Farther north and west than where the lion’s share of Ethiopian restaurants cluster in Richardson, Shebelle Ethiopian Cuisine and Bar is one of the newest Ethiopian spots, having opened just over a year ago with a light space and a sleek, modern bar. Approaching it from the shopping strip’s parking lot, my dining partner and I could smell the spices, the gentle wafting of tantalizing aromas from the comforting, warm, rich berbere spice that will be soaked up by spongy injera.
Shebelle feels, nevertheless, like Ethiopian food for Far North Dallas, a place for those who do not want to be surprised by spice, those for whom a gentler approach is perhaps favorable. We have bastions of more long-standing tradition, where flavors are richer; but we also have more recent additions, like MarRosso Cafe, which we recently reviewed, that play in a new register.
Kategna, an appetizer I’ve seen nowhere else, is lovely and fun, bite-sized rolls of toasted injera that has drunk up spiced butter. We sampled it while waiting on what is often kind but slow service.
The gentle hand with spice means vegetable dishes can lack flavor: an understated version of gomen (collard greens) with a touch of ginger; fasiola (carrots and green beans) sautéed to a kind of caramel softness as though soothed down by heat; or even shiro, a usually flavorful, ruddy purée of split peas with here only a faint hint of spice. Ingredients were honored, but muted.
Meanwhile, certain meat dishes were quite extraordinary in their subtlety, taking on an entirely different character. I was surprised to be so galvanized by kitfo, a soft grind of pink-red raw beef with an insinuation of cardamom. The clarified butter had been warmed like an unction, and the dish—beautifully presented as a mound speared with jalapeño slivers, with its tender, velvety meat—was magic. In its cool-warm contrast and nuanced flavor, I don’t think I’ve ever had better. Tender cubed lamb was delicious, too, stewed and kissed with the ginger and onion that forms the lighter base of Ethiopian food, like a mild sofrito.
I left thinking of Shebelle as a quiet spot for hushed flavors. Like ayib, the milky housemade cottage cheese that you don’t find everywhere, but that you should order here, even if only as a side to bring its soothing influence. Though a sideways glance at the stage with amps promises something altogether different courtesy of DJs on Saturday nights.