First Place: HABESHA (This restaurant is now closed)
In a city where smoking in most restaurants is but a memory, Habesha is startling to newcomers. Yes, the hookah is a staple of north African and Middle Eastern culture, but a casual eater may be stunned by the amount of smoke in the air – it’s like taking a trip back in time to 1972. But, we aren’t calling Habesha the best African restaurant in the city because of the hookah; it’s because of the fantastic Ethiopian spread, made for sharing. You’ll get bowl after bowl of sauces, vegetables and meat stews made for dipping. No need for a knife and fork, just plunge a chunk of injera, bread with the consistency of a sponge, into the dip of your choice, pop it in your mouth, and repeat. Each bite will offer a different blend of exotic spices shipped in from Africa and bright with colour.The servings are massive – if you can get through a whole platter of dips, well, think about entering some sort of binge-eating contest. (9511 118 Ave., 780-982-1482) -Steven Sandor
Runner-Up: LANGANO SKIES
As Whyte Avenue goes further east, it becomes more residential, with more apartments and less shops and restaurants. But the hipster charmis maintained up until around 99th Street with Langano Skies right on the precipice. And it’s well worth the trek for an Ethiopian feast. Heaping plates of meat and vegetables taste as fresh as they look. The restaurant serves plenty of injera alongside dishes like the atkilt alicha wot, basically astew of carrots, potatoes and cabbage. (9920 82 Ave., 780-432-3334, langanoskies.com) -Caroline Barlott
Honourable Mention: AFRICAN SAFARI
While the menu might have a focus on meat, as is common with traditional Somalian dishes – think goat, beef, even camel – each meal comes with mango juice, salad and soup. Expect reasonable prices, heaping plates and flavourful dishes like the goat and chicken with rice. The dishes are complex and simple at the same time. The same ingredients are often used in myriad of ways. But most patrons would be stumped when trying to recreate the dishes with the same success in their own kitchens. (10610 105 St., 780-423-6614) -C.B
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