Exotic Finger Food

You’d never guess it, but there’s an Ethiopian restaurant in a gas station in North Spokane

Exotic Finger Food
Paulo Ordoveza

The gas station door chimes as customers go in and out. But there is a hint of spice wafting from behind the beaded doorway inside of this Conoco on the Newport Highway. Mentwav Hailu is preparing yebere siga tibs, an Ethiopian dish of sautéed beef with onion and garlic.

Behind the beaded doorway, tucked in the corner of, yes, a gas station, is One Love, a newly opened Ethiopian restaurant. Hailu cooks all of the food, but the restaurant is a family effort. Her daughter did the decorating and her son, Bruk Tafere, is a college student who is there to help.

Her husband, Desta Alemayehu, runs the station. He came to Spokane to join friends who were investing in gas stations and, about a year ago, he bought Conoco and the Hico Market on the corner of Nevada Street and Newport Highway. It had extra space, so they started the restaurant in the middle of October “to give Spokane a little taste of Ethiopia,” Tafere says.

Tafere lived in Ethiopia until he was 8 years old. His father came to America for medical reasons, to get treatment in Seattle. The rest of the family followed shortly after.

In Ethiopia, Hailu wasn’t a full-time cook. She says she likes cooking and did it casually — cooking for her kids — but back home, she was a lawyer. When she came to America she wanted to continue her practice, but was told she needed five years of school.

The culture in Ethiopia is all about family, Tafere says. “It’s a lot like here, but more humble.” Everyone is kind, whether they’re rich or poor. They’re all very respectful, he says.

Eating together is a big part of the culture. Everyone drops everything to do it — no TV or cell phones allowed.

Rule No. 1: no utensils.

“Everyone gathers around and eats with their hands,” Tafere says.

Rule No. 2: wash your hands.

Tafere brings out a large silver bowl and pitcher. The hand-washing ceremony is custom. He pours the water over my hands and it runs into the bowl. He instructs me to dry my hands on the towel hanging on his arm.

Hailu, smiling with her hands together, asks, “Would you like spicy or not spicy?” I confess she had better go with the not-too-spicy version.

She emerges with a large silver platter, bigger than a tire rim. Spread across the base of the dish is injera, a sourdough flatbread made of fermented teff flour. The yebere siga tibs is a pile of steaming cubes of sautéed beef blended with spices, onions, green pepper, tomato garlic and butter. It is paired with a chopped salad of the same vegetables doused in olive oil.

From the basket of extra pieces of rolled injera, Hailu tears a piece with her right hand and sweeps up some of the meat mixture and pops it in her mouth.

She says she knows the food is different for a lot of people in Spokane, and the flavors might take some getting used to.

“The first time they eat it, it’s weird,” she says. “But after two or three times they like it more than us.” 

One Love • 10606 N. Newport Hwy. • 467-8276 • Open Daily, 11 am to 9 pm