Ras Plant Based serves Ethiopian authenticity with a plant-based spin

This Crown Heights eatery co-owned by an NYU alum offers vegetarian takes on traditional Ethiopian classics.

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Ras Plant Based is a tasty vegetarian option for lovers of Ethiopian food. (Courtesy of Ras Plant Based)

Timothy Fraher, Contributing Writer

In a world dominated by fine dining experiences and French-brigade regimentation, the ability to dig in with your hands and take a palmful of salty, savory puree is comforting and welcoming. Ethiopian cuisine is imbued with a deep familiarity and tradition. This food is home, humility and warm hospitality served family style. Ras Plant Based, a plant-based organic farm-to-table kosher eatery in Crown Heights, offers authentic and vegetarian Ethiopian food.

Wedged between a stack of apartments and Caribbean Cafe, Ras makes maximum use of the minimal space it’s afforded. Owners Milka Regalli, an NYU alum, and Romeo Regalli, a filmmaker turned restaurateur, turned the space into a reflection of their eclectic lives. Skateboards, abstract art pieces and spray-painted murals inspired by Ethiopian life cover the walls, leaving no blank space. 

Milka expressed her immense pride in the establishment she founded with Romeo as they hoped to bring the dynamic flavors of vegetarian Ethiopian cuisine to Crown Heights. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the restaurant to close just eight days after it opened in early March 2020. Visiting now, you wouldn’t be able to tell that they did not have in-person customers only a couple of years prior. Patrons now line every window seat and barstool, giving the place a feeling of permanence and a clear sign of freshly growing roots.

The restaurant’s name pays homage to Romeo’s grandfather, Ras Tafari Makonnen, who was the last emperor of Ethiopia until 1974 known as His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie. Ras Plant Based serves regal cuisine, with each bite infused with a rich flavor fit for kings. 

Look down at your plate and you’ll find a rainbow made of various stews. Being there almost felt less about the food and more about sitting, watching and listening. Milka explained how Ethiopian food is usually served on a large plate with injera, a flatbread made with teff flour topped with varieties of peppers, lentils, leafy greens, legumes and other savory additions. 

“The way you eat it is you tear a piece of the injera, and you scoop up one of the stews, or do a little mix of the stews,” Milka said. “Injera is a sourdough. Not everybody is into that fermented taste. So we wanted to kind of try to market to different people and try to get people more familiar with Ethiopian food.”

Many flavors at Ras Plant Based come from Romeo’s grandmother, who compiled a family cookbook of recipes that has been passed down through the generations.  

“A lot of the recipes are from our grandparents, particularly Romeo’s grandmother, who was a great chef,” Milka said. “He, as a young child, would love watching his mom cook; she used to throw these extravagant dinner parties. It was something that she learned from her, this passion for cooking.” 

I dug into a plate donned with peppers, beans, lentils, chickpeas, soy and collard greens, all of which created a flavorful medley in my mouth. My favorite, the kitfo — typically a beef tartare — is made with soy protein crumble. I had the Mercato platter which contained a mix of spicy and mild dishes which, Milka told me, “hits the spot in every way.” 

“We didn’t want to skimp on having what feels like one of the most authentic Ethiopian dishes, so we veganized it,” Milka said. “We do use our own vegan spices and butters to kind of give it that flavor and I feel like it kind of hit home … People who’ve tried it, who are Ethiopian and who are familiar with kitfo, really love it.”

Every dish is a platter that can’t be devoured by a single individual, so when you head to Ras Plant Based be sure to bring your friends. You’ll be well taken care of. With the inviting staff and warm atmosphere, you won’t want to leave.

Contact Timothy Fraher at [email protected]