With the tasty array of Asian restaurants on South Grand Boulevard, it's sometimes easy to forget that this bustling thoroughfare also is home to some other equally delicious ethnic eateries. One of our favorites is Meskerem, which specializes in authentic Ethiopian cuisine. We figured it was high time to stop back by and get a dose of some authentic East African delicacies.

Meskerem is a true neighborhood place, with a relaxed vibe, no pretense and a decided dearth of trendy, over-the-top design elements. Just a few African knick-knacks on the shelves and a couple of Ethiopian tourist posters adorning the walls give a clue as to what's on the menu. The place feels comfortable, like stopping by a friend's place for a bite.

Meskerem's menu is expansive, almost daunting in the amount of food that's presented. We're no experts on Ethiopian fare, but it seems as though every major dish from that country must be represented. When confronted with such a challenge of choices, we almost always opt for a combo platter, which is just what we did this time around after whetting our appetites with an order of Timatim Fitfit ($5), a savory amalgam that includes pieces of injera--the traditional Ethiopian flat pancake made with the indigenous grain teff and served alongside almost everything--mixed with peppers, tomatoes, onions, olive oil and vinegar. For the uninitiated, Ethiopian food traditionally is enjoyed sans utensils. Instead, small pieces of the injera are used to pick up bites, and this tradition really makes for a fun communal dining experience.

The Vegetarian Combo ($13 serving for one; $24 serving for two), is a huge platter lined with injera and topped with generous dollops of a variety of veggie dishes: miser alecha (marinated split lentils); miser wat (split lentels in berbere sauce); shiro wat (ground, seasoned chickpeas in berbere sauce); butecha (chickpeas pan crusted in olive oil with diced onions and jalapenos); gomen wat (steamed collard greens with peppers, ginger, garlic and onions); fosolia (sauteeed string beans, carrots, onions and tomato sauce); and tikil gomen (cabbage, potatoes and carrots sautéed with ginger, curry and garlic). Of course, there's plenty of extra injera included. There's more varied flavors in this sample platter than in any other we've had in recent memory. Each bite presented a new taste experience--the variety of spices used and the flavors they impart is really something to behold. While a few items had a modicum of heat, most were fairly mild.

Some protein was needed to balance all that vegetable goodness, and the Gored Gored ($13), definitely fit the bill. This dish is basically cubes of beef dipped in butter and served with some of the aforementioned tikil gomen. We had our beef served up raw, though diners also can opt for their meat to be cooked rare or well done. Like the combo platter, this dish was served on a huge plate lined with injera.

Not only is the food top-notch, but the prices at Meskerem are extremely affordable. There's also a great lunch menu with smaller portions, as well, though the dinner menu also is available during the day.

-- 3210 South Grand Blvd., 772-4442,

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