San Jose >Zeni Ethiopian Restaurant
Classic Ethiopian food.
Zeni's is a very good "hole in the wall" Ethiopian restaurant which I have been to many times. It is a favorite of the local Ethiopian community, and for good reason: the food is excellent, and I would compare it well to Berkeley's highly-regarded "Blue Nile".
While I do enjoy the meat dishes, especially the gored-gored (cubes of filet mignon in a spicy pepper-and-butter sauce) and the kitfo (freshly-ground beef mixed with dry spices, served with Ethiopian cottage cheese) served "lub-lub"/very rare, the vegetable dishes are particularly rich and satisfying. The red lentils, yellow chick-peas and the collard greens are all a must-have, and the flatbread ("injera") it is served with and upon is very tasty. A bottle of tej (Ethiopian mead/honey-wine) keeps the fire managable. Be prepared to eat with your fingers! The food is served "family-style", on a large plate covered with a layer of injera; your dishes are served on the injera and you scoop up little bits with more pieces of injera. When it's all gone, you eat the injera the food was served on; that's the best part! Be sure to try the spiced tea, which is excellent.
The only dishes I would not recommend are the chicken dishes, which are consistently on the dry side. Also note that, while this is an excellent place to take your vegetarian friends, if they're all-the-way "vegan" things will be more difficult; butter is used extensively in many of the sauces.
There is a downside, and that is the pace of service. There is almost always a line to get in (especially on weeknights), and given the very small size of the place, you'll be waiting outside. Once inside, the wait-staff is friendly and cheerful, but the service is on the "relaxed" side; given that much of the food is made-to-order, I understand. Nonetheless, set aside plenty of time.
The restaurant itself is also, as mentioned, small. The guests are packed in as tightly as the fire marshal will allow. There is a side room with traditional Ethiopian furniture (and a non-traditional keyboardist some nights); the tables are small and a little claustrophobic, and the traditional furniture is a bit on the wobbly side. Seating parties larger than four is well-nigh impossible, so if you have more than four, be prepared to split up.
All that being said, the prices are very reasonable and the food is very good. If you're more interested in flavor than atmosphere and not in a hurry, give Zeni's a try.
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