An Ethiopian restaurant outside of LA's Little Ethiopia restaurant row? Now, there's a thought! There aren't many of them in this town, but Azla, a new family-run operation in South LA's Mercado La Paloma food court, is making a name for itself with excellent homestyle Ethiopian eats. Full disclosure: this place is vegan. But hey, so is a lot of Ethiopian food by default, so don't trip out just yet. And whatever you do, do not miss out on Azla's excellent injera, Ethiopia's all-purpose flatbread/crepe/pancake designed to scoop and eat everything in sight.
This injera is not for the faint of palate: it's on the thinner side and a little chewy, and Warhead-level sour to boot. The gluten-free pancake is made with a super-secret ratio of teff flour and quinoa to make it delightfully bready.
Mama Azla is not vegan herself, but half of her six children are (the other half are vegetarian). As a result, she's become quite adept at cooking plants for her kids, and now the public. She has five Ethiopian stews on deck every day—my favorite is the faintly spicy, berbere-lacquered Misir, red lentils cooked with a homemade Ethiopian spice blend that includes Gondar-sourced cardamon, holy basil and chili peppers. It's peppery to say the least, but when you sop it up with freshly griddled injera, this stew is unforgettable.
Our superfood friend kale gets the Ethiopian treatment as well in Azla's Gomen dish. It's cooked until tender with garlic and then fortified with meaty collard greens, which add a slightly bitter note. Azla has a rotating selection of daily specials as well, and you'd do well to try whatever she's cooking that day. Salad wise, the Keysir, tender beets marinated in balsamic vinegar and topped with tangy red onions, provides a much-appreciated sweet and bright punch to your mini injera tacos.
To wash it down, grab a locally-sourced bottle of kombucha tea or a lightly sweetened tumbler of chilled sorrel water, vibrantly colored with hibiscus blossoms and spiced with cinnamon and ginger.
Azla3655 S Grand Ave. Ste C2 Los Angeles, CA 90007 (map)