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.

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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.

Asia Market

asian markets columbus ohio

3456 Cleveland Ave, Columbus, OH 43224
(614) 261-6118
Open daily 9.30am-7.30pm (10am-6pm on Sundays)

We’re a bit remiss in not having covered Asia Market before… they’ve been open since 1981. It’s a large, high ceilinged market featuring an eclectic array of goods that cater not just to Asian tastes but also offers plenty of Latino and African products. Curiously, they also have the largest selection of ‘vegetarian meats’ that we’ve ever seen including vegetarian pork belly. The photo below does not show the whole case.

vegetarian food shopping columbus ohio

Even beyond that, culinary curiosities abound. The frozen fish section is huge and varied, black skinned chicken can be found, as can octopi of all sizes. It’s a great browse, and a clean and well-stocked market.

To the right side of the store (relative to the entrance),  sits a partioned area that acts as a small restaurant. There are seven tables, a TV and, notably, a high chair. The menu is very small and offers two appetizers (egg rolls and spring rolls), three noodle soups, bun cha gio thit nuong, banh cuon, and Vietnamese coffee.

Asian market cleveland avenue

The bun cha gio thit nuong was solid but not exceptional. It’s comprised of cold vermicelli noodles topped with salad, grilled pork, and egg rolls, and comes with the usual fish sauce based dressing to pour on top.

bun cha gio thit nuong

The bun bo hue was a bit disappointing. The broth was watery and heavy on the fish sauce but insufficiently meaty and spicy. Usually this dish is fragrant with lemongrass but that seemed to be lacking too. The beef was a bit of a lottery, a couple of pieces were tender and flavorful but several were inedibly chewy. There was some tendon and some slices of pork loaf but no pork blood.

vietnamese spicy beef soup

The bun rieu – a vermicelli soup dish usually made with a crab and tomato based broth – was the highlight of the meal and the dish that we would go back for.  It contained fish cake, shrimp (or crab?) paste, fresh shrimp and pork loaf, and had a pleasing dose of funk from the fish sauce and seafood.

vietnamese food in columbus

Vietnamese coffee is the only beverage on offer at the restaurant. It’s made to order and comes either black or with sweetened condensed milk and can be consumed hot or over ice. Other (canned or bottled) drinks can be purchased from the store and consumed in the restaurant.

vietnamese coffee

We probably wouldn’t recommend Asia Market as a destination for Vietnamese dining, but if you have some shopping to do and want to grab a bite while you are there then it’s good to know about. Our advice would be to order your food first, then shop and come back to the restaurant – service was a little slow.

Addis Restaurant

IMG_3447Addis Restaurant
Cuisine: Ethiopian
3750 Cleveland Ave
614.269.8680
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Open lunch and dinner every day. Until 10pm on weeknights and 11pm on Friday and Saturday.

With the closing of Blue Nile in the north campus area, Ethiopian food had become an east side affair. And, while we like Ethiopian food, we haven’t craved it enough to schlepp out to Hamilton Rd. with any regularity.

The owner Niman knew that a larger proportion of the Ethiopian and Eritrean population were on the North side, unserved by a restaurant offering their national cuisine, and with the opening of his Cleveland Avenue restaurant, Addis, he has made the cuisine far more geographically accessible for them, and for us.

The dining room is clean and pleasant, in an orderly no-frills kind of way, and service is unwaveringly pleasant and eager to answer questions. The menu is tightly focused, with less than 10 dishes, though 10 more are understood to be on their way in the next couple of weeks.

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While we’re eager to see what the menu expansion may bring, we were more than happy with what exists. We tried the mahbarawi platter with tibs, and added the zillzill tibs, a beef short rib dish. The mahbarawi platter also included 4 vegetable dishes and salad. All of the dishes are served together on a larger sharing platter with some hot sauce.

ethiopian food in Columbus

The tibs, a beef stew was, to us, the best rendition we’ve tried so far – spicy, complex, and delicious. The platter can also be ordered with chicken.

The zillzill tibs, on the other hand, was entirely new to us, and amounted to a tasty curiosity. It consisted of chunks of beef short rib meat, and the menu listed it as seasoned with garlic, black pepper, onion, and green chili. True though this may be, the flavor struck us as faintly teriyaki-esque… which was not bad, by any means, but more than a bit surprising.

Accompaniments included lentils, cabbage, and spinach, and all were up to snuff. The injera bread as good as any we’ve had, and was conspicuously fresh. Portions, as always with Ethiopian food are plentiful. Dishes are cooked to order and Niman was keen to point out that dishes like kitfo can be cooked to your taste – anywhere from rare to well done. We were also asked what level of spice we wanted. As is traditional with Ethiopian food be prepared to eat with your hands.

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We also enjoyed Ethiopian tea and coffee and Niman told us that on Friday they prepare traditionally prepared Ethiopian coffee and offer samples to customers.

La Bendicion

la bendicion

3872 E. Main St.
Columbus, 43213
614.745.3135
Open 8am-7pm Mon-Sat (closes at 6.30pm Wednesday)

Here’s a quick post on an east side food spot of note; La Bendicion is a fun little Guatemalan owned bakery that opened recently on the Main St.

guatemalan bakery columbus

The bakery sells a range of bread rolls, pan dulce (sweet breads), cookies and pastries. We really enjoyed a flaky pastry with a sweet cheese filling.

IMG_6666

However, our favorite item was the freshly made churros. Obviously made by hand, they were the lightest, airiest churros we have found in Columbus and, still hot from the oven, they were absolutely delicious.

latin bakeries columbus ohio

We’ve seen La Bendicion products on sale at Mi Bandera on 161, and you may see their wares popping up in other Latino markets around town. It sounds like they also make cakes although none were available to try during our visit.