Photo by Shane Harms
Owner, Filmon Gebrekristos, at Hana's Kitchen at 4620 Leary Way NW.

Eastern African cuisine spices Ballard

Searching for something a little different from your typical Ballard restaurants? Hana’s Kitchen, specializing in Eritrean and Ethiopian cuisine opened under the radar four months ago.

“They were selling trees next door that blocked my signs before, so I don’t think people saw the sign,” said owner and operator Filmon Gebrekristos.

Located on Leary Way between Fremont and Ballard, this small Fre-lard restaurant may be one of the area’s best-kept culinary secrets. Hana’s is in the building that used to be Medin’s Ravioli Station and had that train wreck mural outside. Gebrekristos painted over the mural to make one of his own.

Gebrekristos is from Seattle, but his parents moved here from Eritrea. He said that when he went to Eastern Washington for school he would often call his mother asking for recipes to his favorite dishes. Then he would put his own twist on them.

As for starting his own business, Gebrekristos said it’s been a lot of hard work but the rewards are there.
“I cook. I wash dishes. I serve. I bartend. I do everything here.”

Gebrekristos said he has always wanted to own a restaurant and that North Seattle neighborhoods would be curious and want to try something new.

“Ballard, Magnolia, Queen Anne, Fremont, Wallingford – these places are where some people know this cuisine and yet some people don’t, so I thought I would try it out and here I am. ... I’ve always wanted to work in this industry and I love serving people. I have an itch for it.”

Gebrekristos named the restaurant after his three-year-old daughter, Hanna.

For readers new to this style of cuisine, the base of Eritrean and Ethiopian food is stew style called tsebhi and is served with a kind of pancake-like bread called injera. Though very similar in style there are some nuances between Eritrean and Ethiopian. For instance Eritrean has more Ottoman and Italian influence and uses more tomatoes, curry, cumin, and usually more seafood.

Gebrekristos said he seasons his dishes with a broad array of things but named garlic, onion, black pepper, green pepper, red pepper, cardamom, curry, cumin, and herbs; along with Berbere Spices such as korarima, rue, ajwain, nigella and fenugreek. He stews the spices with marinated meats and adds various fresh fruits or vegetables to create his own version of traditional dishes like KulwaBeghie. Gebrekristos said that the dishes are to be eaten with you hands by tearing off a piece of injera to scoop up the savory and spicy stew, which is usually served with a crisp salad.

“What defines these dishes is the seasoning and the marinating of the meats. Time makes the food different. Sometimes you have to sweeten or do other things to bring the flavors out.”

Gebrekristos said that from first starting a few months ago he has enjoyed working in Ballard and plans to move here in the future.

“Ballard’s great and people that come in are very encouraging. Their happy that there’s something close to home and don’t have to go all the way to central district to get some east African food.”

Though things are going well for Gebrekristos he has been experimenting with ways to bring more customers in to enjoy his food. One of those is weekly comedy shows every Thursday night. Gebrekristos sad he loves comedy and so he brings in five new comedians every week.

“I am very happy to be in Ballard. The community has been supportive and very encouraging.”

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