7815 SE Powell Blvd., 775-2998. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
You don't hear much about Somali restaurants. Among African cuisines, only the northern countries have really pressed themselves into the American food consciousness, from the Mediterranean breadbasket of Morocco, Algeria and Egypt, to the injera and wats familiar from generations of imported Ethiopian restaurant culture.
Southeast Powell's Safari caters almost exclusively to the local Somali community, in part because it's so well-hidden in its strip-mall storefront, fronted by Portland's most confusing parking, which seems to happen on the sidewalk itself. (Go around back. It's easier.) None of this should make the restaurant intimidating; not only the owners but one of the patrons cheerily offered advice on menu items on my first visit.
Safari is a sparse, orange-accented spot that could have once housed a taqueria or Panda Express, with a brightly lit breakfast and lunch menu on the wall, and probably diner tables full of young men eating pungent rice and goat and…spaghetti. Thanks to an Somalia's complicated history, pasta is a staple dish of Somalia, served less as ground for light sauce than as a starch base for stews or, at Safari, as a bed for whole tilapia for a mere $10.
A straightforward pasta Alfredo sits lonely on the menu for $10, perhaps a companion to the cheesesteak ($5). A holdover from Italian colonialism? A nod to American palates? Hard to say, because an almost untraceable array of cultures have folded a grab bag of dishes into Somali cuisine over the region's long years as a seafaring trade hub. Especially, there's a healthy Indian influence that puts on the menu both sambusas and a pungent, rewarding beef curry served with jabati ($7), a bread related to India's own toasty chapati flatbread. Goat and rice ($10), meanwhile, is a staple, with mild, earthy spice and a salad of pickled vegetables atop a mountain of rice.
Really, Safari's menu is a lot like the actual eating habits of most urban Americans, a menagerie of dishes and influences plucked seemingly at will from a world of options spanning multiple continents: spicy meat, rice or pasta, maybe garlic-tomato sauce and maybe curry, but always cheap and fast. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
Dalo's Ethiopian Kitchen
1533 NE Alberta St., 740-0313, dalos-kitchen.com, Lunch Monday-Saturday.
[THE TEFF GETS GOING] When Dalo's Kitchen closed its restaurant on North Williams last year, many injera enthusiasts worried that the Dibabu family's cuisine would disappear entirely. Thankfully, Dalo's lives on as a food truck on Alberta, where they continue to sling some of the tangiest injera in town, the perfect foil for the sigga tibbs ($8.99), fiery (you did ask for spicy, right?) beef cubes simmered with onions and peppers. Vegans are well served here, with the simple but satisfying tikil gomen ($3.99), a cabbage, potato and carrot stew that pairs nicely with the savory, starchy, curried split peas in the kik alicha wott ($3.99). Word of warning, the injera portions are titanic, so if it's included in multiple dishes, unwrap a portion one at a time and share. You will have leftovers. BRIAN PANGANIBAN.
300 N Killingsworth St., 285-4867, enatguada.com. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.
[BARE BONES, FULL BELLY] This is food by Ethiopians, for Ethiopians, and it shows. There are no utensils, the spices are imported directly from Ethiopia, and the postprandial coffee is served in a traditional ceremony, with beans roasted right at the table. The menu of wats (stews) and slow-cooked vegetables is vast, so those unfamiliar with the cuisine are best served by partaking in the lunch buffet ($8) or choosing the "family-style" option from the menu, which comes with two meat and five veggie dishes of diners' choosing on a platter of injera nearly half the size of the table. The "couple" version ($27) is more than enough for three people. Add a couple of Ethiopian beers, and you're set until lunch the next day. KAT MERCK.
915 NE Alberta St., 545-5093. Dinner Wednesday-Tuesday.
[AFRICAN VEGETABLES] Ethiopian cuisine is very much vegetarian and vegan friendly. Thank the Ethiopian Orthodox church, which has elaborate fasting rituals that preclude meat or dairy for months on end. One problem: so many of those dishes end up with the same soupy texture, which Americans tend to complain about. Well, Gojo is your go-to. Here, they seem to pay special attention to maintaining as much texture as possible in their lentils and green beans. This small, dimly lit restaurant has softly thumping beats, tasty cinnamon tea and lightly sauced yet still flavor-rich wats. The lentils keep their individual shapes, you can see a few veins in the greens, and the green beans have just a little snap. I prefer Enat, but if I'm with plant-based people, we're headed here. MARTIN CIZMAR.
Queen of Sheba
2413 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, 287-6302, queenofsheba.biz. Lunch Thursday-Saturday, dinner nightly.
[OLD SCHOOL] At a time when it's normal for restaurants to give their wall kitsch a level of scrutiny previously unknown outside of TGI Friday's, there's something appealing about Queen of Sheba. The décor is just pictures of kids and African art on the wall, Ethiopian jams coming out of the stereo, and a view out on MLK. But though the menu's also simple, the food isn't: The misr bamia offers a heterogenous blend of lentils, okra and spice, while the atakilt alicha offers a milder, saffrony flavor, which you pick up using their malty, spongy injera. And with three vegetarian helpings available for just $10, there's no reason why you won't do so again and again. JAMES HELMSWORTH.