By Jessica Battilana  |

I lure my 4-year-old son to Tadu Ethiopian Kitchen in the Tenderloin with the promise of bread as big as a motorcycle tire and as flat as a pancake. He goes for it, and the restaurant does not disappoint: We’re soon staring down a vegetarian combination plate, admiring the injera.

Together we tear off pieces of the spongy, unleavened bread, which acts as a plate beneath a quintet of vegetarian wots (stews), and use it to transport the food to our mouths.

We circle the injera, picking up bites of silky gomen (collards), kik alicha (chickpeas), alicha tikil gomen (cabbage, potatoes and carrots), azifa (lentils) and buticha (chickpea mash). Though made from humble ingredients, the wots are vividly flavored, fresh and distinct. Onions, ginger and garlic are the throughlines, uniting the varied stews into a harmonious meal. A ramekin of bitter, fruity awaze, a paste made from berbere, honey wine and olive oil, further enlivens the spread.

My son pops a cube of lamb tibs, sauteed lamb leg with deeply caramelized onions and rosemary, into his mouth. He pronounces it delicious. A moment later, his eyes widen in panic. “Spicy!” he cries, detecting the berbere and jalapeño.

Berbere also thrums in the signature kitfo ($13.50), a raw beef preparation similar to tartare anointed with spiced butter, a specialty of the Gurage region of Ethiopia, from where Tadu owner Elias Shawel’s family hails.

Shawel came to San Francisco in 2007, first driving for Yellow Cab and later for a limousine company, which he works for to this day. Passengers, learning he was from Addis Ababa, would always ask him where to find good Ethiopian food in the city. Shawel never knew where to send them.

So he and Nani, his wife, opened a warm, welcoming spot on one of the dodgier Tenderloin blocks. They painted the walls of a former pharmacy a brilliant orange, hung Ethiopian artwork and named the restaurant for Shawel’s beloved grandmother, Tadelech Oda.

Shawel says that for the menu he selected the dishes that best reflected the country he’d left behind. Now when customers ask him where to go, he knows just the place.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle

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