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Wake Me Up Before You Gojo

A North Seattle Ethiopian eatery offers spicy sublimity.

On an evening earlier this week I was cravingEthiopian food. But, having already situated myself firmly into a state of “hunkered down” for the night, even the siren’s call of injera couldn’t roust me from my couch. I turned to Facebook to lament the regrettable state of affairs.

 “Wishing for a local Ethiopian restaurant that would deliver…”

A friend living on the rural southern Oregon coast quickly countered, “I am wishing there was one that didn’t require a 200 mile drive!”

She had me there. Among the many laudable facets of the Puget Sound region is the availability of a diverse palette of cuisines from all over the globe. I’ve been living in an urban area long enough that I’ve started to take for granted this easy access to the world’s fare.

By the next day, my hankering for Ethiopian hadn’t been quelled, and I easily convinced a dining companion to join me for an Eastern African dinner. A bit of research identified the North Seattle restaurant Gojo as being the Ethiopian joint closest to Edmonds. Located on Aurora Avenue at 135th Street, it’s a short drive south but certainly no 200-mile trek.

Gojo sits on the southern end of an eclectic strip mall occupied by European Foods market and anArthur Murray Dance Studio and is easily missed from an Aurora pass-by. Even up close, with drawn curtains and a bleak façade, the restaurant doesn’t look like much outside. Gojo’s interior is a much different story, replete with tables dressed in embroidered cloths of gold and white. Large colorful box lanterns hang from the ceiling, covering fluorescent lights in tissue and large photos to make glowing overhead scenes.

A small bar area graced by a thatched awning hosted a couple of men enjoying afternoon drinks. In a decorated corner alcove, a group of enthusiastic diners huddled around a basket-table known as a mesob, cheerily recounting tales of African travel.

Whereas I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I dine at Ethiopian restaurants frequently, it’s a cuisine I greatly enjoy and Gojo is at least the fifth local Ethiopian restaurant I’ve explored. For those unfamiliar with the cuisine, I can only encourage interest. Stews—or wats—are a trademark of the Ethiopian table, and contain a variety of legumes, vegetables and meats. Torn pieces of injera, a pliable flatbread made from teff flour, are used to pinch up the courses in bite-size parcels. Nope, no silverware. Moist and spongy, the bread’s sourdough flavor pairs beautifully with the richly spiced fare.

Ethiopian restaurants typically offer a vegetable or meat-centric combo platter, an excellent way to sample a variety of dishes. On our visit to Gojo, my companion and I opted for the Veggie Combination ($13) plus an order of spicy chicken stew known as Doro Wat ($13). Though some Ethiopian places carry an appetizer list, Gojo’s bare-bones menu lists entrees only.

As expected, our rainbow ring of vegetable delights arrived on a large round platter. The sweetheart of a server poured a bowl of doro wat into the center of the plate and bestowed upon us a full basket of rolled injera. In my experiences, some restaurants will allot a finite amount of injera and then avoid making eye contact when the bread-to-wat ratio becomes skewed in favor of the stews. Not the case at Gojo…we had a seemingly bottomless injera basket.

The brick-red doro wat had enough fire to warm the palate without searing, and it paired well with fluffy white cheese that was unexpected member of the veggie line-up. In all my Ethiopian veggie combo encounters, this was my first encounter with a dairy course, and though the cheese looked like soft feta, it was much more mild in flavor than the Greek staple. We tore from the bone pieces of tender chicken and managed to piece apart the hard-boiled egg (a doro wat essential) without torpedoing it across the plate.

Vegetable dishes are done exceptionally well at Gojo. The slightly sweet mash of kik alecha’s yellow split peas and the sassy, peppery red lentils of mesir wat were both comfort foods. The legumes’ success was rivaled by that of the leafy greens, as the chopped collards of gomen took on a buttery quality. Most dramatically piquing my interest and taste buds, however, was a green bean dish I’ve not had elsewhere in Ethiopian restaurants. Blended with chunks of tender carrot, the string-thinharicots verts had a smoky, charred flavor. Unique and delectable.

Though a touch removed from Edmonds and clearly out of central Seattle’s high-density zone for Ethiopian restaurants, from either direction Gojo is worth the travel. The pleasant, comfortable atmosphere and delightful East African flavors beckon Ethiopian newbies and vets alike.

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