Experience Ethiopian in Center City at Almaz Café

Today Luncher John is having Ethiopian for Lunch 

On 20th Street, between Walnut and Sansom, is the rather unassuming Almaz Café. Nothing from its exterior or even the inside would immediately indicate that Almaz was anything more than just a small coffee shop. And it’s certainly true that Almaz, open from 8 a.m. during weekdays, has a wide selection of coffee, espresso, and mocha drinks. But it’s not until you check out the menu that you realize that Almaz offers a whole lot more, from breakfast dishes, to sandwiches, to some solid Ethiopian food.

It’s a fair description to say that Almaz has something to eat or drink (well, except for alcohol) for every possible part of your day. Inside the café, the display case has bagels, muffins, and other breakfast fare. Healthy fruits are displayed, along with desserts like cake, cookies, and baklava. People stop in for some delicious Ethiopian coffee or smoothies. Then there are hot breakfast dishes like scrambled eggs, French toast, and omelets available all day long (just in case you get a hankering for pancakes at night). You want to come in for an afternoon snack or dessert? You can order ice cream or choose from the baked goods.

There are two types of lunches and dinner options (Almaz operates as a BYO). First, you can order from the “American” side of the menu for burgers, wraps, sandwiches, and salads. I ordered the BBQ chicken wrap ($8.75). It’s a spinach tortilla with roasted chicken, cheddar, pesto sauce, and various vegetables including lettuce, sautéed onions, and roasted peppers. The chicken was warm and exuded a tasty barbecue flavor. With the sauce, it was a little messy to eat, so make sure you get a couple of napkins. Chips are on the side to add to your meal.

It would be a mistake to not try the Ethiopian selection on your visit to Almaz. Unfortunately, none of them come in under $10, but sometimes, it’s worth making an exception. I took out Zilzil Tibs ($14.50), which are strips of beef sautéed with onions and herbs. It comes with a side of the vegetarian dish sampler as well as ample injera (Almaz spells its version as “enjera”). For those unfamiliar with Ethiopian cuisine, you use your hands, with the “bread” serving as your utensil. The enjera was thin (somewhere in thickness between a crepe and a pancake) and malleable. The beef emanated a fantastic smoked meat aroma and was delicious. For the side, the Tikil Gomen, an Ethiopian specialty of cabbage, carrots, and potatoes, particularly stood out. Never before has a cabbage dish tasted so good.

Another selection, the FirFir ($13.50), was almost as good. For this dish, there’s a piece of enjera moistened with beef and simmered in sauce with garlic and spices. The mixture was well seasoned and tasty. Because enjera is already mixed in, it’s not as easy to tell what’s in each portion you pick up and eat. Still, every morsel is worth finishing.

For the Ethiopian selections, you get more than enough enjera bread, so you don’t need to worry about conserving pieces of it. Ethiopian is a fantastic cuisine that is underrepresented in the city, especially in Center City. Stop by Almaz to give it a try.

THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
· Enormous and varied menu selections, from breakfast on the go, to sandwiches, to desserts, to Ethiopian food.
· Huge portions of first-rate Ethiopian dishes.

THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
· I do not like to eat food with my hands, and Ethiopian food is too unfamiliar to me.
· The Ethiopian selections are all over $10.

Almaz Cafe, 140 South 20th Street, 215-557-0108, almazcafe.com


1 Comment

  • I’ve eaten here on numerous occasions. It’s a great spot for Ethiopian food. The DoroWat is excellent. Highly recommended for a low key dinner.

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