Hamdi Grill

somali restaurant columbus

Cuisine: Somali
1784 Huy Rd, Columbus, OH 43224
614.592.9089

Hamdi Grill is a new Somali restaurant that opened this week. It is located just south of the Northern Lights shopping center on Cleveland Avenue.

The interior is surprisingly polished and a lot of money has been invested in the build out.

The menu is fairly large and includes drinks (not pictured).

hamdi grill menu

Of the dishes that we sampled (beef kebab, roasted goat, salmon and chicken stew) we’d probably give the nod to the chicken stew (aka suqaar) and would recommend the rice. We found all of the dishes to be solid but you can find better versions at other Somali restaurants around town. However, Hamdi Grill is in the first week and still getting up and running. They are waiting for their coffee machine to be installed and did not have all of the dishes listed on the menu.

As is typical of Somali restaurants the portions are large. Pictured below Somali chicken stew (suqaar) with chapati.

somali chicken stew

Salmon with pasta

somali restaurants in ohio

Namaste

Namaste Restaurant Indo-Nepali
1279 Morse Rd, Columbus, OH 43229
(614) 261-3636
website 

Almost nervously, the server pulled me aside to ask, “you like the taste?”. It was as though she didn’t believe us when we had eagerly volunteered that we enjoyed what we were eating several times previously.
More than just enjoy it, which we truly did, we were surprised. We’d been to Namaste a while back, and had not thought much of it, but a good Nepali friend suggested that the food had improved markedly and that the menu had changed for the better. This, as it turns out, was an understatement.
Dishes hit the table right as they were finished by the kitchen, and everything was served piping hot. First came the bhatmas chiura – a spicy snack of smashed rice flakes, fried soybeans, minced chilis, onions, and spices. It was intensely flavorful, crunchy, dry by intent, and presumably meant to be paired with beer. Which we did (Haywards, highly recommended). Off to a good start.
nepali snack food
Next came the hand-made momos – quite possibly the most iconic of Nepalese dishes. Similar to a steamed Japanese gyoza in form and concept, these were filled with minced chicken, onion, garlic, and just enough ginger to make itself known. A pleasantly savory tomato-based sauce accompanied, and in total the dish amounted to a crave-worthy alternative to the various dumplings more commonly found locally in other Asian cuisines.
nepali momo in Columbus
Dal, essentially a lentil stew, is ubiquitous among Indian-influenced cuisines. At worst, it’s a near-Dickensian gruel, and at best, it’s… okay. Namaste’s mung dal was better than that, and then better yet again – it was delicious, and the first example of the dish I’d eagerly recommend to vegetarians and carnivores alike.
The meat-free options don’t end there, either. The aloo saag, a potato and mustard leaf stew, impressed with its bold and novel flavor combinations, and the aloo bodi tama (typically ‘pre-order only’, but available on our visit) was equally enjoyable and equally unique with it’s intriguing combination of black eyed peas and bamboo shoots. We’d order either again in a heartbeat.
nepalese restaurant columbus
Finally, an order of goat sekuwa arrived. Think of the tastiest tandoori chicken you’ve tried, but with goat instead, and you’ll just about be there, except for the fact that it’s just about impossible to convey how well the tandoor treatment works with the flavor of goat. The flesh is almost inevitably on the chewy side (most cuts of goat respond better to a slow cooking method than to a high-heat grilling), but it didn’t diminish our enjoyment one bit.
goat sekuwa
It’s become increasingly rare that we come across restaurants whose flavors and preparations truly expand the sum total of novel food experiences in the city, but Namaste emphatically does. To us, from our little niche within the food world, that makes them an addition of importance.
Namaste also offers thali platters (individual meals made up of a variety of dishes) on weekdays and a buffet on the weekend. Catering is available, and at first glance at least looked reasonably priced.

nepali restaurant columbus

Bonchon

bonchon chicken columbus, korean fried chicken Korean
3586 Dublin Granville Rd
Columbus, OH 43235
(614) 389-4026
Website
Facebook 

If you want a good sense of how your food offering will play across the US, you bring it to Columbus. Conventional wisdom has it that we’ll tell you what’ll make the cut, and in practice we often do.

And so, I suspect, it goes with Bonchon, a South Korea-based fried chicken franchise that has recently opened it’s first heartland location in the 161/Sawmill area.

Korean fried chicken has received tons of hype on the coasts, and Bonchon’s rendition has garnered no small portion of it – the graphics in the vestibule boast of the publications they have been glowingly reviewed in, including the NY Times and Esquire.

Bonchon’s primary proposition is simple – you can get wings, drumsticks, or chicken strips (the only white meat option), lacquered with either a (not so terribly) spicy (but fairly) sweet sauce, or a more deeply savory soy-garlic sauce. Whichever chicken cut you choose, it’ll go through the vaunted Korean-style double fry process, which creates a skin so crispy that it doesn’t so much crumble upon taking a bite as shatter into shards of crunchy goodness.

Korean fried chicken

Curious though it may sound, it has to be emphasized – this is not just a novelty. Aside from the alluring texture, the double fry technique intensifies the flavor of the skin, almost entirely banishes greasiness, and preserves the moistness of the flesh exceptionally well.

In other words, it’s something truly new in fried chicken, a genre that so often leads with hype, and then follows up with a minutely distinguishable spin on more of the same. Bonchon chicken is very different, and very good. If you enjoy fried chicken, you owe it to yourself to check it out. If you’re on the fence with the sauces, order ‘half & half’ and you’ll get to try some of both. Having done so myself, I’ll be back for the soy-garlic.

Beyond chicken, Bonchon offers a range of Korean and Japanese style apps and main dishes. They could be great, but I suspect I’ll never be able to speak to them from experience – when I’m there, I’m pretty sure I’ll be there for the wings.


Dire Cafe and Restaurant

dire cafe and restaurant

Cuisine: Ethiopian
4517 E Main Street, Columbus, 43213
(in the back of Dire-Dawa Grocery)

Finding Dire Dawa was pure serendipity. We were checking out Ethiopian bakeries in the Hamilton Rd. area (for our Crave feature), hoping it might be one, but as we wandered the cramped and overstocked market (no sign of baking to be found) we noticed a room off to the side. Chairs, tables, counter, samosas in the display case – it’s a restaurant alright, Dire Cafe.
Once fully inside, a set of carved stools huddled around an equally ornate table captured our attention. They’re set aside for use in a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. So, we thought, lets do that.
ethiopian coffee ceremony columbus ohio
First, green coffee beans are presented in a pan for inspection and whisked away to the kitchen. Shortly, they’re presented again – this time pan roasted and smoking – then back to the kitchen. Finally, the prepared coffee emerges in a large black ceramic carafe. We huddle around on the stools while the hostess assumes a central position and pours coffee into small and delicate gilded cups.
ethiopian cafe columbus oh
The first sip reveals a dark roast with deep cardamom undertones and a thick, almost syrupy body. It’s far from what most of us consume on a daily basis, and largely better off for it. It appears that our hostess is primarily in attendance to refill our cups, and perhaps to make small talk, for as long as we see fit. There can be an element of uncertainty in such open-ended arrangements, but we needn’t have worried – after finishing the first refill we felt as though we’d consumed the contents of a Red Bull factory. Time for food.
We’ve eaten Dire Cafe twice, and on the day of the coffee ceremony it was all about the lentils, lentils, lentils. With a flurry of caffeinated injera swiping, the lentils were gone. The red lentil dish, misir wat, is one of our favorites that we’ve eaten at Dire Cafe. Here it is pictured with a solid rendition of awaze tibs (beef cooked with fresh tomato berbere, peppers, onions and seasoned butter).
misir wat columbus
We also really like the kuwanta firfir which is served in a basket and consists of torn up pieces of injera tossed with a sauce and small pieces of beef jerky. It’s not a pretty dish but it’s very tasty. Also popular was the yebeg tibs (pictured below) a lamb stew with tomatoes, onions peppers and garlic.
dire cafe and restaurant
Dire Cafe has a pretty extensive menu including some breakfast dishes and several dishes that are primarily comprised of raw meat. The Market also has it’s own butcher and you can see them passing freshly cut beef and lamb through a window between the butcher and the restaurant.
If you’re a fan of Ethiopian food or want to try the Ethiopian coffee ceremony we recommend Dire Cafe. Service is slow so be forewarned and allow plenty of time, especially for the coffee ceremony.

 

Hoyo’s Kitchen

somali restaurants columbus ohio
5786 Columbus Square (near intersection of SR 161/East Dublin-Granville Road Cleveland Avenue)
614.899.8800
Open 7 days a week lunch and dinner.

Solay Bistro had amassed a cult following among adventurous eaters, and its recent disappearance left many perplexed – it shut down for Ramadan and just never opened back up.
It’s open now, under the name of Hoyo’s Kitchen, and the explanation for what transpired is as follows: upon closing for Ramadan, a change of ownership took place. The new owner wanted to do some work on the place, including dining room refurbishments, rebranding, and menu adjustments, which always takes longer than one might expect.
What they wisely did not change, however, is the kitchen staff. The food is of the same quality as before, which is to say very good. A cook who we knew from the first days of Solay’s opening was eager to freely convey her confidence in the new ownership. Pictured below is the vegetarian sampler with canjeero.
somali food in ohio
In our discussions with the new owner and his family, we felt similarly optimistic. Friendly, capable, and eager to please, they made it abundantly clear that Hoyo’s mission was to create an environment that was welcoming to all, and that maintaining the quality food standards set by Solay were a top priority. And, more to the point, they proved it with how we were served and what we were served.
So, in summation – if you were a fan of Solay, or are simply interested in trying Somali food, we strongly recommend that you try Hoyo. Most of the same dishes are available with some additions. One new appetizer is bajiya which are like a Somali falafel. You’ll also find a coffee shop menu with hot drinks and sweets and there are plans to add breakfast in a few months when the restaurant is more established.

Meshikou

ramen in columbus

Cuisine: Ramen/Japanese
1506 Bethel Road (Bethel Center)
614.457.1689
Hours: Tues-Thurs 11am-10pm, Fri & Sat 11am-10.30pm, Sun 11am-9pm
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Ramen and fried chicken. The sudden eruption of restaurants specializing in one or the other amounts to a culinary onslaught. And so, it was inevitable – Meshikou debuts as a place that does both.

The karaage is good – crispy, with a thin, delicate crust, and exceptionally tender flesh – and more or less what you might expect from a Japanese take on fried chicken. Seasoning is mercifully restrained, the crust and flesh are as far from greasy as could be, and a basket is perfect for two to share. A sweet and spicy dipping sauce accompanies.

japanese fried chicken

As for the ramen – while strict purists may reasonably object to various elements of it, our slurping table of 5 found little to complain about and much to enjoy. The ‘shoyu tonkotsu ramen’, as the name suggests, is a mashup of two traditional styles, probably tasted as strongly of chicken stock as the pork broth that ‘tonkotsu’ promises, but nonetheless delivered on ramen’s (often lacking) key components of luxurious richness and deep broth flavor. The increasingly de-rigeur Sun Noodle ramen noodles proved that there’s good reason for their ubiquity and they were prepared to a pleasing toothsomeness. The chashu pork was solid, and the marinated soft boiled egg was absolutely perfect in flavor and texture.

ramen in columbus

In short, it was a good bowl. It was also a relatively small bowl. When it came, I eyed it with skepticism. When I was finished, I realized that the size was ideal. Did we mention it was rich?

We also tried the spicy miso version, and while it was enjoyed, the shoyu tonkotsu won us over.

meshiko restaurant columbus

Perhaps the least exciting element of the meal was the pork buns, which seemed composed of reasonably well prepared ingredients, but was marred by an excessively sweet sauce.

meshiko

There’s much left to try, including vegetable and pure chicken stock ramen options, as well as broth-less noodle dishes.

meshiko restaurant

Service was pleasant and attentive, and the space was a pleasant distillation of the interiors of the coastal ramen meccas.

IMG_3736

Wycliff’s Kitchen

kenyan food in Columbus
Cuisine: Kenyan
2492 Home Acre Drive
Columbus 43231
614.772.3461
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Your first decision, should you choose to dine at Wycliff’s, is this – Kenyan menu or Indian? It’ll likely be your second hint that this isn’t your typical restaurant. The exterior signage primarily promotes Indian offerings, with Wycliff’s identity relegated to a small window banner, and to the best of our ability to discern the restaurant contains two businesses offering distinct cuisines but operating out of the same kitchen and dining room.
We chose the Kenyan menu. I suspect that to do so is to talk with Wycliff, and this is a good thing – he’s gregarious, warm, and informative, and though the truth is over a decade dearer, he doesn’t look a day over 19 years old.
As they say, I’ll have what he’s having.
As it turns out, that’s often Karanga Mbuzi, or goat stew. It never fails to amaze me how much of the world has some variation on this dish, and while spicing varies, the basic concept is surprisingly consistent – bone-in goat, cut into silver dollar sized pieces, in a thick, rich, and flavorful base. Of course, stewing meat tenderizes it, explaining the popularity of the concept, and few are tenderer than Wycliff’s rendition. The goat’s flavor is pleasantly mild and the saucing is perfectly balanced. When we return, we’ll try new dishes (more on that later), but I suspect we’ll make a point of getting second helping of this.
kenyan goat stew karanga mbuzi
We also tried the Karanga Ng’ombe, a similarly prepared, but bone-free, beef stew. The only problem with this perfectly enjoyable dish was the inevitable comparison with the excellence of the goat. If goat’s just not your thing, then this’ll be a sure bet.
karanga ngombe kenyan beef stew
Less enjoyable to our group of 4 was the Chapati Madodo. Comprised of peruano beans cooked in coconut milk and served with a flatbread known as chapati, it wanted for at minimum a pinch more salt, at least in comparison to the more memorable version served by the late Taste of Zanzibar.
kenyan restaurant columbus ohio
Each of the above entrees comes with your choice of two sides, and standouts included the pilau (seasoned rice with meat), kabeji (cabbage with onions), spinach, and the conspicuously fresh green beans. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – African cuisines know how to do vegetables. Among the apps, we’d go for the beef samosa. We also sampled some mango mousse cake even though we didn’t really have room. It was light in texture and very mangoey.
Prices are reasonable (entrees with 2 sides cost between $10-$13 for dinner), service is pleasant and attentive, and portions are generous. Wycliff also offers some bargain lunch specials ranging from $6.49-$7.99. Grilled meats and an intriguing mashed potato dish known as mukimo are served on Saturdays. We’ll be back to try them.
And to get more goat.