Maaza 29 Restaurant Serves Locally Sourced, International Flavor

Andrea serves a patron at the bar at Maaza 29.

Maaza 29, the authentic, independently owned Ethiopian-Italian-American restaurant and bar located at 14630 Lee Highway in Gainesville offers locally sourced, international flavor.

“We’re not just an Ethiopian restaurant; we’re not just Italian; we’re not just American,” owner Amanuel Reta said.

While the fusion of three different cultures sounds strange, it is the kind of food he has grown up eating in an Ethiopian-Italian-American household.

“My mother’s Italian, my father’s Ethiopian, and I claim to be American,” he said.

Additionally, Italian food is a a very big part of the Ethiopian cuisine since the Italians tried to colonize the country.

Reta also found the inclusion of food people find familiar a great way to introduce them to more authentic Ethiopian cuisine. To accomplish this, Maaza 29 has a diverse menu, which serves everything from American burgers to Ethiopian awaze tips.

Not that Maaza 29 burgers are anything close to average. They are one-inch thick made with NY strip beef, and filled with onions, peppers and seasoning. Plus all the toppings, such as cheese or bacon, are stuffed inside the burger.

Maaza 29 burgers are made with quality beef and stuffed with cheese and/or bacon.

Reta challenges anyone to find a better burger in the area. Moreover, they are the price equivalent of a McDonalds specialty burger served with fries and a drink, so they are some of the most affordable restaurant quality burgers in town as well.

He said the secret is not the topping, but the quality of the beef itself.

“When we serve our burger there’s not lettuce, tomato and onion,” he said. “We want them to taste the burger.”

Reta also goes out of his way to make sure most of his food is locally sourced, buying eggs and chicken from farms in Nokesville and local farmers markets.

The fresh eggs featured in his Sunday brunch specials, which highlight locally grown fair, have names such as “Bristow Chicken” and “Gainesville Toast.” Other specialty treats include northern favorites like omelets, smoked salmon and southern faire like grits and bacon with shrimp.

Reta said it’s all about finding that perfect balance in which food is familiar yet intriguing.

A female diner looks over the menu in the dining room.

His Italian food will not disappoint either.

Everybody knows what pasta is,” he said, but he explains that at Maaza 29, they made their own pasta. “People think it’s complicated, and it’s really easy.”

And, he would also never even think of buying jar sauce. It kills him that other restaurants do.

“Sauce! That is the basic!” he said.

It’s not only that his sauces are made in house. It is also that he uses the freshest ingredients.

“We buy the meat, the tomatoes and the onions locally. If you actually buy it from your local guys, local farmers markets, it will taste ten times better,” he said. “That’s what we’re all shooting for, something better, something real, something good.”

Maaza's dining room has an Ethiopian flavor coupled with sophisticated elegance.

The beer is no different. He has craft beer on tap from D.C., Virginia and Maryland but he also tries to keep his prices low.

“It won’t cost you $10,” as it does at the trendy chain restaurants, he said.

However, many of his patrons also come from all over the region for his Ethiopian food, especially since Maaza 29 is the only Ethiopian restaurant in Prince William County.

The Ethiopian food Maaza 29 serves includes seven or eight items that are popular everywhere in Ethiopia. Among these are tibs, awaze tibs, gorded gorde, kitfo and a vegetarian platter.

Tips are usually chunks of beef tenderloin, but at Maaza 29, patrons can substitute lamb or chicken. Customers choose the ingredients in the vegetarian platter too, and they can add seasonal vegetables such as pumpkins or tomatoes.

Doro is chicken stew that’s only traditionally served once or twice a year, so at Maaza he is only serving it on weekends. This ensures it is always made with fresh organic chicken, so the meat won’t fall off the bones.

Maaza 29's front dining room is bright and modern.

The atmosphere at Maaza is sophisticated with black table clothes. Sparkling water and tall glasses adorn the tables, yet the atmosphere is bright and cheerful.

While other restaurants are incorporating fast-food aspects, he wanted to create a more sophisticated dining spot, a place people can come to meet with their friends for an evening of great dining, drinking and entertainment.

He is hoping to bring in live bands over the summer and hold “Throwback Thursdays” starting April 12, featuring 80’s music he expects Gen Xers will especially appreciate.

He also invites people to come for Happy Hour. Beginning on April 10, Maaza 29 will hold happy hours every Tuesday through Friday between 4 and 9 p.m. During those times, drinks and appetizers are just $4 and domestic beers are $2.

Readers can call ahead at Maaza 29 at 703-753-2177, visit their website at, or simply stop in Tuesday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m, and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

© 2014, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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Category: Bristow Biz, Thought for Food

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