With Colorado’s rich history of Ethiopian immigration, which was sparked by the Ethiopian Civil War in the 1970s and 80s, it’s no surprise that Denver and Aurora are hotspots for some of the best Ethiopian restaurants nationwide.

But back when Ethiopian eateries started popping up on East Colfax Avenue, these spots were often serving an ignorant, albeit curious, crowd. “When I was a kid, people had no idea what Ethiopia was,” says Nardos Negussie of the Ethiopian Restaurant, Colorado’s first Ethiopian and African eatery. “When my parents started, no one knew what it was. Now there’s a Simpsons episode with Ethiopian food in it.”

Case in point: Many diners didn’t know that Ethiopian food is often eaten with your hands. Almost every meal at these restaurants is served on and with injera—a spongy, sour flatbread—but without utensils. Diners have become more educated over the years, and with so many local options, we suggest you peruse our list (in no particular order) of some of the best Ethiopian restaurants in and around Denver, order an Ethiopian coffee or tej (a traditional honey wine), and enjoy a one-of-a-kind dining experience.

The Ethiopian Restaurant

The Ethiopian Restaurant's special tibs on injera with lentils and cabbage.
The Ethiopian Restaurant’s special tibs. Photo by Ethan Pan

Although the environs around the Ethiopian Restaurant’s location on East Colfax Avenue have radically changed since the eatery’s opening 38 years ago, its storefront, painted with the colors of the Ethiopian flag, still stands. Original owners Negussie Denku and Elleni Mekonnen imagined the spot as a hangout for the then-tiny local Ethiopian community—just 15 to 20 people—according to the couple’s daughter Nardos Negussie. Four decades later, Mekonnen, the matriarch of the family-run joint, is still cooking her takes on her homeland’s dishes. The special tibs—chunks of beef sautéed in a spice-infused, clarified butter—is served atop Mekonnen’s toasty, crispy-at-the-edges injera made with both wheat and teff, an East African grain which was unavailable in Colorado in the 1980s. 2816 E. Colfax Ave.

Konjo Ethiopian Food

A plate from Konjo Ethiopian at Edgewater Public Market. Photo courtesy of Konjo Ethiopian

Konjo’s stall inside Edgewater Public Market gives Denverites living west of downtown their only chance to taste Ethiopian fare close to home. Co-owners Fetien Gebre-Michael and Yoseph Assefa, longtime friends who also operate Konjo Catering and the Ethiopian Food Truck, let visitors to the food hall choose from a pared down, fast-casual menu of the country’s greatest culinary hits: chicken, beef, and lamb tibs, as well as a veggie delight combo for which you can pick three out of the four vegan dishes available. If you opt for the latter, we recommend the miser (red lentils), kik (yellow split peas), and the gomen with dinich (spinach and potatoes). Also don’t miss Konjo’s weekend brunch menu of breakfast burritos and scrambles. Edgewater Public Market, 5505 W. 20th Ave., Suite 106, Edgewater

Ras Kassa’s Ethiopian Restaurant

Pan-fried trout at Ras Kassa’s. Photo by Ethan Pan

Ras Kassa’s has resided in many different storefronts in its 36 years: a spot at the Highway 93 turnoff toward Eldorado Canyon (its first location), a long-time residence in the heart of Boulder disrupted by the construction of a new Google campus, and, since 2017, a colorful outpost in Lafayette. Owner Tsehay Hailu’s simple but bold flavors reflect this enduring legacy. We recommend diving into your meal with an appetizer of homemade farmer’s cheese served with injera and fresh tomatoes. Then try a hard-to-find entrée like the assa—chile-spiked, pan-fried Rocky Mountain red trout whose crispy skin plays well with the tender injera—or the engudai, mushrooms cooked in African red wine. 802 S. Public Road, Lafayette

Mesob Ethiopian Restaurant

Mesob Ethiopian Restaurant’s beef tongue. Photo by Ethan Pan

Letty Zelelew’s sleek 18-year-old eatery in Montclair is a date-night-ready destination for East African eats. When you arrive, request to be seated near one of the namesake mesobs—traditional baskets used to store injera and serve meals—and settle down with a round of beers from St. George, which, at over 100 years old, is the oldest Ethiopian brewery. Then, split a classic veggie combo with red lentils, yellow split peas, cabbage with potatoes and carrots, and collard greens. If you’re feeling adventurous, try Mesob’s version of beef tongue, which is sautéed with jalapeños and onions and served with a dollop of awaze (a thick hot sauce featuring berbere, a chile-forward spice blend ubiquitous in Ethiopian cuisine). 1422 Poplar St.

Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant and Bar

Abyssinia’s veggie combo with doro wot. Photo by Ethan Pan

This South Park Hill spot, with its cozy, inviting atmosphere and its wide-spanning menu, is a perfect place to dip your toes into Ethiopian cuisine. If you’re coming in with a few friends, here’s our recommendation: Order a bottle of honey wine for the table, then pair the doro wot—chicken drumsticks stewed in a rich, slightly spicy sauce—with the seven-item vegetarian combo. The injera comes packed with a colorful array of fare—we especially liked the green beans—with which you and your pals can experiment, creating different combinations of dishes to find your ideal bite. 5707 E. Colfax Ave.

Eatopia: Eat Ethiopian

Eatopia’s shifinfin served atop dark injera. Photo by Ethan Pan

Chef-owner Seble Gobena first debuted Eatopia in 2013 but closed the restaurant after a year due to a lack of capital. We’re glad she made the leap to reopen the laidback spot on Havana Street three years ago. Although Eatopia serves many vegetarian classics, the restaurant is also a boon for meat lovers. If you’re not ready to take on the kurt siga (hunks of raw steak served with assorted condiments), go for the shifinfin. The multilayered meal starts with quanta firfir, house-dried, seasoned beef cooked until crispy with tomatoes and pieces of injera; that’s topped with a boiled egg and kitfo, a traditionally raw, minced beef preparation; and finally the whole thing is wrapped in more injera. Regardless of what you order, Gobena’s warmth and humility, which you’ll recognize right away if she greets your table, translates to an excellent dining experience. 1030 Havana St., Suite B, Aurora

Nile Ethiopian Restaurant

Lamb tibs awaze at Nile Ethiopian Restaurant. Photo by Ethan Pan

We were originally tipped off to Nile Ethiopian Restaurant per the recommendation of a local Uber driver who is Ethiopian. Upon visiting, it became clear that this lively, well-lit eatery caters to the local Ethiopian community, large parties of which you’ll often find squeezed into long tables with plenty of food and drink. Accordingly, the pace of service here tends to be quite relaxed, so don’t expect to get in and out within an hour. Patient diners will be rewarded, however, with rich, slow-cooked flavors, like the lamb tibs awaze, a robust stew of fried lamb cubes simmered in a spicy sauce infused with a hint of rosemary. 1951 S. Havana St., Aurora

Lucy Ethiopian Restaurant

Lucy Ethiopian Restaurant’s veggie combo. Photo by Ethan Pan

Lucy—one of the most well-known and complete fossil specimens of our early ancestors, which was discovered in Ethiopia in 1974—is an apt name for this restaurant steeped in tradition. Chef-owner Almaze Adhanom has been serving a menu replete with lesser-known dishes—Ethiopian spaghetti, tilapia and rice, house-made cottage cheese—for about a decade, but her takes on the classics, like shatteringly crisp sambusas stuffed with tender yet toothsome lentils, are also well executed. For your entrée, trust us when we say that the gomen—cardamom-scented spinach and collard greens—is a stand-out among similar options you’ll find locally. Don’t forget to scoop up the extra soft injera served underneath it, which quickly soaks up the gomen’s delicious juices. 7401 E. Colfax Ave.

Geez Habesha Bar & Restaurant

Geez Habesha’s veggie combo with shiro. Photo by Ethan Pan

The nondescript location and limited signage of this Aurora restaurant shouldn’t deter you from stopping in for its hearty eats. Plenty of locals frequent this casual spot, which is tucked away in a strip mall on Havana Street because, although the menu is concise, the options are consistently delicious. Go for an eight-item vegetarian combo—lentils, beets, tomato salad, and more—with an additional order of shiro, a smooth, creamy stew made with powdered chickpeas served bubbling in a stone pot. You’ll struggle to find a more comprehensive sampling of Ethiopia’s plant-based cooking elsewhere in Colorado. 262 Havana St., Aurora

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Ethan Pan
Ethan Pan
Ethan Pan is 5280’s associate food editor, writing and editing for the print magazine and 5280.com. Follow his dining/cooking Instagram @ethans_pan.