Howard County's closest spot for Ethiopian has converted from a coffee shop to a small restaurant with an expanded -- although still basic -- menu of injera and stews.
Cafe Oromia is the new name of the family-run restaurant on Rte 198 in Burtonsville. It opened as Coffee Oromia and sold a few Ethiopian items under a coffee shop menu. Now, the rechristened spot serves a broader menu of beef, chicken, lamb and vegetable stews.
To my uneducated palate, the stews come pretty mild. I was offered a bowl of a hot pepper sauce that I dabbed myself to spice up beef tibbs, lentils and chopped greens. This isn't the Adams Morgan stews that have left me gulping water at times, but everything tasted good to me. The sambusa appetizer -- cousin to the samosa or empanada -- makes a great start and would be a perfect treat if you happened down Rte 198 doing errands. Next time, I'll try a chicken dish or one of the vegetable plates because I'm always struck that Ethiopian beef is lean. Lean, almost tough.
But, as I have said before, the injera alone is worth stopping if you have a taste for the flat, spongy bread that is the hallmark of Ethiopian eating. Each plate comes with a main dish and two sides, all stewed into the consistency of chunky pasta sauce. You rip pieces of of the platter-sized injera and use them to scoops up the meat and the sides of lentil stew, chopped greens, etc. The bottom injera that soaks up the sauces is often the most-delicious part.
The stretch of Rte 198 west of Rte 29 offers a few interesting options beyond Cafe Oromia, including Cuban at Cuba de Ayer, Afghan at a branch of Maiwand Kabob, and homemade ice cream at Seibel's.
15510 Old Columbia Pike
Burtonsville, MD 20866
NEAR: This is on Rte 198 just west of Rte 29. From Howard County, you take the first exit on Rte 29 south of the river. That exit puts you on an old piece of Rte 29 that passes an Indian temple and a garden center. Turn right on Rte 198 at the traffic light. Coffee Oromia is a block up on the right next to a Maiwand Kabob outlet. There is a sign.