Hole-in-the-wall Chercher Ethiopian Restaurant & Mart is an excellent entry point to one of D.C.’s most abundant cuisines.
The restaurant, located at 1334 9th St. NW, has two levels that fit a cozy number of tables along with bar seating. Its intimate townhouse space receives natural light from two windows curtained by red, green and yellow colors inspired by the Ethiopian flag.
Chercher’s critically acclaimed, authentic dishes and subdued atmosphere have locals who have mapped out the spot filling the tiny restaurant.
Dishes are served with – and sometimes on – a bed of injera, a sourdough flatbread that is porous and soaks up the diverse sauces and spices that occupy the menu. Silverware is not given and customers use the injera to scoop up curries and meats.
The popular chicken stew ($14.99) is a thick broth brought in a bowl, then its drumsticks, hard-boiled egg and red-brown sauce are drizzled over a plate of injera. You can also cover the injera with the special or deluxe kitfo ($13.99 to $16.99), a sirloin finely chopped into a pasty red butter and hot chili powder sauce, paired with two homemade cheeses.
Those looking for a non-meat option can opt for the vegan special ($13.99, $16.99 for deluxe) that consists of a platter with 10 helpings of chickpeas, lentils, collard greens and other veggies mixed in rich spices.
The drink menu provides options to complement your meal with an assortment of red and white wines, including Ethiopian wine, or tej, and honey wine (all $6). For beer, try one of Chercher’s bottled brews from Ethiopia, like St. George’s ($5), or go for your usual domestic and imported favorites ($3.50 to $5).
Chercher gives plenty of different dishes and protein options to choose from, but the restaurant truly astounds with their beef special tibs ($14.99, $18.50 for large).
The beef tibs dish comes with browned strips of meat seasoned with grilled onions, jalapeno peppers and garlic, leaving the beef flavorful on its own.
The tender strips of steak are also tossed with rosemary and other “exotic spices.” The dish is presented with a side salad and three different spice canisters, filled with chili powder, a red pepper sauce cooked with Ethiopian wine and beer, and a third dijon mustard concoction.
Each spice turns the temperature up on the smoky beef, allowing customers to choose their own heat level with each spice. You may find it slightly more than you can handle together, but you can also order the dish to be served mild.
Sinking my teeth into a piece of perfectly cooked beef – even without adding the fragrant sauces and spices – was enough to sell me on finishing up the whole plate. But sandwiched between rolled flaps of the injera and topped with your favorite spice, the beef becomes a whirlwind of flavorful smoky heat.
The red pepper sauce was especially inflaming, but alternatively, a combination of the dijon and chili powder granted punchy flavor without distracting from the main component of the meal.
I couldn’t help reaching for another piece of injera to roll up more beef tibs, even before finishing the previous bite.