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Desta Ethiopian Kitchen dining review, Atlanta



Confession. For the longest time, Ethiopian cuisine held little appeal to me. I will try almost anything at least once, but I could never gather enough motivation to try Ethiopian. I knew the majority of it is eaten with your hands, including a bevy of runny stews made with spices that I never heard of. Sounds messy. I heard that the bread (injera) that is served with everything is cold, sour and flimsy. And so now after many experiences later, I realize that my unwillingness to try Ethiopian is what made me initially hesitant all along.

Review by Gene Lee

Review by Gene Lee

Desta Ethiopian Kitchen is a good ambassador for Ethiopian dining. The space is cozy and casts a warm glow in the evenings against the dining room’s dark tones. The dishes are plated on sleek modern dishware, and the attached covered patio — inclusive with a tree growing through the middle of it — is inviting when warmer days approach. The menu is vast and even boasts a variety of fusion dishes (Ethiopian sandwiches or Desta burger anyone?), which I did not get to sample. But take the plunge with the restaurant’s traditional fare, none of it disappoints.

Most everything at Desta is served on, or with injera — a spongy porous flat bread made with flour milled from teff grain. Teff is a gluten-free wonder food high in protein, fiber and iron; and it is brought to fermentation during the injera-making process imparting a sour taste to the bread. At Desta, two kinds of injera are given to diners depending on what they order. Owner Ash Nega revealed that the darker injera is made from 100 percent teff, whereas the lighter colored version is blended with wheat to accommodate tastes. At Desta and all other Ethiopian restaurants around town, most of the food is eaten by hand. The trick is to tear off pieces of injera and scoop up food into the bubbly side of the bread.

Ribeye tibs and injera (photo by Becky Stein)

Ribeye tibs and injera (photo by Becky Stein)

The kitchen’s ribeye or lamb tibs ($12) is a good introduction. Small cubes of tender lamb or beef are seasoned with a reddish berbere — a smoky spice blend of chilies, garlic, ginger and cardamom (to name a few) — then sautéed with onions, tomatoes and bell peppers.

If meat is not your thing, the fish dulet ($11) made with tilapia is a dish that had me from the first bite. The fish is minced with onions and bell peppers and packs heat and a little citrusy tang from mitmita — a spice blend of ground African birdseye chili and cardamom. The dish is also served on a long rectangular strip of injera and came with misir wot, a thick red lentil stew flavored with garlic and berbere.

The misir wot is one of many offerings in Desta’s eclectic vegetarian combo ($9). A scoop of it is placed on a layer of injera alongside a serving of yellow split peas flavored with onion and garlic, and a rich tomato fir fir stew liberally seasoned with berbere. Other vegetable variations are placed on the rest of the plate without injera. There is a fluffy dollop of shiro (ground chickpeas) that is drier than the Mediterranean hummus it resembles. And my palate welcomes the cool green lentil salad that counterbalances the spicier dishes.

Desta’s full bar offers a variety of liquors, spirits and a selection of American, European and Ethiopian Te’j (honey-based) wines. Additionally, a small selection of European and Ethiopian beers are available. I sampled two Ethiopian brands called Meta and St. George; they both are similar to lagers in style, but the former has a sweet honey taste while the latter has a light bitter finish.

Before hanging up the phone with Mr. Nega, he interjected that the word desta means happiness. He clearly has nothing but the best intentions for your experience at his restaurant. I think Desta holds true to that so far.

3086 Briarcliff Road N.E., Atlanta, 404-929-0011
3stars5Food: Exotic Ethiopian cuisine with a wide selection of fusion dishes
Service: Good
Best Dishes: Ribeye tibs, fish dulet, vegetarian combo
Vegetarian Selections: A large variety of vegetarian options such as two types of injera (bread), vegetarian combo dish offering many cooked vegetables, a vegetable pasta and various salads
Price Range: $-$$
Credit Cards: American Express, Visa, MasterCard, Discover
Hours: 9 a.m.-midnight Mondays-Thursdays, 9 a.m.-1 a.m. Fridays-Sundays, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
Children: Yes
Parking: In Lot
Reservations: Yes
Wheelchair Access: Yes
Smoking: No
Noise Level: Moderate to high
Patio: Yes
Takeout: Yes

18 comments Add your comment


March 10th, 2011
8:06 am

It’s good to see a positive review of one of my neighborhood’s better restaurants! The food is excellent and the restaurant has a sophisticated and exotic vibe. Next time you’re there, try their excellent coffee. Desta’s Ethiopian-style macchiato (it’s like a cappuccino) is a real treat. I also recommend asking for rice if you’re dining with kids – mine won’t eat the injera.


March 10th, 2011
9:28 am

I work in the area and a couple of my co-workers have told me that the food there is awesome. I have to try it.

Dave C.

March 10th, 2011
9:29 am

Did you cover the breakfast elsewhere or get to try it? As a Desta veteran/fan who has never had their breakfast, that’s what I’m most curious about.

Gene Lee

March 10th, 2011
9:47 am

@Dave C – I did in fact. I ran out of room to write about it but my wife and I went one weekend morning and split their breakfast combo. The scrambled eggs were mixed with chopped veggies, peppers and Ethiopian butter – it was delicious. The combo also came plated with kinche (a sort of dry cream of wheat, resemblant of quinoa), and a mishmash of berbere-soaked injera with bits of beef tibs (not my favorite thing but it was good).

Amy W.

March 10th, 2011
12:51 pm

I love this place – especially the fish! So glad you had a good experience. See my post here:


March 10th, 2011
10:51 pm

Like Amy, I am SO glad to see a nice review of one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants. Our college-aged daughter convinced us to go and try Ethiopian food for the first time and we happened upon Desta. Not only did we love the cuisine (such terrific flavors) but we have since tried a number of Ethiopian restaurants and haven’t liked any as much as Desta. The place is always packed with Ethiopians – always a good sign, right? – and the wait staff is attentive, patient and enthusiastic about helping you explore new things. AND, we love bringing freinds to introduce them to the cuisine.


March 11th, 2011
9:57 am

I actually like Ethiopian food, I just absolutely loath injera, however. That has got to be the nastiest excuse for a bread I’ve ever tried to swallow. If I could stop by an Indian or Mediterranean restaurant and get some nan or pita to then take to the Ethiopian restaurant, I would enjoy it. But with only injera, I’ll stay home or go elsewhere.

Ramona Clef

March 11th, 2011
10:23 am

Three stars and one-two dollar signs! The sweet spot! I’ll try it.

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Downtown Heffa

March 11th, 2011
7:54 pm

I enjoyed Desta as well. Although I’m not a fan of the injera bread, husband loves it. The lamb tibs were wonderful. May stop by this weekend!

Najeh Davenpoop

March 11th, 2011
8:07 pm

I ate here a couple of months ago. This place is outstanding.


March 11th, 2011
8:19 pm

Eating injera is like eating an Ace bandage. They have the same taste, smell, and consistency. Thankfully the food more than makes up for it

Freedom Lover

March 11th, 2011
9:43 pm

A friend refers to injera as “Sham-wows”. I love it and so does he. Good to know of another Ethiopian place to try. If you get over by Chamblee-Tucker just outside the 285 at Hamilton Mill, give Messoob a try. Still putting the finishing touches on what used to be a Blimpies, but the food is outstanding and a great option for those who don’t live even closer to the Gwinnett county line. Good to see more of this great cuisine coming up the northeast way.

[...] to sample. But take the plunge with the restaurant’s traditional fare, none of it disappoints. Read More Tags: Atlanta, Desta Ethiopian Kitchen, [...]


March 12th, 2011
7:28 pm

Warning for the gluten intolerant: The article says that the darker injera bread is 100% teff (therefore gluten-free). But the server explained tonight that it has about 5% self-rising wheat flour. Therefore it is not gluten-free. I wish it were! I took a chance, but most with full-fledged celiac disease cannot.


March 13th, 2011
1:28 pm

Spot on review of one of my favorite restaurants in the city. I’ve lost track of the number of people that I’ve taken here, and all have loved it.

I can’t say that I understand the injera-hating. Most of the complaints can be made equally about regular sourdough bread. The stuff is perfect for mopping up the deliciousness that thinks it’s going to stay on your plate.


March 16th, 2011
2:51 pm

Jan how did you do with the darker injera? Since I am intolerant and not full blown celiac I am curious as to how you felt after you ate it