Since the Alligator Soul is now closed, I officially move to replace the crawfish etoufee with the Altaye Special at Altaye Ethiopian Restaurant on the Seattle Foodie 100 list. I've already had one person second the motion, and several have been in favor. There. It's a done deal. You're welcome! Sadly, I have not yet figured out how to have the owner of the list update it with changes like this.
Simply put, Altaye is one of Seattle's best hidden gems. Located at 8135 Rainier Avenue South in Seattle, you will find one of the most welcoming restaurants in all of Seattle. It's in a rather small and unassuming building, but do not be deterred by appearances. The owners, Essa and Titi, are incredibly friendly, and they serve up some spectacular food for great prices! If something were to happen to this restaurant, I would pitch an unabashed fit!
If you've never had Ethiopian food before, you need to head over to this place. Fair warning though: you might not like Ethiopian food at other restaurants once you've tried this place! I make no apologies for the fact that knowledge of this restaurant's food will ruin other Ethiopian food for you! I've had Ethiopian food at other establishments, and it was just not good at all. NOT good, I tell you. We're talking the "Wow, dinner last night just wasn't a good idea" kind of not good. No, I won't publicly name names, though you can probably figure it out if you do some hunting.
Where you're going: you don't need forks. Since you will be eating with your fingers, just wash your hands (they do have a restroom available), and get ready to be dazzled! To describe Ethiopian food, I would say it's similar to Indian food, but there won't be any rice or naan. If that description turns you off - don't be misled. You will love this stuff! Hey, you never know if you like or dislike something until you've tried it, right? Eat it! It tastes good, I promise! Let them know that you've never had Ethiopian food, and they will guide you through the process. If you are a vegetarian, they will provide some wonderful lentils and a wide array of vegetable sides.
If you decide to stop by just for lunch or dinner, you should order the Altaye Special. For $12.95, you will receive a huge plate of food with a side of unlimited injera bread. The special will feed 2 easily. That's right, for less than $7/person, you will leave feeling as happy as a stuffed tick at a nudist camp! Their sambusas are great too, though the Altaye Special will be more than enough for you. The first time we went here, we ordered 2 sambusas and 2 specials, and Essa reined us back in since that would have been way more food than we needed. I give them mad props for not trying to upsell us on food!
What is injera, you ask? Injera is a crepe flat bread, and the pores that form on the top of the bread help soak up some of the yummy goodness on your plate. Titi makes the injera herself every day, and she even grinds the flour herself! It is made from teff flour, so for those with Celiac disease, yes it is a gluten-free bread. It does have a slightly sour taste, though it's not nearly as sour as sourdough. A friend once had enjera bread (from somewhere else across the world in England) that tasted like dirty dishsoap. Let's suffice it to say - they didn't do it right. Some places don't use true teff flour, so if you've had bad injera experiences at other Ethiopian restaurants, that might have been part of the culprit.
I mentioned you don't need forks, right? Basically the way you eat Ethiopian food is you tear off a piece about the size of 2 to 3 of your fingers, and you scoop up the food with the injera. Think of it like a mini-taco. Once you've started to clear some space on your plate, eat some of the injera at the bottom of your plate. It will be even tastier than the other injera since it has all of the food flavors thoroughly soaked into it.
When we order, we usually get the Altaye Special plus an order of the chicken tibs (pictured in the bowl), and we specially request them to be extra-extra spicy. For those of you who enjoy spicy food, this is one of the few places in Seattle where you can request some spicy and delicious food! Those chicken tibs are superb! My stomach doesn't handle spicy food very well, but I am unable to control myself when Titi's chicken tibs are at stake.
When you order the Altaye Special, you will notice some white cottage-cheese type of stuff on the platter. That is the eyeb (also known as aib, ayib, iab, etc). Save that for last. Basically it's very similar to a dry cottage cheese, and it's to help calm your stomach down after you throw so many foreign spices and flavors at it. If you're lactose-intolerant, I can't help you there. If you have a particularly sensitive stomach like I do, feel free to ask for a little extra eyeb. Just make sure that is the last thing you toss down your gullet!
A few times a year, I host a group event here for some friends through the Yelp and Meetup crowd. For $10 per person (the group rate), you get all of the food you could possibly desire. She usually serves a few extra options than you will normally find on the Altaye Special. If you would like to join us for one of our group events, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email. Just let me know if you require a vegetarian meal or if you have any food allergies. The picture on the left is a platter for 4 people.
Never once have any of my guests said "Eh, it was alright" when they were done. Don't let the surrounding location deter you. We've parked on the street hidden our valuables (be smart, people - you should never do this anywhere!), and we've never had any issues. Sure, it's not in the most desirable part of town (by Seattle standards), but it's still not bad. The food is at a great price, service is superb, and the food is simply the best Ethiopian food in town!
In summary, there are a few staples at every Ethiopian restaurant:
1) Tasty, fresh injera bread = Altaye gets a check in this category.
2) Warm fuzzies from the restaurant owners = Altaye gets a check-plus-plus in this category. This place is also very kid-friendly. Titi just loves children, and they adore her!
3) Tasty, tasty noms = Altaye also gets a check-plus-plus in this category. The flavors might be a little foreign to those with limited food experiences, but they're great!