Mount Vernon's Tabor Ethiopian Restaurant, with its cheery staff and great food, would be a fun place to be a regular. Judging by our recent experience, a lot of people have already adopted Tabor as their dining home away from home.
However, walking into a restaurant full of regulars is sometimes intimidating. During our dinner at Tabor, we occasionally felt like rookies in a room of experts, unsure of what to ask or order. Despite some moments feeling off-kilter, the staff was friendly and the food was good. By the end of our meal, we felt like we had gotten into the Tabor groove.
Scene & Decor Tabor's location is a cute one, with a bright bar in the back, big windows in front and walls dotted with African-inspired art.
The space is on the small side (though the year and a half old Park Avenue location is larger than their former digs on Mulberry Street). Just before seven on a Thursday night, most tables were filled and several, in the center of the restaurant, were pushed together to accommodate a graduation party.
Thanks to that group, along with a handful of other chatty tables, the overall vibe was a friendly one. The restaurant seemed like one big party.
Drinks The man who sat us gave us menus that did not list any drink options. But from our vantage point, we saw not only the bar at the back of the restaurant but also beer bottles on several tables.
Ethiopian food is full of flavor and can be very spicy; beer is a good match. We tried both of Tabor's Ethiopian options: mild Hakim Stout ($4) and refreshing St. George Lager ($4).
Service Since we didn't have a drinks menu, before ordering, we asked our waitress about the options — and ran into a bit of awkwardness. She wasn't sure what was available, so she sent her manager to our table. He listed the options and we ordered, but then waited for quite a while before the beers arrived and even longer before the waitress returned to take our order.
Entrees Once we did get our food, all was well. Tabor's menu is a laundry list of options without the classic "appetizer" and "entree" categories. Our table's food arrived on one big platter to share, with a large plate of injera, the spongy sourdough bread that takes the place of utensils at Ethiopian restaurants.
The round platter was lovely, with eight vegetarian dishes ($13) around the edges and a large pile of awaze tibs ($12) in the center.
The vegetarian dishes included both red and green lentils (the red sauce was sneakily spicy), warm cabbage mixed with potatoes, earthy beets sliced like French fries, mild and creamy yellow peas, a savory chickpea stew called shira, collard greens, and potatoes in a warm and spicy brown sauce.
Awaze tibs — a traditional Ethiopian stew — included chunks of both beef and lamb mixed with onions and jalapenos in a thick, addictively spicy broth.
All of the dishes impressed us but the tibs, lentils and spicy potatoes were especially well-executed and flavorful.
Dessert When we asked about dessert, our waitress answered with a simple, apologetic shake of her head. We wouldn't have minded something sweet, though we were stuffed from our meal.
Instead of dessert, we ended the meal with a bonus. As we were winding down, the cap-and-gown-wearing graduate who was being honored at the tables in the center of the restaurant strolled around the place holding a foil pan filled with hot pastries stuffed with savory filling. Leftovers, maybe, from his family's meal.
When he offered us one, we couldn't say no - and we're glad we didn't, they were delicious.
Plus, the interaction — the opportunity to congratulate a recent grad and chat with one of our fellow diners — left us feeling warm and welcome. Like we might even be new regulars.
Tabor Ethiopian Restaurant
Back story: Tabor, a Mount Vernon-area mainstay since 2009, moved to a new, larger space on Park Avenue about a year and a half ago. The brief menu is focused on the traditional, flavorful foods of Ethiopia, served authentically, without utensils but with injera (spongy Ethiopian sourdough bread) for scooping.
Parking: Street parking
Signature dish: Tabor Ethiopian's awaze tibs - thick, savory stew made with a mix of lamb and beef - packs a punch. The sauce includes chunks of jalapeno, imbuing each bite with a little spice - and some bites with a lot of spice.
Where: 328 Park Avenue, Baltimore
Open: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday (may stay open later any night, if customers are interested)
Credit Cards: All major
Bottom line: Friendly staff and great food make up for sometimes sporadic timing and confusing service at this charming Ethiopian joint.