The East Bay is home to a large Ethiopian community, made evident by the Ethiopian restaurants that dot Telegraph Avenue and the surrounding neighborhoods in Oakland and Berkeley. Still, it took me several tries until I found an Ethiopian restaurant in the East Bay that stood up as some of the best Ethiopian food I’ve had.
Cafe Colucci doesn’t sound like an Ethiopian name, but the menu is authentic. So authentic, in fact, that they don’t carry my favorite dish sometimes served at other Ethiopian restaurants: bamya alicha, a deliciously spicy okra stew that is strikingly similar to the Iranian khoresh-e bamiyeh. I’ve been told at other Ethiopian restaurants that bamya alicha isn’t truly Ethiopian, hence why most restaurants don’t serve it.
Cafe Colucci’s menu is instead filled with Ethiopian classics: azifa, messer-wot, kifto and the ubiquitous doro tibs. During our visit, my friend Dominic and I ate family style, as is the norm at Ethiopian restaurants, and shared a platter of doro tibs (chicken sautéed with spices and tomatoes), azifa (spiced lentils), messer-wot (lentils in berbere sauce), kik-alicha (split peas in turmeric sauce), gomen (collard greens) and atakilt (string beans, carrots and potatoes sautéed in turmeric sauce).
Ethiopian lentils, greens, vegetables and chicken tibs
The split peas and lentils were my favorite - spicy, smoky and very slightly sweet. We ate with our hands, sopping everything up with addictively chewy and sour pieces of injera bread. The best part about Ethiopian food is that even after you’re done eating everything on your platter, there remains a huge piece of injera underneath, soaked with the flavors of each component of the meal.
I usually get a stomach ache after eating here, but I think that has much more to do with the huge portions and spiciness of the food than anything else. The stomach pains are worth it though, and Cafe Colucci has become my go-to Ethiopian restaurant in the East Bay.