Sonya Damtew grew up in Ethiopia in an Eritrean family—Eritrea shares its southern border with Ethiopia. But she's lived in Portland for the past 11 years, working most of that time with the Portland-based Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization on city-wide African refugee resettlement. So late this summer, when Sonya and her husband Michael opened their African-Mediterranean E'Njoni Cafe on North Killingsworth Street, across the street from the PCC Cascade Campus, they welcomed the 20,000-plus African immigrants, from more than 25 different countries, who call Portland home.
When you walk into the red, yellow and green cafe, the first thing you'll notice is the traditional coffee-ceremony area, strewn with animal hides, carved stools and, often, sweetly smoking sticks of incense. Every day from 4 to 6 pm (and also sporadically in the evenings), E'Njoni hosts traditional coffee ceremonies ($3 cup, $6 full ceremony with several cups), during which dark, rich coffee is roasted on a small portable burner and served in rounds like celebratory shots of booze—perfect for PCC students pulling an all-nighter.
The Damtews plan to extend their hours, for now they have a steady midday stream of African cabbies ordering fuul to go. Fuul ($5.95) is the house special—a traditional savory African-Arabic hash of fava beans, red onions, chile peppers, tomatoes and feta drizzled with olive oil and served with french bread. Eritrea was colonized by Italy, hence the Mediterranean twist.
Other standout dishes include the beef injerito ($6.95)—a blanket of the restaurant's slightly sour injera bread topped with spicy sautéed rosemary-rich beef and served with a tart green salad, and the West African peanut soup ($2.95 cup, $4.95 bowl), which packs a nutty kick with sliced jalapeños and red bells in a puréed peanut stock.
The majority of E'Njoni's dishes feature injera , berbere , curries and legumes, are closely related to Ethiopian fare. There's also a well-stocked dessert case with pastries baked out of house. Sneak preview: A liquor license is coming soon, meaning that both old and new Portlanders can raise a glass of Eritrean, Ethiopian or South African beer or wine.
E'Njoni Cafe, 910 N Killingsworth St., 286-1401. 11 am-9 pm Tuesday-Sunday. $