Standout Ethiopian eats amidst south-of-town sprawl
Hello! How are ya? Good? Fantastic. So, the gravity of a David Sedaris speaking engagement recently pulled us south of town. Those that know us know that this takes black hole grade gravitational pull. We are not fond of the twitching I. I-Drive, that is.
We risked the always infuriating trip down I-4 in order to pay our first visit to the Orange County Convention Center (the OCCC!) and cash in on the first valid excuse for trying critical darling, Selam Ethiopian & Eritrean Cuisine.
Selam is located somewhere smack dab in the middle of a vortex of sucker-fish-to-the-theme-park-sharks bullshit. Honestly? Not quite sure exactly where. We were simply following orders (our iPhone overlord’s) but do know it’s only an 8-minute drive or so from the OCCC’s western parking lot.
Pulling into the strip mall that houses Selam brought an immediate level of comfort. It’s in an area off of I-drive that is oddly quiet and is the non-descript, peachy taupe, single-level type of sprawler that commonly plays host to better ethnic eateries.
Fun Fact: for many Ethiopians, animal-based nibbles are off limits for 208 days of the year. This means stateside Ethiopian eateries like Selam are often vegetarian wonderlands. Case in point: the kaleidoscope of veg in the pic below. The Selam Veggie Special ($29.99) included mushroom dulet, butecha (fluffy, scrambled chickpea ‘eggs’), collard greens, misir wot (spicy red lentil), cabbage and carrots, shiro (chickpea puree), azifa (green lentil salad), and timatim-fitfit (tomato salad with shredded injera). Delish. We genuinely loved it. More than enough for two people as a one-course meal, perfect for four if starters are involved.
The whole experience is a bit of fun. You eat with your hands (right hand as the left is considered unclean), tearing off pieces of injera (spongy, fermented sourdough flatbread) and scooping up bits of veggie this and that before awkwardly targeting your mouth. Not everything hits the bullseye.
We washed things down with a St. George beer (the oldest beer in Ethiopia, according to Abrahim, our exceptionally pleasant server) and some Tej or honey wine. Both did the trick. We’ve had Tej in other Ethiopian restaurants and the mead varieties can deliver a bit of stinky-feet funk (which ain’t half bad), but this was a clean version more reminiscent of a very good Riesling with honey notes.
Capped the quickie dinner off with an amazing cup of coffee. There’s a bit of a dance involved, but – hey – we like to dance. A ‘coffee dude’ makes an appearance toward the tail end of the first dinner seating showing off a pan in which he’s roasting coffee beans. If you give him the high sign (which we did), he disappears in the back and eventually returns with an incense tray and coffee. The coffee is very good. No sugar, no milk good. Zero bitterness – just a cup o’ infinite richness.
We had no time for dessert, but David Sedaris is always extra sweet. So, to wrap. There’s at least one standout indie eatery amongst the supersized homogeneity of I-Drive. Not likely news to O-Town Food Folk, but for those who haven’t been, Selam Ethiopian & Eritrean Cuisine is quite the gem.
Here, we’ve even cobbled together the details for you: