Dish of the Week: Doro’s vegan chicken tenders

Media Credit: Nan Jiang | Photographer

Though it was packed in a box for 15 minutes on the train, Doro’s food still hit the mark.

Since opening its doors in November, Doro has been frying up classic American soul food, but with a distinct Ethiopian twist.

Doro is the brainchild of Ethiopian-born Elias Tadesse, an award winning chef who is working to fuse the flavors of his African heritage with D.C.’s local culture. His newest creations at Doro combine classic dishes from the American south with bold Ethiopian flavors and spice combinations that he grew up enjoying.

Located just one transfer and 10 stops away from GW at the Shaw/Howard U Metro station, Doro is one of the newest additions to the virtual resultant scene, which has taken the nation by storm during the pandemic. Like other virtual restaurants, Doro offers no seating for diners and operates on a takeout- and delivery-only format. The eatery shares its kitchen with two other businesses – Motown Square, a pizza place, and Prescription Chicken, another fried chicken restaurant.

The three restaurants share a youthful and laid-back aesthetic, which is reflected through their personal cartoon logos which are painted on the window. The inside of the restaurant is painted with a nostalgic blue and pink color scheme. The waiting area, made up of just four metal stools, accompanies a countertop that is home to a host of greenery, which is the perfect foreground for a window which looks out on the streets of the neighborhood. The space captures the spirit of Doro perfectly. It isn’t traditional fine dining, but a modernist take on the American tradition that is soul food.

Doro’s marriage between soul and Ethiopian cuisine is reflected through its menu offerings. A two-piece plate of chicken ($9), or a chicken sandwich ($10) are peppered with traditional Ethiopian spices, like the berbere spice blend that includes more than a dozen spices like cinnamon, cumin, fenugreek and paprika. The mac and cheese, ($5) an American soul food staple, is spiced with Doro Wat, a spicy, red Ethiopian spice blend. Doro also offers one dessert, a Mango pudding ($8), that comes with wafers and vanilla creme.

If there’s one thing Tadesse is known for, it’s innovating food, so I knew I had to get something out of the box. The very friendly staff that took my order were eager to assist in helping a newbie like me understand the complexities of Ethiopian food and explain to me the ins and outs of the menu. With their help, I went with the vegan tender plate ($9). The plate came with three tenders, which were made with a jackfruit and pea protein mix, and a side of berbere fries. There were three spice-level options for all food in Doro. Naked, which is mild, berbere, which is hot, or Mit Mita, which is very hot. As a big fan of spicy food, I had to get my tenders very hot.

Due to Doro’s lack of seating options as a virtual restaurant and the surrounding area’s distinct lack of outdoor seating, I decided to Metro a couple of stops south to Archives to dig into the food and enjoy the warm weather.

Though it was packed in a box for 15 minutes on the train, Doro’s food still hit the mark. Its combination of soul food and Ethiopian flavors is the perfect slice of gastronomic heaven. For me, Doro is the ultimate fusion food. It doesn’t change the flavors of soul food, but instead feels like the natural next step for soul food as a genre. It utilizes bold Ethiopian flavors to take soul food to another level instead of changing what soul food fundamentally is.

The berbere fries that came with the meal were an upgrade to classic french fries – coated in berbere spices, which gave them an exciting new personality that I have not tasted in french fries before. They were crisp and had a subtle, sweet flavor from the spice blend, which includes cloves, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg.

My mistake was assuming that the vegan tenders, the star of the show, were supposed to be a chicken substitute. The vegan tenders were never trying to be chicken tenders, but rather their own category of tender. The jackfruit and pea protein mix is a more whole-food-based approach to meat alternatives, some of which are packed with artificial chemicals, and had a pleasant texture. Despite the claim of very spicy, the tenders were not mind-numbingly spicy, but the cayenne-chile pepper flavor added a nice kick to the tenders which were already braised in spices such as turmeric, garlic and cardamom – all present in the berbere mix – before their baptism in the fryer. All the intricacies of Doro combine to make it a truly one-of-a-kind experience.

Though next time, I will order ahead to avoid a wait, Doro is still one of my favorite fast soul food restaurants in D.C. Its unapologetic approach is attractively delicious and has created a signature Ethiopian-American flavor combination.

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