1036 1/2 Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, CA | Directions 9001934.057021 -118.364047
Neighborhoods: Mid City, Central LA
Merkato - because sometimes “shady” can surprise you. – While I have taken the time to write about more extravagant cuisine, there are a few dives in Los Angeles that are among my favorite indulgences. In LA, you can find any kind of food imaginable. There are varying degrees from fancy to the local hole-in-the-wall place and that is the sheer beauty (and often stomach churning) adventure of dining anywhere in the Los Angeles area. So one day, about 12 years ago, I came upon what’s known as the “Fairfax District”. Located at 3rd and Fairfax, this street is filled with textile stores and Ethiopian dining. There are some well known and more upscale restaurants, however they are not among the more tasty. Amidst them all, there is an Ethiopian gem —- Merkato: both market and restaurant. Before delving into it’s offbeat yet endearing qualities, here is a bit they have posted on their home page:
Ethiopian food is like the Ethiopians themselves: spicy, subtle, piquant and most of all, unforgettable.
When you peer through the window you laugh and most likely would run far, far away. The seats near the window are bridle saddles painted in bright colors. Yes, I’m serious. There are tables against the walls that look “sturdy” at best and some booths dressed in African fabric BUT do not let the questionable and shady decor deter you. This is probably the most tasty, heavy, wonderfully filling Ethiopian food I’ve ever tasted. It’s not light and healthy, it is saturated in fat and flavor and once in a while it is an indulgence I welcome. However the real wonder (and genius) is that Merkato offers cuisine for Vegetarians and Carnivores alike.
Onto the food. I think my favorite part is the mystery spongy-tortilla-like bread they bring that looks like a tortilla and a sea sponge mated and then upon tasting it, you feel like you’ve just eaten sourdough bread (don’t knock it til’ you try it). The kicker? You will use this as both a utensil and side dish. I love it! As for what I cannot do without, I tend to gravitate towards the same things on the menu because years might go by and I find myself craving it and I inevitably come back. My menu picks are:
#14 Combo plate: Yebeg Sega Wot (Strips of beef braised in red pepper sauce and spices) and Yebeg Alicha (Mild lamb stew delicately spices with garlic, ginger, and other spices)
#30 Veggie Plate: Combo of Special Shiro, Lentils, Collard Greens, Yatklt Alicha, Yekeke Alicha, and Timatim Fit-Fit
I top it off with Honey wine. No idea if it’s cheap or bad because in truth it is entirely unique to this restaurant and when you take a sip, you run your tongue across your lips and you get remnants of honey. It is part of the experience and experience, in my book, is why any food should be ingested.
So when you’re down in LA and you want something different, go to Merkato. The staff is always really friendly, the food is unforgettable, and while this is “out of the norm”, this is still my LA pick and will remain on my list of favorites until they either: change management or just stop being so deliciously unexpected.
Written by Dawn Garcia
For more, please visit us on the web at: A taste of Dawn, where writer/screenwriter Dawn Garcia takes us on an extraordinary journey in he world of fare
Favorably Impressed - Will Return! – It was our first time eating Ethiopian food and we were somewhat apprehensive lest we got something too spicey for our taste. The waitress was warm and friendly and very helpful in her recommendations. We ordered a fish plate with injera and an assortment of veggies. The fish was a trout, cooked whole, and absolutely delicious. Nothing on the veggie assortment was too spicy for our pallet. Bottom line, we loved the whole experience - the food was great and we ate every bit of it. We did order only one fish plate with veggies, but we ordered 'extra veggies' at the advice of the waitress. It was more than enough for two people. The price was very reasonable. With two sodas and tax, the meal came to approximately $22.00.
We hope we will be able to vist the Mercato on our next trip to Los Angeles.
Horrible – I got the #6 last night and it was terrible. Chewy, poor quality, weird tasting meat (supposedly beef). I took 3 bites and threw it away. Maybe I am a spoiled American but I don't see how any human could find that edible.
best ethiopian food on fairfax – delicious, friendly and welcoming. i have eaten here many times and have never been disappointed. a fun scene and the best ethiopian food in little ethiopia. i have sent all of my friends there and they have all loved it. and don't be scared...the waitstaff is very eager to recommend and help you decipher the menu. SO GREAT!
Good, Maybe even Great Inexpensive Ethiopian Food.... – On a Saturday night, my friend and I were on a quest for a really good Ethiopian restaurant that had a good selection of vegetarian options. So we walked up and down Little Ethiopia on Fairfax going into all the restaurants checking out the vibe and the menu. We started out at Merkato but because it was somewhat busy with a little bit of a wait we decided to walk around check out the other ones in the area. And after checking all of them out we came back to Merkato because it had the friendliest vibe, all the dining patrons seemed to really like the food and were all enjoying themselves. Additionally, Merkato seemed to have very inexpensive prices. And while the service is somewhat erratic and sporadic, the food and the vibe more than make up for this. The portions were generous and it was the best Ethiopian food I had ever had. Ethiopians and non Ethiopians all seemed to really enjoy the food as all were eating with such gusto. So while Merkato may not be the nicest Ethiopian place nor does it have the best service....It is definitely worth fighting LA traffic and the hassle of finding parking on Fairfax to be able to have a scrumptious Ethiopian meal in a jovial atmosphere.
Very inexpensive, large portions, delicious food, great vegi options – We've been here a few times and have never been disappointed. Located on Fairfax in ?Little Ethiopia,? just south of the San Vicente/Olympic/Fairfax intersection. Plenty of street parking. Food is very inexpensive ($6 for a large vegetarian sampler that feeds the two of us just fine). The sampler comes with a wide range of 5-7 different dishes ? all very flavorful and totally different. Food is served traditionally on the spongy bread, no utensils. They are generous with extra bread for dipping. The meat entrees look good, but I?m a vegetarian. We typically get 1 sampler and if we still have room, we order a side ($2) of our favorite for that day. The tough part is deciding which is our favorite dish ? they?re all so good! The sambusa and pan fried bread with spices are also excellent, if you have room! Decor inside is interesting ? range from tables to more traditional floor/pillow sitting. Sometimes there is strong incense burning inside. Outdoor seating available so you can bring a pet. Overall, it is very cheep ? rarely does our bill exceed $10. Great flavors, big portions, large variety. Service can be a little slow at lunch. We've been for Ethiopian in DC when we lived in Maryland and have spent $60-$100 dollars for food that is not half as good as Merkato for $6!
A true Ethiopian experience. Injera is made with teff. – Ethiopian food is rather an addiction for me from my years in east Africa. For a true Ethiopian experience, Merkato fits the bill at an affordable price. Others have complained about slow albeit friendly service but Merkato must be working to improve. Our server was friendly but also prompt and came by often to see if we needed anything. Our food (for 6 people) arrived before I had finished browsing the small market section. Our special requests were granted with real hospitality. The doro wott had two pieces of chicken and was just the right heat (considering we had children. with us. Most of us would have preferred enough spice for a good sweat.) . We were able to buy injera to bring home at a reasonable cost. On the down side, the tibs were a bit burned. Parking was not a problem at 2 in the afternoon on a weekday. If this place were close to where we live, we would eat at the Merkato a couple times a week.
Great place for Ethiopian newbies – My trip to Merkato was my second venture into the world of Ethiopian cuisine. I was skeptical, because my first experience elsewhere on Fairfax had been somewhat lackluster. But Merkato was a pleasant surprise. The injera (flat bread) that I had feared would be overly-sour, was pleasant and cool. The yebeg sega wot was like a slightly more exotic beef stew, and the yedoro tibs matched well with the diced peppers and tomatoes it was served with. We also had a lentil sambusa (they were out of the beef) which was flaky and substantial, and the hot pepper appetizer which was SUPER spicy. My only regret is that we didn't order the zil zil tibs; the next table ordered it and it came out piping hot and smelling absolutely delicious. I would also recommend the honey wine, though be ready for it to taste very sweet--It reminded me of apple juice, sweetened with honey.
As far as service goes, things were very very slow in coming out, but it did give us ample time to enjoy each course, though the waitresses were friendly when they did come around.
Overall, definitely recommended, especially to anyone who wants to try Ethiopian cuisine for the first time (the pictures on the menu are a big help!).
Take a walk on the wild side at this longstanding Little Ethiopia dining den. – In Short
Just beyond the sunwashed entrance of this well-known Little Ethiopia spot lies a moody, dimly lit restaurant conjuring up an East African opium den. Incense wafts through the long vertical hall, saturating every inch of space. Locals coolly look over their shoulders, grazed by low-hanging silks. Intricately embroidered parasols hang upside down from the ceiling while tribal art and Ethiopian artifacts line the dingy walls. Exotic music rushes in from the adjacent shop as unhurried servers tarry with steaming plates of wat (traditional stews) and tibs (sauteed veggies or meat).
Editorial Review – Stock up on Ethiopian groceries and African treasures or lounge at the coffee bar (replete with framed Bono sighting) at this spirited shop.
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