Situated in D.C.’s “Little Ethiopia,” a few houses north of well-established Chercher Ethiopian restaurant, Family is among the latest of the genre to open its doors in the metropolitan area, which hosts the biggest Ethiopian community of the United States.
Don’t be fooled by Family’s younger reputation. This stand-out restaurant serves a solid list of all the go-to Ethiopian staples, from the lamb tibs to doro wot, a spicy chicken dish marinated in mitmita (a mixture of hot chili peppers).
Family chef and owner Seferash Yegezaw moved to St. Louis, Missouri from Ethiopia when she was 18. With quite a small Ethiopian community in St. Louis, Yegezaw learned to bring the comforting feeling of a home-cooked Ethiopian meal to her new home in America, where she spent most of those years raising her daughters.
Two years ago Yegezaw arrived in D.C. with her 19-year old daughter, Yordanose, with the goal of opening Family. She conceived of the idea with her two brothers, Solomon and Moges, the latter of whom passed away in 2018.
“I opened the restaurant in [Moges’s] memory,” she said.
In D.C., Yegezaw reunited with Solomon and her other daughter, Emebte Atanaw, who had moved to the area to study at Georgetown University.
Despite a group effort to keep the business afloat, opening a restaurant during a global pandemic where the tradition is to eat with your hands was not without its challenges.
Family initially had a soft launch in January 2020. After the passing of another relative, the grand opening got pushed back to later in the year.
Then, the pandemic hit. The restaurant had to close its doors until June 2020. When it reopened, business was slow and paying off bills weighed heavily on the family’s minds.
“These were hard times, we didn’t get any financial help,” Yegezaw told Eater.
Atanaw got the idea to promote the reopening in a tweet, which quickly got thousands of shares. She posted some photos and wrote:
Hey y’all please come by Family Ethiopian Restaurant at 1414 9th Street NW in DC. We’ve been down bad since COVID & had a delay to opening bc of my grandfathers death. A quick RT could go along way! We have great prices for quality food.
Their struggle really resonated with the community in D.C., she said, and also as part of a larger movement to back small, Black-owned businesses as protests against police brutality were flourishing in the U.S. during the summer of 2020 following the murder of George Floyd.
“People were lined up. Literally after the tweet. It was so crazy,” she said. “Everyone was just showing support and love.”
The restaurant’s simple and upbeat decor, with exposed brick walls and bright yellow chairs, makes for a convenient quick bite as well as comfortable spot to spend a whole evening. Family’s extremely attentive and hospitable staff excel at accommodating those new to Ethiopian food, sharing menu recommendations and describing the spice level of each dish.
Those looking for a no-fuss, fairly priced first experience with this type of cuisine will certainly find it here. For example, Family’s combos ($20.99 for the vegetarian platter, $29 for the meat platter, and $30 for a mix of both) are the perfect way to sample a lot of different dishes at once. They are packed with vibrant colors and can feed two to three eaters easily.
The vegan-friendly veggie combo, while very healthy, is anything but boring. Resting on a layer of traditional gluten-free teff injera, fresh, ruby beets meet a match with lentils, salad, carrots, green beans, chard, and chickpeas, all flavored with onions, garlic, paprika, ginger, or rosemary.
Yegezaw imports most of her spices and powders from Ethiopia, including a classic blend of berbere used in many dishes, with the help of her mother who still lives in the country and ships ingredients directly to the restaurant.
The establishment serves imported, gluten-free Ethiopian beer ($5.99) and tej, a fermented honey wine ($10.99 for a generous glass).
Family also offers catering services for groups, as well as the privatization of its two-floor hookah and lounge bar, conveniently located right above the restaurant.
Yegezaw and her daughters welcome diners like their own family, whether they are there for the first time or are returning customers. Family’s soulful dishes tend to transport while making visitors feel right at home.
Family is open daily from noon until midnight.
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Family Ethiopian Restaurant [website]