Photo courtesy of Aunt Yvette’s Kitchen

Letter of RecommendationLos Angeles

Aunt Yvette’s Kitchen (Finally) Brings Top-Notch Ethiopian Fare to the Eastside


When wife-and-husband team Yvette and Russell Platoff opened Aunt Yvette’s Kitchen in an Eagle Rock strip mall last September, it didn’t take long for the neighborhood to notice. It seemed that Eastside locals — this writer included — were desperate for a hit of Ethiopian fare, without the drive to Fairfax. Despite opening without any press, word of mouth spread quickly, and soon, there were lines out the door nearly every night. “The response was overwhelming,” says Russell. “I tear up thinking about how [supportive] the people of Eagle Rock and the surrounding area have been.” 

Aunt Yvette’s menu bears similarities to Fairfax institutions like Meals by Genet (which recently reopened its dining room after several years of take-out only operations), Lalibela, Rosalind’s, Messob, and Awash, but it’s notably one of the only, if not the only, Ethiopian restaurants in this part of town. (It’s worth mentioning that there are a handful of other Ethiopian operations scattered around south and central L.A. and Orange County, but they are few and far between.) 

Their menu centers around a vegan combo of misir wat (berbere-stewed lentils), kik alicha (turmeric-stewed yellow split peas), gomen (braised kale), and more, alongside the bubbly fermented flatbread injera. For a party of two, the staff will recommend you order one combo to share, along with a protein, such as kitfo ayib (spiced beef tartare) or salmon tibs. “I’ve learned  that people are desperate for a unique experience and for nutrient-dense, whole foods,” says Yvette. “I think that’s one of the biggest things people are responding to, because this is a scratch kitchen.”

Both Yvette and Russell have worked in restaurants for most of their careers, alongside creative pursuits such as acting. Prior to opening Aunt Yvette’s Kitchen, they spent the last six years operating a production catering business, which they ran out of the Eagle Rock space that’s now home to the restaurant. When the writer’s strike began last May, and catering orders dried up, the Platoffs decided it was time to build out the Ethiopian restaurant that they had long dreamed of creating. “It’s something that we’ve been talking about and planning, bit by bit, for about 15 years,” says Russell.

The couple splits up kitchen responsibilities by having distinct domains. Yvette, who is half Ethiopian, is responsible for the vegetarian dishes, while Russell focuses on poultry, fish, and meat. “Although my dad is of Ethiopian bloodline, I’m American, so I feel like I have the freedom to mix it up and do what I think would be even more tasty,” says Yvette. For example, in most traditional Ethiopian restaurants, you’ll find cabbage mixed with big pieces of potato and carrot. “I noticed that they’re almost never eaten entirely, so I incorporated them in a way that would encourage people to eat everything,” she explains, by chopping the vegetables more finely. 

It’s something that we’ve been talking about and planning, bit by bit, for almost 15 years. — Russell Platoff, Aunt Yvette’s Kitchen

Another way that the duo’s creativity shines through is in their use of spices. Russell’s recipe for the spicy chicken stew doro wat is top secret, involving both a house-fermented awaze (a traditional chile and spice-based sauce) and a “slow, low” cook time. Most inventive of all is their berbere ice cream, a fragrant and fiery scoop that highlights the intrinsic Ethiopian spice blend, which is traditionally used in savory applications. (Other ice creams on Aunt Yvette’s Kitchen’s homemade lineup include ginger and cardamom.) 

Although Aunt Yvette’s is in Eagle Rock, they have strong ties to the Ethiopian enclave on Fairfax Avenue. “All of those people are our friends — we know everyone from Lalibela, and Genet is a mentor of ours,” says Yvette. “We shop in Ethiopian areas, so our money gets circulated back into those communities,” she says. The couple buys ingredients from Abay Market in Inglewood and goes to Koreatown grocery/restaurant Melkam for their injera, while all of their spices come straight from Addis Ababa.

The high level of attention and care that goes into not only the food, but the entire experience of dining at Aunt Yvette’s Kitchen, is obvious at each step of the way. After you order, but before your food arrives, a server will offer you rose water to cleanse your hands, as Ethiopian food is meant to be enjoyed sans utensils.

The interior is warm and festive, with polished slabs of tree trunks for tables, zebra print chairs, and on the wall, a Vladimir Tretchikoff print depicting a Congolese woman. “My grandmother had that print in her house and loved it, so I sort of recreated her living room, but took it to another level,” says Yvette of the décor. 

As for the kitchen, the plan, as it stands, is to keep their classic offerings intact while also offering new dishes on a regular basis. Russell always runs a protein special, while Yvette regularly rotates items on and off the vegan combo. 

“There are people who have come six or seven times, and they’ve had three different versions of the veggie plate,” says Russell.

In other words, there’s always something new to discover at Aunt Yvette’s, your new standby for Ethiopian food on the Eastside.

Emily Wilson is a Los Angeles-based food writer from New York. She has contributed to Bon Appétit, Eater, TASTE, The Los Angeles Times, Punch, Atlas Obscura, and more. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Follow Resy, too.