The origins of this rich neighborhood are rooted in the political upheaval caused by a military coup in Ethiopia during the mid 1970s (and later, by famine in the 1980s). Teems of Ethiopians fled their homeland and settled throughout the U.S. with many migrating west to Los Angeles, and thus, creating a new part of town.
For those who are in the know about Little Ethiopia, they will tell you that there is no other area in the city that boasts such a rich tapestry of food, culture, music and sightseeing. Though it was once just a stuffy old addendum to the Fairfax and mid-Wilshire business districts, Little Ethiopia’s unique ethnic influence has lent an exotic tone to the strip.
The most notable attraction of the area would have to be the restaurants. Any true foodie living in Los Angeles should be able to reference any number of these establishments and give a detailed synopsis of the culinary delights that permeate their walls.
One of the very first eateries to find its way here is Rosalind’s (1044 S. Fairfax Ave.). Owner Gebre-Mariam settled in Little Ethiopia back in 1988, and the restaurant has thrived ever since.
When you step inside, the feeling of entering a loving family’s dining room will soon take over. The ambiance is lush and warm and scented with rich nutmeg and biting pepper. Dishes like oxtails (beef tips) play well with the carnivores, while spiced lentils and vegetables give Los Angeles’ vegetarian and vegan community the opportunity to mesh with the rest.
Other popular dinner hangouts along these streets are Messob, as well as Merkato Ethiopian Restaurant-Market. Still, despite the immigrant flavor that runs rampant here, there are little tinges of traditional L.A. throughout.
A sugar rivalry can be found on this section of Fairfax Avenue with the presence of two cake shops that sit just steps away from each other! Hansen’s Cakes and Regal Cake Gallery duke it out each day, much to the delight of junk-food junkies and locals with impending nuptials or looming special occasions and celebrations.
Another unlikely presence in such a homogenous area is Tony Alva’s Skate Shop (1086 S. Fairfax Ave.). I kid you not! The legendary extreme sportsman opened his signature business in Little Ethiopia in 2005.
The debut party carried with it all the fanfare one might expect from a pro-skater: open bar, hotter-than-hot DJ Howie Pyro and the man himself signing autographs for fans and on-lookers. Now that doors have been successfully open for business, enthusiasts can get their shop on, buying clothes, trucks, boards and wheels with the Alva name tagged on it for the world to see.
When new wave music legends, Missing Persons, released their song, “Walking in L.A.” I’m sure they weren’t hip to this neighborhood. Little Ethiopia forces visitors to get to know it the old-fashioned way: by getting off their lazy butts, parking that gas-guzzler and exploring everything on foot.
On a Saturday night, it’s not impossible to find a good space here. However, traffic passing through this strip makes it highly impossible to drive with any sense of ease.
Cafés offer the excitement and seduction that used to only be reserved for Parisian streets. Spoken word events occur here with regular enough frequency to develop a favorite “word nerd.” There are also a wealth of thrift stores and specialty shops like Sneaker Joe that give clothes addicts a haven for some pretty nasty credit card behavior.
It’s best to go into Little Ethiopia with a sense of adventure, and let the sights and sounds dictate how the day goes.