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Tucked between a Payless and a branch bank in Uptown, there’s a tiny glass storefront, the most distinguishing features of which are the sacks of brown teff flour stacked by the dozens in the window. This new, unnamed bakery specializes in the tangy, spongy, fermented flatbread injera, milled from that grain native to the Ethiopian highlands.
It’s a testament to the appetite for this essential East African staple in Uptown and Edgewater, where it’s produced and consumed in variety. Around the corner, on Lawrence Avenue, there’s another small storefront trafficking in the same thing. I wrote about the spot four years ago when it was Lake Langano, a counter service Ethiopian-Chinese takeout spot, with an unusual specialty: qocho, or false banana bread, a dense, chewy starch served with berbere-spiced kitfo (aka Ethiopian beef tartare).
Earlier this summer the place relaunched under new owners as Tesfa (“hope” in Amharic), ditching the Chinese cuisine, keeping the qocho, and adding four different varieties of injera with different teff concentrations to meet differing tastes and regional preferences. That means you can dredge up your key sir alicha and zilzil tibs with anything from 100 percent teff injera to a pure wheat-flour injera, and several options in between.
The variety of bread isn’t evident on the menu, but it is in the other offerings, which span breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and even include a proprietary dessert they call the B-Tesfa, sort of a beignet smothered in whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and ice cream.
Have you ever had Ethiopian breakfast? There are some nine dishes falling in that category, most of them cooked in the herb-spiced butter kibbeh, like the “inqulal be-avocado,” or eggs scrambled with avocado. The same can be had plain or scrambled with beef, though you wouldn’t want to forgo accessorizing that with some fol normal, smashed chickpeas cooked with onions and garlic, or ye-timatim firfir—tomatoes, jalapeños, and onions mixed with injera.
At lunch and dinner you’ll find the usual assortment of pulses and vegetable dishes, along with the standard intoxicatingly aromatic meaty stews, and a handful of more uncommon things such as the aforementioned key sir alicha (a medley of red beets and potatoes), ground salmon cooked with chickpea flour (yeasa wot), as well as stir-fried tripe, liver, and lamb (dulet). Order it family style and you’re likely to receive a platter loaded with extras, like hard-cooked eggs, fresh cheese, and more injera than you can handle. There are only three tables in the dining room—a total of eight seats—which offers no hint of the diverse output this tiny kitchen is capable of.
Tesfa Ethiopian Cuisine, 1023 W. Wilson, 312-698-4481