Dukem is rated as one of the top Ethiopian restaurants in DC and it's where I used to enjoy taking people who've never had Ethiopian. Now, I'm not so sure. It is located right on U Street in the U Street Corridor, an area known for its Ethiopian restaurants and jazz establishments. On Friday and Saturday nights, it is best to make a reservation as they perform live Ethiopian music to a packed house.
On this particular visit, me and my brother were just going for lunch on a Sunday. There weren't many people there so we had our pick of tables. They were playing Ethiopian music over the speakers and showing the Jackson Five dancing on big screen -- a funny combination. My brother had never had Ethiopian before so I took the liberty of ordering the vegetarian sampler for two with seven items. I will note that they have spelled vegetarian wrong on the menu for many years and I really wish they would correct it. I also don't like how they list the option to add fish to your vegetarian platter as if that is what most people do. When I ordered, my waitress asked me if I wanted fish. I politely said, "no," with a bit of a scowl on my face.
I ordered a mango juice to start. The mango juice is really just pulp and is pretty good as long as you are okay with drinking a thicker pulpy drink.
Ethiopian food is eaten with your hands -- no utensils supplied. All of the food is served with injera, a spongy bread made of teff. When they brought our platter out to us, they had only brought one piece of injera so I asked for one more. All of the entrees are placed on a piece of injera that is laid over the platter. This platter included spicy split lentils, yellow peas, greens, cabbage and carrots, shiro (made of powdered chickpeas), tomato salad, and potatoes.
My favorite dish is always the spicy split red lentils. I also love the yellow peas even though they aren't that spicy. The cabbage and carrots dish is delicious as is the salad and greens. The only one I really didn't like is the shiro as it tasted odd. The potato dish is the one of the top left that was very rich -- I enjoyed that one as well. The one thing about Dukem I don't like is that they don't make their dishes spicy enough. Meskerem, another Ethiopian restaurant in DC, does a better job of this.
The injera wasn't as soft and spongy as it normally is, which was really disappointing. It usually is better, but wasn't that good this time.
The service is always pretty lax here so it took a while to get our check. I was surprised to see that I was charged for the extra piece of injera. Most other Ethiopian restaurants including Meskerem do not charge for injera. Oh, well.
So, while I continue to go to Dukem every so often, overall I prefer Meskerem. Dukem really needs to spice up their entrees and stop charging for injera, which are some basics of running a good Ethiopian restaurant. With so much competition in DC for Ethiopian food, they need to improve their game. That said, I do enjoy the live music so it is a good place to go to have a holistic experience -- Ethiopian food and live entertainment! But, for just good food, head to Meskerem in Adams Morgan.
1114 - 1118 U Street NW
Washington, DC 20009