Category Archives: African


ethiopian restaurants columbus

Cuisine: Ethiopian/Eritrean
4720 East Main St
Columbus, OH 43213

Click here to map it!

With eye-poppingly large dishes lined with injera bread and a finger food approach to eating, Ethiopian restaurants are an experience. Among the Ethiopian restaurants we’ve tried in town, Dukem is an experience.

This is, in no small part, due to its multi-functional nature – it’s a restaurant, a bar, a music venue, and a pool hall of sorts. In short, it’s an Ethiopian hang-out, and if our last visit is any indication, a popular one.

A quick digression on the pool hall element, as it’ll no doubt capture your attention upon visiting: there are two tables, neither of which have adequate space around them for what might be considered traditional pool playing (no stick room!). No worries, though – they tables were being used to play a game that appeared to be somewhat like bocce, and required only the use of the hands to launch balls close to others on the table. We’ve been told it’s called ‘billiardo’.

Another thing I’ve never felt compelled to mention before in a restaurant write-up is anything about anything related to the restrooms, but, as an interesting cultural observation, here I go: since Ethiopian food is eaten with the hands, you might find yourself waiting for awhile for the sink. As in, waiting while observing ‘the doctor is now fully prepped for surgery’ levels of hand hygiene from the people in front of you. As everyone tends to eat from one plate, it’s certainly the respectful thing to do for the group you’re eating with.

Having now dutifully washed my own hands, lets talk food.

“What are they having over there?” is one of our go-to questions of a server when trying a new place. In is instance, it was the Dukem Special – a mix of beef (we’d guess pieces of flank steak), peppers, onions and tomatoes served over tangy injera bread with sides of iceberg lettuce, hot sauce, and mustard. The injera-lined plate came out separate from the beef mix, which was sizzling in a pan and scooped atop the injera at the table.

ethiopian food columbus ohio

When ours came, all we could think was ‘fajitas’ – replace the injera with tortillas and the dish would be a dead ringer. Which isn’t a bad thing necessarily, as the beef was flavorful and had a nice char (though was cooked to the somewhat expected African level of ‘well done’) and the injera flavor is pleasant with the beef.

eritrean food columbus

We also tried the Awaze Kulwa/Tibs, which was another beef dish cooked in a spicy red sauce. While the last dish vibed Latino, this was pure Ethiopian/Eritrean through and through. Awaze is a paste based on Berbere chili/ spice mix. Very enjoyable, and consistent with what we’ve had at other Ethiopian restaurants around town.

A recommended dish to start with is the mahberawi combination plate which comes with a sample of several of vegetarian dishes, your choice of Kulwa/Tibs or Awaze/Kulwa Tibs and the usual ample supply of injera.


Final thought – while Dukem was very friendly and accommodating, it seems to exist as something of a refuge for it’s Ethiopian customer base from their day-to-day life of immersion in American culture. To go there is to be welcomed, but it felt, to me, as though we were ever-so-slightly disrupting an almost sweetly pure by-Ethiopian-for-Ethiopian environment. I wouldn’t let this dissuade you from going, but I’m tempted to suggest you proceed with some additional degree of sensitivity to your surroundings.

Ginevra Cafe

mediterranean restaurants columbus Somali

2285 Morse Road

Click here to map it!

At the end of last year we wrote “In the short time it has been open, Ginevra has had an interesting evolution. It started as a Somali coffee shop offering coffee, tea, snacks and desserts but has recently expanded to offer a full lunch and dinner menu. Rather than providing a strictly Somali menu, they opted for mix of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Somali dishes”.  At that time the kitchen was being run by Mo, the nephew of one of Columbus’ well known Middle Eastern chefs – Nasir of Lavash (and formerly of Firdous).

Now Ginevra has transitioned again and they are serving a more Somali focused menu. Based on our recent visit and reports from Somali friends this change is proving very popular with their customers. On the night we visited the restaurant was almost full with large groups of Somali men animatedly discussing politics and soccer.

The menu is small with six entrees and four sandwiches. Entree options are lamb shank, beef or chicken steak, beef or chicken suqaar or fish steak. Each can be served with either rice or pasta. We would recommend the rice. The pasta was linguine in what tasted like jar-sauce.

somali restaurants columbus

The lamb shank was tender and was served with sauteed onions and a mountain of Somali rice and salad. Optional hot sauce is available. We also tried the chicken steak, suqaar and the fish steak. All were well cooked and seasoned.

somali restaurants ohio

As is common in Somali restaurants each entree is preceded by a complimentary bowl of soup. This is usually a mildly spiced meat based broth with vegetables. The soup at Ginevra was very good.

ginevra cafe columbus

I don’t think a visit to Ginevra would be complete without the Somali chai which has a wonderful mix of ginger and cardamon. Our tea came in a teapot to share. I would also recommend the Ginevra special juice, an intriguing mix of dates and milk but quite delicious.

somali tea shop

Service is friendly and Ginevra also has free wifi. Somali desserts and snacks (such as Sambusa) are available from the counter.


somali restaurants columbus

CLOSED (as of Sept 2013)

Cuisine: Somali

727 Georgesville Rd, Columbus, OH 43228
(614) 308-7950

Click here to map it!

Most of Columbus’ Somali restaurants are found in the NE section of town – in particular around the Morse Road/Cleveland Avenue area – but there are also a small cluster of Somali restaurants on the West side. One of these is Kulan, situated next to Super Torta restaurant. It’s a small restaurant with a spare but clean dining room, and is worth a visit if you are looking for Somali food on the West side.

somali restaurants west side columbus

As with many Somali restaurants there are strong Ethiopian influences. We tried the Sporty dish (Ethiopian) with canjeero (anjera). It was not quite as described on the menu but came with Ethiopian style spicy beef and a bowl of mild yellow dal. $18 perhaps seemed a little steep for this meal, but it was part of a 5-person feast in which we all ended up paying $10 per person and had plenty of food as well as Somali tea and bottled water and the obligatory bananas.

kulan restaurant

The roasted goat was fine, but not up to the level of Solay‘s. The chicken suqaar (chicken stew with small cubes of chicken) was very good. Our suqaar came with a side of the more-or-less typical Somali rice (long grain cooked with some fragrant spices and served with a few sauteed vegetables).

somali food columbus ohio

We also tried and enjoyed the fool (pinto beans cooked with tomato, onion, peppers and spices) which is most commonly eaten as a breakfast dish.

somali food in ohio

Tropical Spice

sierra leone food columbus, west african restaurants ohio

Cuisine: West African and American

6140 Cleveland Avenue (Atrium Center)
614.948.2874/ 614.984.8281

Open Tuesday-Sunday for lunch and dinner

Click here to map it!

Adding to the increasing diversity of West African restaurants in Columbus is this Sierra Leonean inspired spot, serving an intriguing mix of West African and American dishes.

west african food columbus

Tropical Spice is owned by Isatu “Florence” Gbaya and her mother, Zainab.  Their primary business is catering, though dining walk-ins are welcome for lunch and dinner.

While we mostly sampled the West African specialties, we did try the wings – which were nicely crispy and surprisingly well cooked.

Of the West African dishes, we were particularly taken by the lamb dibi, which comes with a mountain of either rice, couscous or salad. It is pictured below with the jollof rice which was flavorful but perhaps a bit greasier here than at some of the other West African restaurants.

tropical spice restaurant columbus

The pepper chicken (pictured below) was also very tasty and well prepared.  Just beware of the heat! It looks innocent enough on the menu, but the pepper in question is habanero, not black pepper as one might expect. Also made from habanero is the excellent house hot sauce, a seductive mix of onion, bell pepper and habanero that has a considerable after-burn.

west african cuisine ohio

We also enjoyed the much milder spinach stew with contains chunks of chicken and was fragrant with ginger.

A couple of items on the menu that might need translation are attieke, fufu, and egusi. Both the attieke and fufu are made from cassava (a starchy, tuberous root) but fufu has a heavy dough-like texture and attieke has more of a couscous like texture. Egusi sauce is made with ground up melon seeds and has a distinctive and sometimes polarizing flavor.

Intercontinental Restaurant

Cuisine – Nigerian

5777 Cleveland Ave
Open 11am – 9pm daily, 1pm – 7pm on Sunday

Click here to map it!

As we drove towards Intercontinental, the normally indefatigable food adventurer, Bethia Woolf, was looking a bit pallid. “What’s wrong?”, I ask.

“You know!”, was the curt reply.

You see, sometime during her formative years in the UK, Bethia was invited to a dinner put on by Nigerian friends of her family. This meal left scars that persist to this day – memories of flavors and textures so vividly disagreeable at the time that they can’t help but cast something of a shadow over what’s to come.

As we perused the fully (and helpfully) photo-illustrated menu, though, tensions began to subside somewhat. It certainly didn’t look too scary, and, by and large, struck me as quite appetizing. Co-owner and all around pleasant guy Olawale Ajiboye (“call me Wally”, he says) eagerly explained unfamiliar items to us.

With Olawale’s help we quickly made our selections, and the wait for our dishes was notably short.

First up was a plate of moi moi, goat meat, and jollof rice. This moi moi (also known as moinmoin) was roundly thought to be fascinating and tasty stuff – essentially slices of a bean loaf studded with hard boiled eggs and beef, the texture was light and the flavor was surprisingly complex and umami forward. It disappeared quickly. The jollof rice was similarly easy to appreciate, and this version struck us as being similar to a spicy Mexican rice with additional earthy, meaty undertones. We couldn’t argue with the flavor of the goat, but tenderness wasn’t in the cards.

Same could be said for what was, to my tastes, an (over)steamed whole fish. This came with rice and beans, which, if my eyes didn’t deceive, was actually rice and black eyed peas. Initially a somewhat unexciting side, Olawale brought out a savory, earthy red sauce for it that brought it all together swimmingly.

Our final dish, spinach and plantains, confirmed a long-held impression – African cuisines really know how to handle spinach. Solay Bistro and Taste of Zanzibar both have notable spinach dishes, and Intercontinental’s version is every bit their equal. The accompanying plantains were of the ripe, sweet, caramelized variety. If you’ve had them at any Caribbean restaurant, you’ve had this version… and that’s not a bad thing by any means. While a generous portion was a feature of this dish, it should be noted that there was a garnish of plantains on all of the dishes we tried.

Having struck up an easy rapport with Olawale, he reiterated several times his desire for honest feedback on the meal. We sheepishly inquired about the chewiness of the proteins, and he both thanked us for mentioning it and gently averred that the overt firmness was a widely held preference among West Africans. Experience with several other West African restaurants leads us to think it likely true.

We were then invited to try tastes of a couple of other menu items. Small bowls of the okra soup and egusi soup were presented.

Okra soup, we’ve come to find, is pretty consistently mucilaginous, and while the flavor was enjoyable that texture is still a tough sell. The egusi, normally eaten with pounded yam, is a curious mixture that includes melon seeds and smoked fish. Challenging in both flavor and aroma, we’ve concluded that egusi may well have been the source of Bethia’s childhood trauma.

Intercontinental’s space was a pleasant enough place to enjoy a meal, and the service was notably on the ball. While they’re no exception among African restaurants in offering dishes that can be challenging to the average American palate, our experience leads us to believe that they’ll also have something satisfying for just about everyone (including vegetarians).

Pepper soup is a weekend specialty, and something we look forward to trying out.