Restaurant Review: Aster's Ethiopian Restaurant

Aster Kassaye is back, and we couldn't be happier

Aster's Ethiopian Restaurant

2804 N I-35, 512/469-5966,
Sun.-Thu., 11am-9pm; Fri.-Sat., 11am-10pm
Aster Kassaye
Aster Kassaye (Photo by John Anderson)

Aster's Ethiopian Restaurant

2804 N. I-35, 469-5966
Tuesday-Sunday, 11am-9pm

Aster Kassaye and family formerly ran Aster's Ethiopian Restaurant on Rundberg Lane in the early Nineties until they left to rejoin family in Virginia. After her return to Austin, Kassaye had been producing her fare under the label Aster's Ethiopian Catering, selling precooked items at Wheatsville, Whole Foods, Central Market, and local farmers' markets. Now the Kassaye clan again has a restaurant, on the northwest corner of I-35 and Dean Keeton, and we couldn't be happier.

Ethiopian cuisine does not use pork, since the country is Muslim and Ethiopian Orthodox Christian, and there is a wealth of vegetable sides, so vegetarians naturally flock toward Ethiopian venues. The flavor profile resembles Pakistani or Afghani cuisine, crossed with North African: complex layers of spice and piquancy. Food is served on injera, a spongy, crepelike flatbread made with teff flour, which is ground from the seeds of a species of love grass (Eragrostis tef). This bread is also the eating utensil. Although cutlery is provided if requested, it's a lot more fun to eat with your hands (actually it's more of a soft-taco style).

We've cruised the menu at Aster's and tried the bulk of the items, finding them all delicious. There is a 13-item lunch menu: smaller-portion entrée meat or vegetable dishes with two sides and injera for $6.50 (still, a substantial lunch offering). After lunch the menu expands to 18 items, served in larger portions, with prices in the $8 to $13.50 range.

For lunch, we've tried the spicy beef cubes, flavored with Berbere (a spice blend of cumin, fenugreek, cardamom, allspice, cloves, chile, and others), ginger, and garlic. The meat is very tender and the spicing intoxicating. For dinner we've eaten the lamb stew with Berbere ($13.50): unctuous cubes of rich lamb with a few marrow-laden bones included.

The Doro Wott (Ethiopia's national dish, $11.50) is superb: two meaty and tender chicken legs, with a hard-boiled egg, bathed in a thick spice paste. The Kitfo ($12.50) is unique: the Ethiopian version of steak tartar, mixed with spiced butter and mit'mit'a (a chile-based spice with black cardamom and salt). You can get it raw or rare, excellent either way.

We've sampled all of the vegetables, with our favorites being the collard greens (subtly spiced and buttery) and the eggplant (with tomatoes, garlic, onions, and spice). Vegetable prices range from $8 to $12, for the combination plate of as many as you like. There are two salads: Lentil is tart and spicy, with a lemon dressing; bread salad is small pieces of injera with tomato, peppers, and onion, tossed in a lemony dressing. The tartness marries well with the rich entrées.

The spicy lentils are sublime: peppery, dark, and rich. The sweet cabbage is combined with green beans, carrots, and onions; garlic; and ginger in a turmeric sauce. Mild split lentils are rich and soft, with a hint of ginger. The potatoes are a wonderful texture, not too soft or too crisp, in a sauce with cinnamon and ginger, accompanied by some greens beans, tomato, and garlic.

Service is attentive, and the staff is great at making suggestions for the newbies. Currently, Aster's is BYOB, and we'd suggest a lager, preferably Ethiopian: Harar or Bati if you can find them. Another good option is a sturdy ginger beer such as Stewart's or Maine Root. Aster's makes a fine cup of coffee as well; apropos, considering Ethiopia is the birthplace of the coffee bean.

Austin is again blessed with a venue for Ethiopian cuisine, and comparing Aster's dishes to those we've sampled in other cities, we can attest that she is producing the real deal. Get over there and give it a try. This is one that we don't want to lose!

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Food Reviews
Carpenters Hall Is Smart, Beautiful, and Almost Annoyingly Cool
Carpenters Hall Is Smart, Beautiful, and Almost Annoyingly Cool
The restaurant within Carpenter Hotel is a conceptual ode to German, Czech, and Texan cuisines

Jessi Cape, Jan. 18, 2019

Delicious and Nurturing Indian Fare at a South Austin Strip Mall
Delicious and Nurturing Indian Fare at a South Austin Strip Mall
Asiana Indian Cuisine has something for every palate

Emily Beyda, Jan. 4, 2019

More by Mick Vann
Guantanamera Cuban Cuisine
Guantanamera Cuban Cuisine
Good things come in small packages

May 8, 2015

On the Cheap: Taquito Aviles
Taquito Aviles
Getting our goat on Braker

Feb. 20, 2015


Aster's Ethiopian Restaurant, Aster Kassaye

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle