7020 Commerce Street
Springfield, VA 22150
Springfield, VA 22150
If it wasn't for a Groupon, I would not have tried this restaurant, and am I glad I did! A little out of the way for me - all the way in Springfield - Merkamo was definitely worth the drive.
Located in a small strip mall in an area overrun with strip malls of all sizes, Merkamo is a cozy low-key restaurant with about 15 tables in all, and a full bar and a large flat screen TV (tuned to CNN), which is particularly convenient to keep company for those dining alone. At lunchtime on a weekday in December, about 6 of the tables were full. This seemed to be a restaurant enjoyed not only by Americans, but also by Ethiopians living in this area, which is a great sign of really authentic food.
The restaurant itself was open and sunny. Even the bathroom was pleasant!
The two ladies that explained the menu and served the food could not have been more hospitable and attentive. They are also, apparently, part-owners in this family restaurant, which according to a review in the Washington Post means "beautiful" in Ethiopian. This makes sense because my experience was nothing short of beautiful.
I over-ordered with the hopes to be able to take some food home with me, which worked out well. I got the house special Merkamo Vegetarian Combo that included five vegetarian samplings, four of which were pretty standard, but the fifth was a dish with cold beets, which was absolutely amazing - and unique. I don't think I ever had beets at an Ethiopian restaurant before, what a wonderful combination of flavors and textures and temperatures.
I am not typically a big meat eater, but when at an Ethiopian restaurant, meat is a must. The tibs were probably one of the best I ever had. Importantly, ventilation at this restaurant was pretty good, so the sizzling tibs smell did not absorb into my clothes or hair. I also had a house specialty Merkamo Kitfo (I ordered mine well done, not in the more traditional tartar) that came with two sides - cheese and spinach. They were all delicious.
Most amazing was the awaze sauce, which the restaurant offers on the side to spoon out to one's individual taste. This red flavorful spicy sauce was so delicious that I asked them to sell me some to-go, which they did. Wow, what a treat.
I don't think there is much more to say about this restaurant other than - if you like Ethiopian food, go here.