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Lunch, Anyone? Lucy Ethiopian Cafe

Eating with your hands is required at this Symphony restaurant

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There’s something undeniably fun about eating food with your hands. Finger foods are party staples, after all. At Lucy Ethiopian Cafe, just above the Green Line’s Symphony station, every dish is finger food and every visit is a party.

The unassuming 20-seat cafe, named for the 3.2-million-year-old fossil pieces of a woman discovered and dubbed Lucy by archaeologists in Ethiopia in 1974, is popular with students, professionals, and those attending events at Symphony Hall and the BU Theatre. It offers delicious authentic Ethiopian cuisine at prices you can’t beat. The warmly decorated restaurant’s yellow walls are lined with colorful paintings of Ethiopia, with woven baskets and clay coffeepots adding an atmospheric touch. A wall dominated by a whiteboard lists various Amharic phrases and words and facts about Ethiopia (you’ll learn a lot about Lucy).

We were the first customers when we arrived just after it opened on a recent Friday afternoon, but it didn’t take long to fill up. Lucy attracts coffee lovers early in the day who take advantage of the free Wi-Fi. You can order just coffee (breakfast items are excellent, however) before 4:30 p.m. (after that, you have to order food as well). The usual espressos and macchiatos are available, but the more exciting Ethiopian coffees are the real draw. The buna be-jabena ($7), served in a traditional pot with small cups called cini, is delicious, as is the favorite, peanut tea ($3.75), made from a special house recipe: milk, honey, and peanuts. The peanut tea we ordered was frothy, creamy, and sweet, like a peanut butter steamer. Cold offerings include fresh carrot juice with ginger and lemon ($5.99) and the popular besso shake ($5.99), a blend of sun-dried barley, milk, honey, and chocolate.

Photo of peanut tea

The peanut tea, a creamy blend of honey, milk and peanuts, available hot or cold, has been compared to a peanut latte or steamer.

We arrived hungry, and so should you. Lucy’s menu has two main categories: vegetarian dishes and beef dishes. You can pick from three-dish vegetarian combos ($9.50), like the green combo, with spinach, gomen (collard greens with potatoes), and dinch wot (potatoes and carrots simmered in a flavorful, mild sauce), and you can also customize a three- or four-dish combo. If you’re craving meat, try one of Lucy’s most popular dishes, the lega tibs ($11.95), beef chunks sautéed with onion, green pepper, jalapeño, tomato, garlic, rosemary, and spicy awaze sauce. There’s also che che bsa ($8.59), sweet bread with spiced butter, berbere (the spice base for the awaze sauce), sour cream, and honey. Diners can add scrambled eggs for a filling lunch dish ($9.59).

The heart of any Ethiopian meal is the injera bread, a crepe-like flatbread, made here using fermented teff grain and whole wheat and white flour. Each dish comes with five pieces of injera, and most of the appetizers consist of various fillings rolled in injera. There are utensils on the table, but a sign urges diners to tear off a piece of the bread about half the size of your palm and use it to scoop up the food.
We opted for the veggie combo for two ($19.95), a medley of all seven of the vegetarian dishes on a family-style platter.

Our anticipation paid off: when our waiter arrived at the table with a huge platter and lifted off the woven cover, reminiscent of a traditional Asian farmer’s conical hat, he revealed a platter lined with a piece of injera covered with piles of yellow, green, and red vegetables interspersed with injera rolls. In the middle was miser wot, red lentils simmered in a spicy berbere sauce. Surrounding the rolls were servings of gomen, dinch wot, simmered spinach, timatim fit fit (chickpeas mashed with garlic), kit aletcha (split peas in garlic and ginger sauce), and tikile gomen (simmered cabbage and potatoes).

Photo of Lucy Ethiopian veggie combo

The veggie combo for two is more than enough for a couple, and allows diners to try all seven of Lucy’s vegetable dishes at a great price.

We found it to be a delicious feast of contrasting textures and flavors. The crunchy cabbage in the tikile gomen contrasted well with the smooth split peas in the kit aletcha. The earthy spinach, while a little dry, provided a pleasant counterpoint to the spicy red lentils, turmeric-flavored cabbage, and tart chickpeas. The injera, dotted with air bubbles, was light, spongy, and because of fermentation, pleasantly tart. For the milder dishes, like the dinch wot and kit aletcha, the injera can slightly overwhelm the dish, but for the most part, the bread was an effective, and interesting, way to eat the meal.

If you order the combo platter for two, plan to take some home: the dish could easily feed three or four people. But we’re not complaining—we left full and with leftovers.

“That’s the best part,” our waiter assured us as we plopped the bottom crepe into a to-go box, nodding approvingly. “It’s soaked up all the flavor.”

Lucy Ethiopian Cafe, 334 Massachusetts Ave., is open Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; phone: 617-536-0415. Lunch is served until 3 p.m. All major credit cards are accepted. Take an MBTA C Line trolley to Hynes Convention Center, a Green Line trolley to Symphony, or the BU shuttle to the Huntington Avenue stop.

This is part of a weekly series featuring Boston lunch spots of interest to the BU community. If you have any suggestions for places we should feature, leave them in the Comment section below.

Kylie Obermeier can be reached at kylieko@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @kyliekobermeier.

2 Comments

2 Comments on Lunch, Anyone? Lucy Ethiopian Cafe

  • Mary Hubbard on 12.15.2016 at 10:57 am

    Do they have a liquor license? Wine and beer perhaps?

  • Lorraine on 12.15.2016 at 11:45 am

    Lucy’s has the most delicious food. It is run by an Ethiopian couple who have brought the flavor and taste of the food from Ethiopia to Boston. My Ethiopian son loves the food and it is a favorite for him to go to. It is family friendly and well worth going to for a good and interesting meal

    Enjoy

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