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Gene Lee: Mena, new Ethiopian restaurant off Buford Highway

Mena, dining room

Mena, dining room

A friend of mine recently took me to this new Ethiopian restaurant located off of Clairmont Road and Buford Highway, and in the back of a developing deli/market called Bethlehem Market Place. I say “developing” because dear Mother Hubbard, their cupboards are bare.

Regardless, the market was irrelevant to my cause this past weekend because I wanted to try the attached Ethiopian restaurant called Mena. It’s situated in the back of the deli, and is a vibrant dining room of colors complemented with high energy modern Eritrean music.

Injera bread

Injera bread

We struggled with our waitress a bit as her English was limited, but were helped by the very friendly owner of the deli and restaurant. His English was strong and he came by and explained his various dish ingredients, and the restaurant’s process for making injera – the spongy flat bread made of teff (grass grain known for its high iron content) traditionally used to eat Ethiopian food. The bread itself is flimsy porous sheet, almost like a thin blanket, and a bit sour in taste. You are suppose to tear off a palm-sized piece of injera, and with your right hand maneuver some food into it, dip into provided spices (if you want), and then pop it into your mouth.

Kitfo, seasoned ground raw meat

Kitfo, seasoned ground raw meat

On the restaurant’s menu, there are three dishes that contain raw meat.  I went with their kitfo, which is like a seasoned and oily mash of ground meat. It’s similar to French-style steak tartare where the biggest difference (other than the oily seasoning) is that most tartare I’ve had tend to be hand-chopped or lightly pulsed. Mena’s kitfo seems to be machine processed, and almost pasty at times.  You get a lot for what you pay for, and we barely put a dent in it. One thing you can’t tell from the picture is that it comes with a small scoop of Mena’s house-made cottage cheese served on the side that paired well with the spices of the meat.

Awaze tibs, beef cooked in chile paste

Awaze tibs, beef cooked in chile paste

My wife opted for the kitchen’s awaze tibs, which are cooked cubes of beef and bell pepper in their awaze sauce (spiced hot pepper paste). I enjoyed soaking bits of injera in the warm sauce that contained a multitude of wonderful flavors. The beef tibs were also well flavored throughout and each scooped-up mouthful was tender to the bite.

Kilil, lamb stew

Kilil, lamb stew

Another one of my friends got the kitchen’s kilil, or lamb stew that had rolled up sheets of injera and bone-in pieces of lamb – including a few bits of lamb intestine here and there. This broth was delicious. It was hearty and spiced with fresh chopped pieces of jalapeno pepper.

Veggie combo

Veggie combo

And the one plate that all of my dining companions collectively agreed on revisiting is Mena’s vegetable combo platter.  It’s a huge serving of six different vegetable offerings such as spiced green lentils, processed chickpeas, stewed collards and cabbage, salad with an oily vinaigrette dressing, and one other reddish seasoned mesh that I forgot to identify.

I even saw a goorsha go down between two diners, which I initially misunderstood as some sort of undefined intimate display of feeding. It’s basically an Ethiopian custom where one diner rolls food up in a piece of injera and directly feeds it into another diner’s mouth. I must have enjoyed the meal from the get-go because I goorsha’d myself until I couldn’t eat anymore.

Mena, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Mondays-Sundays. 3680 Clairmont Road, Atlanta. 770-936-8460. $.

Gene-Lee-Tagline

– by Gene Lee, Food and More blog

– Gene Lee writes about International Cuisine for the AJC Dining Team. He also publishes his own blog, Eat, Drink, Man… A Food Journal.

20 comments Add your comment

holland

November 17th, 2010
8:04 am

Gene, we live in the neighborhood behind the Bethleham Market building and I could not figure out what was going on! Thanks for solving the mystery…! Keep bringing up great BuHi places to try…we love it..

TopSteakHouses.com » Blog Archive

November 17th, 2010
8:40 am

[...] On the restaurant’s menu, there are three dishes that contain raw meat.  I went with their kitfo , which is like a seasoned and oily mash of ground meat. It’s similar to French-style steak tartare where the biggest difference (other than the oily Checkout more about Steak Houses [...]

TopSteakHouses.com » Blog Archive

November 17th, 2010
8:50 am

[...] Gene Lee: Mena, new Ethiopian restaurant off Buford Highway – Atlanta Journal Constitution (bl…On the restaurant’s menu, there are three dishes that contain raw meat.  I went with their kitfo , which is like a seasoned and oily mash of ground meat. It’s similar to French-style steak tartare where the biggest difference (other than the oily [...]

K

November 17th, 2010
9:01 am

Goorsha *is* meant to be an expression of love and affection, as Queen of Sheba menu explains (or explained?)

> Keep bringing up great BuHi places to try…we love it..

+1

We’ll need to check out Mena. I totally love Ethiopian food (esp injera), but other than QoS the other few places we tried all seem to miss something. (Enat was very good too though, except for the location.)

lzcobb

November 17th, 2010
9:08 am

I really enjoy Ethiopian cuisine and I’m excited to try this new place. Queen of Sheba was always my go-to for out of town company – it’s exotic, but also very comforting. The only thing I would suggest is watch the Injera – it’s so very good, but it expands in your stomach!! I’ve left many Ethiopian dinners comfortably satisfied only to be painfully full minutes later :)

kmb

November 17th, 2010
9:29 am

It is a truly brave individual who eats raw meat these days.

Donkey200

November 17th, 2010
10:30 am

I love Enat. The owner, Martha, always makes us feel very much at home. Anyone been to Desta or the other 2 ethopian rest. in Briarcliff Village?

Donkey200

November 17th, 2010
10:33 am

Is this the little place up near Mint just past Dresden as you head toward Peachtree?

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StephieZ

November 17th, 2010
10:56 am

Donkey200 – Desta rocks! An Eritrean friend of mine thinks it’s the best Ethiopian food, but he also said the ambience is lacking.

K

November 17th, 2010
11:57 am

I’ve read rave reviews about Desta. We’ve been a couple of times, but somehow both times left unconvinced. It’s too small to handle the load on Fri and Sat nights. Fish tibs is great, but the other plates are not as consistent. Plus, I’m not Ethiopian, so no idea if that’s the right way, but I like my stew sitting on top of my injera so I can then finish the injera soaked in all the juices, the best part of the feast imho.

The other two in that square are Meskerem which is solid and Ledet which to me is the best of the three, inexpensive too, the only thing is it only has doro wat as part of a combo platter iirc.

Super Frankie

November 17th, 2010
12:27 pm

I would love to take my lads Didier, Salomon, Michael and John Obi to this spot!

Gene Lee

November 17th, 2010
12:48 pm

Donkey200 – It is indeed. White-ish building, red lettering..

Michael

November 17th, 2010
2:07 pm

My advice? Go where you see the most cabs in the parking lot. I tend to hear about new African-african restaurants from the local cabbies.

Not usually vegetarian but I love the vegetables. Almost Indian spicing but a smoother texture/flavor in things like the lentil dishes or even the curries. Favorite though would be gomen or collard greens. Again a subtle spice flavoring and flavorful ghee. My preferred way to eat collards now.

TopSteakHouses.com » Blog Archive

November 17th, 2010
3:15 pm

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TopSteakHouses.com » Blog Archive

November 17th, 2010
11:22 pm

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Edward

November 18th, 2010
5:29 pm

Anyone else like Ethiopian food but simply can’t stand injera? If I could bring some flour tortilla, pita or some Indian nan with me to eat with, I’d love it. But injera, in my opinion, is simply nasty in both taste and texture.

[...] More here: Gene Lee: Mena, new Ethiopian restaurant off Buford Highway | Food … [...]

GaPeach

November 19th, 2010
1:10 am

A consistent issue with AJC restaurant reviews- the basics. Address, days, hours, alcohol served? payment policies? I know this isn’t the NYT (who does this), but could it be so difficult to pop in a little box with this info? So many restaurants don’t bother to include it on their own sites, or don’t have one, that a review seems incomplete without this.

Gene Lee

November 19th, 2010
9:46 am

@GAPeach – To be clear, this post isn’t a full review, it’s a first impression. This is a review – http://blogs.ajc.com/food-and-more/2010/11/19/woo-nam-jeong-stone-bowl-house-dining-review-doraville/, which has everything and more. Reviews come out every Friday in print, and here digitally on this blog.

But most all that you are asking for is at the bottom of the post including address, hours, price point and telephone number.