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Discerning Diner:
Ethiopian cuisine at Tina's: Deliciously addicting
By Elan Head

February 18, 2006

Three or four times a week, I drive down Arizona Avenue on my way to and from the Chandler airport.

About six months ago, I finally noticed Tina’s Ethiopian Cafe, adjacent to El Coyote Bar on Arizona Avenue just north of Chandler Boulevard.

About two weeks ago, I finally got around to trying it.

Well, some chowhound I am. Tina’s, which opened in March of 2004, is simply outstanding, and I’ve already missed out on two years of eating there.

Ethiopian food is unique. It’s primarily known for injera, a spongy, crepe-like bread that acts as both serving dish and utensil.

Made from the tiny, high-protein grain called teff, injera batter is fermented, so it’s slightly sour. It cooks into a porous bread that’s ideal for mopping up sauces.

The sauces in question are those of watts, Ethiopia’s delicious, subtly spiced stews. Watts are served on a large piece of injera with additional injera on the side.

To eat them, you tear off a piece of injera and wrap its spongy side around a portion of watt, then carry this floppy taco to your mouth.

All in all, it’s a fun way to dine. It can also be addictive, particularly at Tina’s.

Tina’s injera is thick and deliciously tangy, manifestly the way it’s supposed to be. I could eat this stuff all day long, all by itself.

But it’s even better wrapped around dishes like yemiser watt (mildly spiced lentils) or spinach watt (silky braised greens).

I was also blown away by “Tina’s Famous House Salad,” an outstanding, lemony mix of lettuce, onion, tomato, jalapeno, sunflower seeds and spices. This unpretentious dish has more finesse than a salad you’d pay $15 for in Scottsdale.

Obviously, Tina’s is vegetarian-friendly. But with chicken and beef dishes, it caters to carnivores, too.

The marquee item here is beef tibbs, grilled beef served with onions and green peppers. The limited menu also includes yedoro (chicken) and key (beef) watts.

You can order a single dish or a combination of them; they’ll all be served together on the same delicious round of injera.

In short, Tina’s food is authentic and terrific. But the atmosphere deserves a word, too, because I’m pretty sure you’ll either love it or you’ll hate it.

I love it, myself. Tina’s belongs to the “hole-in-the-wall” category of restaurants, a genre I’m stubbornly fond of.

The surroundings are very, very casual, and the overall effect is of eating in Tina’s living room, because yes, there is a Tina.

The eponymous Tina Hildebrand is the restaurant’s single cook and server. She’s an Ethiopian who came to the United States in 1991.

Beyond her talents in the kitchen, Hildebrand is warm, gracious and hardworking, and her devoted customers love her for it. She creates an atmosphere where it’s not uncommon to chat and exchange numbers with the people at the next table.

If this sounds delightful to you, give Tina’s a try. If it sounds obnoxious, you’ll probably want to get your Ethiopian fix at the Valley’s more conventional restaurants: Cafe Lalibela and Blue Nile, both near Arizona State University in Tempe.

Notice something here? The Phoenix metro area’s Ethiopian restaurants are all clustered in the southeast Valley.

It’s one more good reason to reside in the Kyrene Corridor.

Tina’s Ethiopian Cafe, 479 N. Arizona Ave., (480) 917-3088 or







































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