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Azla: A Vegan Ethiopian Restaurant Worth Its Weight in Injera!

It’s well known in my circle of friends that you rarely leave your area of Los Angeles. You find restaurants, shops and local hangouts — and you stick to that radius. The traffic in Los Angeles makes this so. The only time you leave your ‘hood is when you hear the food is THAT good — and that’s rare. There are few restaurants that have actually lived up to their hype. Maybe the food is okay, but the prices are sky high. Or the food is affordable but adds nothing special to the palate that is life.
I write all of this so that you get just how significant it was for my fiance and me to meet up with some of our favorite people for a night of Ethiopian food in South LA. Located near the USC Campus on South Grand, Azla is a restaurant tucked into a mini shopping area and food court of sorts. I love Ethiopian food, but since I’ve given up gluten and dairy, I’ve had to stay away from some of my favorite foods; that includes injera — the traditional bread served with the meal.
Thank you Azla for a gluten-free, dairy-free menu! Delicious food that managed to go vegan without losing its flavorful integrity? That’s my kind of restaurant! Five of us (three men and two women) sat down to a family-style meal of different vegetable dishes and couldn’t even finish the plate. We had the misir (red lentils, spicy berbere), gomen (kale, garlic, collard greens), yatakilt (curry potatoes, carrots, cabbage) , kik (yellow split peas, turmeric, ginger) and fasolia (carrots, green beans, caramelized onions). Out of all of these, the kale and collard greens were my all-time favorite, but there was nothing I would have passed on. And the gluten-free injera? Deliciously made with quinoa and teff flour.
If you’re in the Los Angeles area, I recommend taking a trip to Azla. Nesanet, Azla’s youngest daughter, helps her with the food, and she’s a delightful teacher if you’ve never tried Ethiopian before. She’s a whisperer of sorts. She’ll help you decide the plate size for you and your party, as well as some of the yummies you should give a whirl. I would also advise you to try one of the kombuchas! They had a Pink Lady apple kombucha that made me want to weep from sheer happiness. Pink Lady apples happen to be the only kind of apple I like. The drink wasn’t too vinegar-y either. It was heavenly and was the perfect fit to such great food.
So if your taste buds have been dismally bored, and you’re looking for something new and fun to try, GO! It’s been a long time since I’ve been hyped about a restaurant and the folks who run it. And this is the first time the owner of a restaurant has been so open and hospitable. I love finding spots where the people know your name. I love going to a place where you can walk in and say, “I’d like the usual, please,” and the folks there know exactly what to bring out. Who knew such hospitality extended far beyond the confines of bars like on the show Cheers?
Do you have a local spot you love? What is it, and what do you love about it? —Tish

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