Where to Find Traditional Somali Food in Minneapolis
Get a taste of East African comfort food in the heart of Minneapolis
Article By Mecca Bos
Minneapolis is home to over 25,000 Somali residents, about a quarter of all Somalis currently living in the United States. Many Somalis migrated to our state in the early 1990’s, fleeing the country’s civil war.
Our Cedar-Riverside area, also known as the West Bank (of the Mississippi river,) has been dubbed “Little Mogadishu,” the Somali capital of the United States. Dozens of Somali businesses dot the area, but examples of the surprisingly familiar, comforting cuisine can be found throughout the Twin Cities.
General markers of the cooking include tasty chapati and injera flat breads, fragrant spice cabinet seasonings, and a long colonization by Italy means noodles, red sauces, and even alfredo. It’s a lively mashup of flavors that are easily accessible for the American palate, presented in dishes and techniques that can be eye-opening and altogether surprising and delightful.
Three of my favorite spots to check out this exceptional fare, not available just anywhere, but easy to find right here. Welcome to Minneapolis!
With two Twin Cities locations, Afro Deli is a beloved counter-service spot that stays busy virtually all times of day and night. Acolytes come for heaping, steaming portions of Chicken Fantastic, the restaurant’s signature stir-fry of chicken and veggies cloaked in a Parmesan cream sauce and served over Somali rice. Other favorites include the keke, African noodles (shredded strips of injera) tossed with peppers, onions, and herbs, and served with fragrant and spicy red sauce. Lovers of Italian food will especially enjoy a new approach on an old favorite. My personal go-to order here is a an order of sambusas, highly seasoned ground meat tucked into deep-fried pastry and served with fiery and herbaceous green sauce. Little addictions you’ll find yourself craving long after the meal is over, and an easy and portable snack for sharing—I always say a tray of these makes you the most popular person at the potluck.
Jamal Hashi opened the first Somali restaurant in New York City, Safari, and then went on to open Safari locations in Minneapolis, the first Somali eating establishments with crossover appeal locally. Safari Harlem is still going strong under new ownership, and Safari Express Minneapolis is a great place for grab-and-go pan-African food, like roasted goat and mango curry chicken in the Midtown Global Market. But I love Jambo, Hashi’s newest restaurant, for a super friendly and accessible taste of Cedar Riverside, in a sunny dining room that’s as much community center as it is cafe. Try the lamb tacos on paratha flatbread, or if you’re feeling adventurous, the camel sliders, which have become one of their top sellers for the lean, flavorful meat not found just anywhere. In Somalia, it’s special occasion fare, and Hashi says he loves serving it at Jambo for a taste of home.
If you’re in the mood for a more relaxed experience, check out Safari Restaurant, a true Somali dining experience with homestyle hospitality. Upon being seated, it’s likely you’ll receive a carafe of fresh mango juice or spiced tea, or maybe both, for the table to share. Next, a banana and hot sauce. Both are traditionally meant to be incorporated into the meal, whether it be a rice or pasta dish. At Safari, I highly recommend the curry goat, as well as their exemplary sambusas, which arrive with their own special recipe of a creamy baasbas sauce, a traditional fiery hot sauce. Don’t be fooled by the pastel color—it offers formidable heat. Too hot? Take a bite of that banana to soothe you.
About the Author
Mecca Bos has been writing about the Twin Cities food scene for more than 15 years and she’s been cooking in professional kitchens for almost as long. If there is something to be tasted in town, she’s tasted it. She loves few things more than bragging about her beloved hometown and food cities, Minneapolis/ St. Paul. Her work can be found both locally and nationally, and at meccabos.com.