Back in the late 1980s, an Ethiopian restaurant called Ras Kassa’s set up shop at the junction of Eldorado Canyon and U.S. 93. It was from this strange and somewhat desolate outpost that Tsehey and Richard Hailu formed what would become an institution in Boulder, eventually moving the business to its longtime location at a shopping center at Pearl and 30th streets.
Boulder Weekly has devoted quite a few words to Ras Kassas over the years. We’ve mused over the delight derived from eating an entire meal with no silverware, and waxed poetic about the spongy, tangy perfection of injera, the Ethiopian bread that replaces cutlery.
We’ve marveled at the mesob, the colorful handwoven wicker baskets around which diners sit and eat equally colorful plates of savory beef, lamb, lentils, collard greens and potatoes.
Back in 2016, Boulder Weekly’s own John Lehndorff called Ras Kassa’s “the coolest culinary anomaly” he’d ever encountered in his life as a food writer. It was, he wrote, “the first (and still only) place I’ve ever allowed anyone, much less a restaurant owner, put food directly in my mouth with her fingers. Somehow it was OK when it was Tsehay Hailu.”
Lehndorff wrote this just one year after Ras Kassa’s was forced out of its home on 30th Street. The whole shopping center had been sold to be redeveloped as Google’s new campus. Other businesses in the shopping center, like The Drum Shop and Aspen Pizza, were also ousted from the plaza.
Tsehay and her husband spent the next year looking for a permanent home for Ras Kassa’s in Boulder, with Tsehay setting up a temporary shop in the Broker Inn, cooking up mostly take-out orders. She spoke openly to Lehndorff about the struggle of their search.
“There are not many spaces available in Boulder — some are too big or too small, but the rent is very high,” Tsehay said. “The people who couldn’t afford to open in Boulder moved to Louisville, Lafayette and Longmont.”
And just this year, that’s what Ras Kassa’s did.
Boulder County’s favorite Ethiopian joint now has permanent digs again at 802 South Public Road in Lafayette. They will also continue their take-out business at the Broker Inn.
The new Lafayette location is sunny and spacious, with a back corner filled with mesob, but plenty of regular dining tables. And there’s still that same comforting, spicy smell when you walk in the door.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the best way to experience Ras Kassa’s is through the combination plates. If you’re with a friend, grab a dinner for two — strictly vegetarian or a combination vegetarian/meat entrée — and prepare to settle in and eat. Go slow, dear reader. A meal at Ras Kassa’s is a marathon, not a sprint.
The meal starts with a simple, delicious, small order of house-made hummus and injera (note: everything is house-made) before exploding into a huge tray of classic Ethiopian cuisine.
Each dinner for two is centered around an Ethiopian salad (a simple and fairly traditional salad with lettuce, tomatoes and a light coating of seasoned oil and vinegar). A house (and personal) favorite is the yebeg tibs, lamb sautéed with onions and peppers. There’s also the comforting metatesh, which is a spicy and sweet potato stew. There are also several types of spicy Ethiopian stews known as wot. A combo plate with meat dishes will allow you to enjoy doro wot, the national dish of Ethiopia and one of all of Africa’s most famous dishes, with chunks of bone-in chicken and whole hardboiled eggs swimming in the spiciest sea of broth.
From what I’ve read, there are a couple of keys to making great doro wot: One is to slow cook the onions. It can take hours to prepare doro wot.
The other key is quality berbere, a mix of spices common to Ethiopian food that is often different from one cook to another, but commonly contains chili peppers, garlic, ginger and basil… and some spices you’ve likely never heard of like korarima, rue, ajwain, nigella and fenugreek.
We’re thrilled that Ras Kassa’s is back. Oh, and just remember, there’s a hunk of chocolate cake with raspberries coming after that sampler platter. Go slow.
Ras Kassa’s 802 South Public Road. Lafayette, 303-604-6885.