times and love it. Great food and great service!

  • Since posting my previous comment, I have been to Dukem and Madjet and I think Almaz is still my favorite, followed by Madjet in second place.

  • The owner of Etete was the chef at Fasikas. I miss Fasika’s it was the best ethiopian restaurant in DC. Dukem is awful. Etete too tiny.

  • Etete is the best Ethiopian I’ve had in this city, but for the best Ethiopian I’ve ever had period, you have to take a day-trip to Richmond. The service, food, and atmosphere at Nile cafe is the best I’ve ever experienced and every time I go back there I want some more.

  • I’d also like to add (like so many others) that I take out-of-town visitors to Dukem, but that’s pretty much it. It’s a tourist trap, and the service is awful. The food is passable, and the entertainment is decent, but it’s exasperating trying to flag down waitstaff (most of whose command of English is questionable at best).

    I’m curious about Madjet, I’ve never been there. Has anyone been to Dahlak yet?

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