The Scoop: Walking into Bahel Ethiopian, located just off the corner of Clairmont and Briarcliff,...The Scoop: Walking into Bahel Ethiopian, located just off the corner of Clairmont and Briarcliff, the first thing you'll see are what appear to be gigantic, table-sized baskets with triangular lids. These mosobs are scattered all over the restaurant in varying sizes, they come from owner Seble Haile's Ethiopian homeland, and they're indicative of her establishment's modus operandi. "Bahel" means "culture," and everything here, from the traditional food to the paintings on the wall, is an authentic bit of the very culture Haile grew up with in Ethiopia.
For Seble Haile, eating is all about culture, roots, home. "I grew up with my mom and dad's family restaurant in Ethiopia," she says. "I grew up with that restaurant atmosphere, and when I came to this country, it came with me." She first moved to the United States from Ethiopia in 1990, where she quickly settled into Washington D.C.'s food-service scene, first as a Bob's Big Boy hostess, then manning tables at Denny's, eventually working her way up to head waitress at the Marriott. It was in 2008 she decided, after 14 years of working for others, that it was time to have her own business. Moving to Atlanta and joining forces with her brothers, she'd found her own Ethiopian restaurant that would celebrate the heritage of her upbringing.
All this without mentioning Bahel's delicious, ample food. First things first, start with a plate of sambusas, the wonderfully deep-fried pastries filled with a perfectly seasoned lentil mixture that leaves a nice, not-too-spicy kick in the back of the throat. From there, Haile strongly recommends—especially for Ethiopian cuisine newbies—the vegetarian combo, a heaping extra-large-pizza-platter sized extravaganza of corn, greens, cabbage, salad and more, all perfect for scooping with your bare hands into the bountiful rolls of injera bread that line the tray. It's more than enough food for two people. For the more adventurous, try some awaze tibs, a medium spicy beef stew mixed with fresh tomato, red onion, and green pepper, all marinated in a spice blend. If you can't quite take the heat, try the lega tibs--equally delicious, but a little more mild for those with delicate palates.
On the beverage side of things, one of Bahel's highlights is a traditional coffee ceremony, clearly one of Haile's fondest early memories, one that she's kept close to her in the present day. The coffee, which is imported from Ethiopia, of course, is brought to the table in a sizzling skillet, where it is then ground and prepared right there. It's a pretty fancy coffee service, even if the burning incense may cause some uneasy flashbacks for any lapsed Catholics at the table. Another liquid treat is Bahel's honey wine, a golden-colored sweet alcoholic elixir perhaps best sampled in small doses. While Haile didn't specify the ABV, the honey wine's boozy mouthfeel is warning enough to secure a safe ride home if you have more than a glass or two. Your mother would be proud of such a responsible choice.
Vegetarian combo, $9.99
Coffee ceremony - $10.00 (for the table)
Honey wine - $25/bottle, $5/glass
Monday - Thursday, 10 a.m. — 11p.m.
Friday - Sunday, 10 a.m. — 12 a.m.