Make a mess at Ras Kassa’s

Ethiopian finger food

Ras Kassas\' delightful dishes
Sue France

The name sounds like it belongs to the latest Batman villain, but the reality of Ras Kassa’s is much less nefarious.


That is, unless you have an aversion to getting a little messy.

Their motto is “Eat like you’ve never heard of silverware,” and they aren’t kidding. Everything from farmer’s cheese to lentil stew is served with spongy Ethiopian bread called injera to be used for scooping, and nothing else. Forget forks, spoons and knives and get ready to become best friends with this spongy, sourdough-like concoction.

The tangy injera is ideal for soaking up juices and complements every dish without overpowering the delicate flavors. Simply tear off a chunk, stick it between your fingers and dive in like a toddler facing a bowl of spaghetti. The injera goes particularly well with the sweet potato stew, featured as an entrée and in the spicy vegetarian combination.

The best way to experience Ras Kassa’s is through their combination plates. With a variety of meat and vegetarian combos, these make it easy to try as many things on the menu as possible, and since they range from $13 to $16 apiece they’re easily the best bang for your buck. For the veggie lovers out there, the spicy vegetarian combo is a must-have. Sweet potatoes, lentils and yellow split peas all make an appearance. The spicy sweet potato stew is a complex combination of sugary sweet potato, buttery onion, crunchy pepper and a zap of spice for the tingly effect spicelovers crave. When scooped with a piece of injera, the stew gains a citrus-like vibrancy that mingles perfectly with the other flavors.

Red lentils are another robustly flavored dish included in the spicy combination. With a 20-spice berbere sauce, the lentils have the perfect balance of heat that adds a kick of flavor without leading to steam rushing out of your ears. The lentils are cooked perfectly with just the right amount of crunch to let you know you aren’t eating baby food, though they do look similarly mushy.

The combination plate also features mild and slightly sweet butternut squash stew, tangy collard greens, traditional injera salad with onion and tomato in vinegar, and delightfully buttery yellow split peas. Each acts as the perfect complement to the more boldly flavored sweet potatoes and red lentils and manages to maintain its own flavor without being overshadowed.

For the carnivores out there, have no fear — Ras Kassa’s does a great job for the vegetarians, but by no means ignores the meat lovers. Though the vegetable selections at Ras Kassa’s are tough to beat, the lamb stew ($16.95) manages to stand out in the sea of lentils, squash and greens. Slow-cooked, the meat practically melts in your mouth as you savor the deep flavors of turmeric and other mild spices. Alone with injera, the lamb is something special, but mixed with either the spicy red lentils or the mild yellow split peas, the flavors become drool-worthy.

Though it’s a lot to fit on one plate, everything is placed carefully in a circle with each dish granted its own space. This perfect symmetry doesn’t last though: As you dive in with your injera scoops and fingers the dishes blend together into a harmonious, though messy, combination of flavors and textures.

Warm, sweet and spicy at the same time, the house tea is the perfect way to wash down the flavorful dishes. Even better, the mug is kept full throughout the night, so you’ll never find yourself parched.

As if the opportunity to act like a kid again and eat with your fingers hasn’t made the experience surreal enough, the subtle incense fumes, bright and traditional decor and soft background music in Ras Kassa’s make you want to tell Toto you aren’t in Boulder anymore.

If you’re looking for an inexpensive excursion away from the Americanized Boulder scenes or a good way to test someone’s sense of adventure on a second or third date, Ras Kassa’s is the place to go. You may want to bring a few wet wipes though.