If you come into Yordanos at the right time, you might catch a glimpse of the family behind South LA’s only Ethiopian restaurant preparing coffee in a ceremony that makes use of the “jebena,” a traditional ceramic coffee brewer. The restaurant, run by husband and wife team Belay Zemedkun Kassa and Tsiyon Mergiya and staffed by relatives, offers all the tastes of Ethiopia from the coffee to “kitfo,” a rich beef tartare that Yordanos considers its specialty.
In the simple restaurant adorned with art the family has collected on their visits back to Ethiopia, Kassa and Mergiya offer heaping platters of food with billowing sheets of injera, the spongy, sourdough-like flatbread that is the fundamental component of Ethiopian cuisine. Classical Ethiopian music plays in the background as patrons enjoy the several different kinds of “wat,” or stew, sopped up on small pieces of injera.
“I think it’s brought a new flavor into the community, with more spices," says Yordanos Zemedkun, the couple’s oldest daughter for whom the restaurant is named. The family, who has been living in Leimert Park for over a decade, decided to open the restaurant after a church in the area closed down. Kassa and Mergiya also own a barber shop down the street, a source of many of Yordanos’ customers.
The family takes great pains in making their food, from growing and drying Ethiopian chilis to making the injera in-house everyday. According to Zemedkun, her parents decided to open it for two main reasons: to give her and her younger sister something that connected them to the Ethiopian culture, and to give back to the community that has supported them since their arrival in America roughly a decade ago.
“I see it as a way for people to come together and use as a meeting space," she says. “We put our [restaurant] where there are a variety of places, like the barber shop, liquor store and the [Baldwin Hills Crenshaw] mall so people have access to more things.”
The student budget-friendly restaurant offers large portions of food at reasonable prices. Just a little over three miles from campus, Yordanos Ethiopian Cuisine is open every day of the week but Tuesday, from 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Yordanos Ethiopian Restaurant, 4020 W Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90008