Home > News > A trip to Zagol for Ethiopian fare proves to be the first of many

A trip to Zagol for Ethiopian fare proves to be the first of many

By Nora Tarte
Published: Last Updated on

Full disclosure: this was my first time having Ethiopian food.

I had seen people dig in, hands first, into mushy piles of meat and vegetables on television and in movies all of my life, but I’d never worked up the courage to give the cuisine a chance myself. Until last week.

Shita Yenenh, la dueña del Zagol Ethopian Restuarant, hace de todo, ya que no tiene empleados, actúa como jefa de cocina, anfitriona, camarera y todo lo demás.
Shita Yenenh, owner of Zagol Ethiopian Restaurant, does everything; she has no employees and is server, cook and host. Image: Bianca Wright / This Is Reno

Zagol is, as far as I can find, the only Ethiopian restaurant in Reno. It’s tucked into the Mira Loma Park shopping center, just steps from O’A Sushi. And when we told our server/the woman who appeared to be both cooking and running the entire business (owner Shita Yenenh), that we had never had Ethiopian food before, she smirked. It felt like a dare.

With a little nudging and a menu that clearly detailed the spice levels on different dishes, we made three picks for our meal: Alicha, Ye Beg Tibs and Kilkil. 

The fare was delivered to us with a plate of injera, an Ethiopian crepe-like bread made with teff flour that has a spongy texture. She said simply “that’s your silverware,” and walked away, appearing to smirk again.

I’m not proud of this, but I did Google how to eat Ethiopian food with injera before digging in. 

The flavors on the food were astounding. I didn’t know what to expect when the menu descriptions said, “Ethiopian spices,” but the flavors were big and bold and different. The food tasted exotic in a way I guess I should have expected it to. We stayed away from anything rated above a medium on the spice scale, and everything was enjoyable with more flavor than most cuisines seem to pack.

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The Alicha had the same texture as the Kilkil, both rather mushy but easy to pick up with the injera. The Alicha is a mild lean beef stew—no spice—flavored with onion, ginger, garlic, purified herbal butter and those elusive Ethiopian spices. Not a big fan of ginger, I can attest that it was impossible to distinguish a single ginger taste from the dish.

The Ye Beg Tibs was our daring foray into something mildly spicy. The fresh lamb sauteed in light olive oil and seasoned with onions, green pepper, tomato spices and rosemary, had a different texture than the other two dishes, more bite-sized cubed meat where you could see the onions chopped on top. All of the pieces were small enough that it was easy to pick up with the injera, as well.

A plate of food from Zagol Ethiopian Restaurant in Reno, Nev.
A plate of food from Zagol Ethiopian Restaurant in Reno, Nev., with, clockwise from left, Ye Beg Tibs, Alicha and Kilkil, served atop a round of injera. Extra injera serves as eating utensils. Image: Nora Tarte / This Is Reno

Finishing our meal was the Kilkil (we chose one item from each section of the menu: beef, lamb, and poultry and vegetarian). Kilkil is smooshed green beans with chunks of cooked carrot flavored with onions, garlic, ginger and Ethiopian spices.

Three items left both of us full and plenty left on the plate: a shareable platter plopped into the middle of the table, laden with a large pancake-shaped injera and topped with the three items, separate and not touching each other.

The entire atmosphere leans into the Ethiopian culture with everything from the wall art to the dishes. The cooking at Zagol mixes both modern and traditional techniques to turn out the flavorful and unique African dishes.  

Zagol also brings Ethiopia’s popular whole bean coffee to Reno and includes a wine and beer list with $5 bottled brews both local and imported.

Being fully transparent, the style of eating and the textures will likely be new to many. Some will revel in the experience and be able to appreciate the flavor profiles. Others may struggle to get past the newness. I, for one, fall into the first category. To figure out where you land, you’ll simply have to try it.

A plate of Ehtiopian food from Zagol in Reno, Nev.

Details

3314 S. McCarran Blvd., Reno, Nev. 89502
775-786-9020
Monday – Saturday 4 to 8 p.m.

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