Hidmo Eritrean Restaurant
2000 S Jackson St (Central District), 329-1534
Tues-Thurs noon-midnight, Fri-Sun noon-2 am.

I once had a rather memorable eavesdropping experience while waiting on some dumbshit ranting about Walt Disney World. Apparently there's a kind of mini-Europe within, complete with replicas of the Eiffel Tower, London Bridge, et cetera. He said something like, "Now that I've been there, I no longer feel the need to visit the real places."

What does this have to do with an Eritrean restaurant in the CD? It reminds you that some people don't even care about the authenticity of their experiences. Happily, I think most of us do care, which is why I'd recommend a meal at Hidmo.

I struck up a conversation with co-owner Neguse Girmai at the small bar. He was finishing his dinner of zegny beghie (lamb meat simmered in a hot pepper sauce), taking a break between his day job as an engineer at Boeing and life number two as a restaurant owner. Mr. Girmai is a treasure trove of knowledge and information about Eritrean food and culture, and is happy to share. I soon found out that "hidmo" is the small thatched structure where rural East Africans cook and live.

For your dining experience, I recommend clean hands, an adventurous mood, and a love for spice, as the cook (and I only saw one) is not shy with garlic and chilies. If you're not familiar with East African cuisine, protein and vegetables are usually served on top of injera, a huge stretchy pancake; to eat, you tear off a small piece and use your arm and hands as a backhoe of sorts, continually eating the shovel and replacing it with more injera.

Chicken, lamb, and beef are the most commonly used proteins, while spinach, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and orange lentils nicely round out the flavors and textures. Four of us could barely polish off a meat combination ($10.95) and a vegetable combination ($8.95). Granted, it did take quite a few cold Heinekens to cool off the mouth, but we still got out for under $50.

Hidmo makes no pretense about trying to cater to the American diner's expectations. No scripted hostess at the front door polluting your ears with compliments, no up-selling--it's a gloriously bullshit-free environment. And if you're lucky, Mr. Girmai might walk you through the replicated hidmo in the corner, explaining the significance of its contents. You won't feel like you've been to Africa, but you'll definitely feel like you've left Seattle.