One easy, easy way to set your restaurant apart in the crowded field of Austin food is to provide good service. It’s a rarity, and always has been. There are too many nuclear engineers in town who’ve been thrown to the wolves of waiting tables for it to ever get better.
That waitress with a sneer on her face? She has an undergrad degree from UT and would rather be anywhere else in this world than where she is; hustling out pancakes to a packed house at Magnolia Cafe. While the food at Habesha Restaurant is good, it’s the service that really shines. We have 3 waitresses hovering over us for the duration of our visit. Water glass half empty? One of the trio peels off, sprints to the waiter station and heaves herself back to our table to fill us to the brim.
It could be annoying but the ladies are so charming that we actually enjoy being attended to in this fashion; a bit of Four Seasons level service on the I-35 feeder road.
Houmous Fitfit arrives as a cold starter and it’s fine. The menu describes it, bewitchingly, as a cold salad with spiced chickpeas, fresh diced tomatoes, thinly sliced purple onions, and chiles. It’s dressed with red bell peppers and olive oil and is then blended with shredded injera. Not an earthshaking starter but a good palate awakener.
We are absolutely starving so we tack into 2 mains: Siga Wot, a simmered beef dish and Beg Key Wot; lamb cooked with onion, garlic, ginger, berbere and butter.
The Siga Wot is pure soul food; plastic spoon tender beef that has been cooked “down” with onion, garlic and ginger. A trio of side condiments arrive and I spy what I believe to be harissa which the waitress confirms. Mouths ignite and we happily power through our plates. With a couple minor adjustments this dish would be right at home at a diner in Tuscaloosa.
Beg Key Wot is even better. Lamb’s hard to get right, but Habesha really delivers on this dish. The melange of onion, garlic and ginger is bound together with a prayer to the spiced butter gods. We fold it into the house injera (gluten free for the non-gmo crowd) and make crude Ethiopian tacos, topped with more harissa cause this is Texas damnit-we like it hot out here.
The remodel on the room is very fetching. The owner, Salem, explains that all the furnishings are authentic and have been imported from Ethiopia. The flat panel TV over the bar probably issues from a separate provenance.
The rehab is really driven home when it dawns on us that we’ve eaten here before when the tenant was a low grade taqueria with sombreros tacked up everywhere. We prefer looking at the silk painting of the breathtaking Church of St. George, one of a handful of Ethiopian churches that pilgrims travel to from across the globe.
It would not be an Ethiopian meal without the infamous coffee ceremony. Green beans are roasted to order and much ado is made during the presentation. Austin baristas take note; the gals at Habesha might stroll into your shop one morning and smack that look off your face. Our coffee is delicious, delivered gracefully and with enough friendliness to ensure that we’ll be coming back-again and again.
Habesha Restaurant and Bar
6019 IH 35 N.
Monday–Thursday 11am – 10pm
Friday & Saturday 11am – Midnight
Liquor, beer and wine available