It’s easy to miss the Katar River restaurant, hidden away in a little industrial strip behind the Lake & Hiawatha shopping center in south Minneapolis. And even if you saw the big sign outside, you probably wouldn’t know that this is specifically an Ethiopian restaurant, and a very good one.
The basic menu is pretty much the same as most of the other Ethiopian restaurants in town – you get a big platter draped with thin sheets of spongy pancake-like injera bread, topped with your choice of one or more meat or vegetable dishes. Most entrees are in the $10.95-$12.95 range, and easily big enough for two. The meats are mostly stews of lamb, beef or chicken, ranging from mild to spicy, while the vegetable options include slow-cooked preparations of cabbage, carrots, lentils, split peas, beets, green beans and collard greens.
The best approach is to order one of the combination plates – like the Katar Special, which gives you eight different meat and vegetable dishes for $17.95. The traditional way to eat these dishes is with your hands – you tear off a bit of injera, and then use it to scoop up the meat and vegetables.
The best time to go is on Thursday, Saturday or Sunday afternoons, when one of the servers performs the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. The beans are first roasted in a pan, which fills the dining room with a delicious aroma, then ground and brewed. That coffee aroma mingles with the scent of burning incense – frankincense, I am guessing – to create a rich and distinctive olfactory experience. Once the coffee is brewed, complimentary cups are offered to all the guests.
A limited selection of wines and beers are available, as well as Ethiopian breads and sambusas for takeout.