Address: 1524 U St, NW
Hours: Monday through Friday 7:30 to 1:30 a.m., Saturday and Sunday 7:30 to 2:30 a.m. (kitchen closed at midnight)
Located just a short walk from the U Street Metro station, Selam is a cozy, dimly-lit Ethiopian restaurant. Family owned and filled with earth tones and soulful music, this hole-in-the-wall is a unique step off of the busy streets of D.C.
Walking into Selam, we were immediately greeted by a smiling, energetic server who ushered us to the nearest table. The only other patrons on a Tuesday at 9 p.m. were a young couple in the corner and a family of four enthusiastically enjoying their food.
The brief menu consists of traditional Ethiopian dishes alongside all-day breakfast items, pastas, sandwiches and salads, making Selam an odd blend of authentic Ethiopian cuisine and family-friendly fare.
Having little experience with Ethiopian food, our very kind server suggested the chef’s combo platter, which consists of four traditional dishes in heaping portions, perfect for sharing.
For those who have never eaten Ethiopian food, be warned – you will not be provided with utensils or napkins. Injera, a somewhat salty, sponge-like pancake is held in the hand and used to pick up bits of food that sometimes appear mushy.
If you find this unsettling, don’t let appearances deter you. The flavors are surprisingly tasteful. Chicken tibbs, the unanimous favorite among the group, is very similar to Indian tandoori chicken, grilled and marinated in garlic, onion and a medley of spices for a distinct, full-bodied and aromatic flavor. We ordered the chicken tibbs medium spicy, which produced more flavor than actual spiciness. I would suggest trying the tibbs hot, as our server had originally suggested. Although the chicken tibbs was excellent, the beef tibbs was dry and chewy, lacking the same flavor as the chicken.
The vegetable dishes were phenomenal. Hamil, chopped spinach simmered in a red pepper sauce with onion and garlic, complemented the injera in both flavor and texture. Timtimo, grilled roasted split peas simmered in red pepper sauce, was questioned due to its mushy texture, but ultimately stood out for its incredible pepper flavors. Alicha, a mixture of potatoes, carrots and onions, simmered in traditional spices, was familiar yet uniquely bold in flavor.
After bringing us our individual helpings of injera and our shared meal on an enormous platter, our smiling server disappeared, only returning with the check long after we had finished our meal.
Though not the ideal spot for a first date, Selam is a fun place to go with friends, have a leisurely meal, eat with your hands and experience authentic Ethiopian cuisine.