The Eats: Mesob Ethiopian Restaurant, 1325 E. Jefferson St., 860-0403. Ethiopian.
At Mesob, you'll eat like a king and feel like one too, as you might be the only diner on the premises.
The Deets: Like so many no-frills ethnic eateries, First Hill's Mesob offers a lot of bang for the buck. You're not paying for much in the way of overhead--unless you count those bars on the windows, partially obscured by dingy curtains--but often this lack of panache signals wonderfully authentic, and inexpensive, cooking.
At Mesob, this is true--our food was fantastic and cheap--but there's an additional catch: After much development and renewal elsewhere in First Hill, Mesob is an eyesore, tagged with graffiti and saggy with age. There's a kitschy tiki bar in the back of the restaurant, but the day Toby and I stopped in for lunch it was closed, and our server, who emerged from the back in a puffy winter coat, had set up a space heater in the middle of it. Mesob is definitely lacking in ambiance; as the only patrons during our near hour-long visit, we're not the only ones who know.
The Beets: On the upside, we had the place to ourselves, and Mesob offers a range of vegetarian dishes. We both ordered the veggie combo and it arrived as an enormous, family style platter that could have fed a group twice our size. Heaps of spicy red lentils, yellow split peas, stewed spinach and onion, and a bright green salad were served atop an enormous round of injera (spongy bread), with additional injera served on the side.
We devoured the platter--partly because we were cold, and partly because we wanted to get the hell out of there--but the flavors of berbere (Ethiopian spice blend of coriander, cardamom, cloves, and allspice, to name a few), ginger, and garlic were exotic, warming, and soul-satisfyingly good. With better music, lighting, and/or actual customers, we might have been convinced to stay a while.
The Tweet: Great cooking, run-down atmosphere. We were told the restaurant will re-locate in the new year; we'll wait for Mesob 2.0 before another visit.