- 855 E. Fourth St., Reno, NV, 89502
- Overall User Rating:
- (1 rating)
- 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch, 5-9 p.m. for dinner Tuesday-Saturday
I never knew so many people liked Ethiopian food. But once I announced late last year that Zagol Ethiopian Restaurant had opened on East Fourth Street, the inquiries, comments and missives came as thick as clotted cream.
Folks raved about their favorite Ethiopian joints in D.C., Berkeley (lots of Berkeley) and San Francisco. African friends, even those who weren't Ethiopian, enthused about African food finally arriving in Reno.
The inhabitants of adjacent bar stools waxed nostalgic about affordable Ethiopian places that helped them survive college. (Ethnic restaurants tend to cluster around campuses like barnacles to a piling, but not in Reno, for some reason, which has some of the dullest campus-area food I've ever seen.)
After several visits to Zagol since its opening, count me among the converted. Ethiopian food, far from stereotypes in poor taste, offers a vibrant, healthy and appealingly complex layering of meat, vegetables, heat and spices. Plus a bit of culinary adventure.
That's because the tables at Zagol aren't set with utensils. They're available, but most diners grab food with pieces of spongy flatbread called injera. The texture can be challenging at first - like a just barely damp crêpe - but the injera grows on you, and its mild bitterness sharpens whatever dish it's eaten with.
The Ethiopian family that owns Zagol makes fresh injera daily using teff flour, which traditionally is ground from a species of grass native to Ethiopia. Baskets of rolled injera, the flatbread resembling rolled face towels a bit, accompany meals, and platters of food are lined with injera that folks are fully expected to wield.
Vegetarian dishes are a highlight of Ethiopian cooking. Kik alicha features yellow split peas cooked with turmeric (which imparts gently bitter and peppery flavors) and other spices. Garlic and ginger brighten the jumble of sautéed green beans known as kilkil, and heaps of sautéed collard greens called gomen.
Even abesha selata, a house salad, pleases with its toss of lettuce, red onions, chilis, lemon juice and olive oil.
Weaving is a treasured Ethiopian art, and in a corner of Zagol sits a trio of Ethiopian tables draped with colorful woven covers. The restaurant's walls are hung with tapestries and woven baskets and vessels, including one with a conical lid that's the Ethiopian version of a lunchbox.
The art - and small touches like a carved wooden coffeepot with a long slender spout - do much to brighten a dining room that can sometimes seem a bit cavernous because of the expanse of bare floor.
Ethiopians also treasure spicy dishes.
With ye doro wat, chicken drumsticks are braised to fall-from-the-bone tenderness in red chili sauce. The chicken is served with a hardboiled egg stained by the sauce.
Key wat features beef stewed in yet more red chilis, while zilzil tibs features beef strips flavored by onions, rosemary and hot green chilis. Both key wat and zilzil tibs - as well as the fragrant sautéed lamb dish called ye beg tibs - incorporate clarified butter, which enriches each dish and balances its heat.
The portions at Zagol can appear small initially, at least by (admittedly whacked out) American standards, but Ethiopian aficionados tell me they're standard, and truth be told, the injera is filling, and I always leave satisfied.
And really, when you think about it, it's only ethnocentrism that says all ethnic food should be dirt cheap and plentiful. (Still, the combination platters will comfortably feed only two adults, or three with very small appetites.)
The food at Zagol feels as if it's prepared with as much care as almost any in town (the friendly owners patiently answer endless questions about it, too), and certainly, some of the flavor combinations are just as intricate. You owe yourself at least one visit to Northern Nevada's first African restaurant.