Go Eat This Now: Club Waziema

Ethiopian on Divisadero with a storied past as a jazz club.

Club Waziema is a relic from a time many of us can’t even remember, back from one of those many eras When San Francisco Was Still Cool that we all hear so often about. During the 1960s and ’70s, before it reopened as Club Waziema in 1999, a jazz venue called Club Morocco occupied the same space. Musicians such as Billie Holiday, B.B. King, and Marvin Gaye came through these same doors to perform in the dim, smoke-filled saloon. After a 20-year closure, the bar was reopened by Nebiat and Beshue Tesfazgi, who have kept the space alive for two subsequent decades, serving locals homemade Ethiopian food.

While Waziema looks a lot like any other hole-in-the-wall, with a pool table and a jukebox, what makes it different is the food. Every day, Waziema offers beef, chicken, or lamb stew served with lentils, collard greens, and salad, all piled on top of spongy injera bread. Vegetarian options include split pea and mushroom sauce with potatoes, carrots, onion, and garlic. Nebiat, Waziema’s matriarch, cooks food that’s as beautiful as her big, white smile. It’s colorful, it’s earthy, it’s rustic, and it pairs perfectly with a light lager. Where else can you sit in a dark corner, get a little drunk and eat stewed vegetables with your fingers?

Not only that, you’re dining in a space that oozes with history. Only feet away from your table is where the likes of James Brown and Chuck Berry sang and sweat their way onto rock ’n’ roll’s Mt. Olympus.

With so many restaurants opening all over the city with complicated concepts and ordering apps that nobody actually needs, I yearn for authenticity. I find it hard to believe that a place that’s been open in San Francisco for 20 years can only have 10 Yelp photos, but apparently it’s possible. Club Waziema not only flies under the radar, but it houses some of the richest history in the whole neighborhood while serving some of the homiest food.  Maybe San Francisco is still pretty cool. You just have to know where to look.

Club Waziema, 543 Divisadero St., 415-346-6641, no website.

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