Don’t be fooled by the white linen tablecloths.
Juba Restaurant and Café in Tukwila is, at its heart, a family eatery and working man’s respite, a place where cabdrivers and airport workers enjoy large plates of goat or chicken with mounds of rice or noodles before heading out to work the night shift.
But Juba also welcomes newcomers to East African cuisine, employing friendly servers who can help navigate a menu that includes dishes from Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and India.
In fact, if you’re unfamiliar with East African cuisine, Juba is a good place to start. The dishes are cooked with enticing blends of spices, including garlic, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, clove and turmeric. Many come with chapati (Indian flat bread), malawah (sweet, thick Somali flatbread) or injera (spongy sourdough pancakes that make eating with your hands easy and pleasurable).
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Meals always seem to come with a surprise. One lunch was accompanied by two kinds of soup. Another was served with soup and a pitcher of nectar. Yet another showed up with soup, salad and nectar. The portions are large and come with bananas that double as edible utensils for entwining noodles, rounding up an errant piece of beef or tamping down the heat from the green curry that sits in squeeze bottles on the tables.
The menu: Breakfast, served until 11:30 a.m., includes stewed black-eyed peas ($6); dried spiced beef ($7); and a variety of beef, chicken, liver and kidney suqaar, spiced meats cooked with onion, garlic, peas, carrots and green pepper (each $7). Lunch and dinner offerings include my favorite, chapati, thick flat bread served with beef or chicken suqaar ($10); basmati rice or spaghetti with chicken, beef, goat or salmon ($10); and waslah, large chunks of sweet and spicy goat that’s a crowd favorite ($15). Indian dishes include chicken curry and chicken tikka masala (each $12).
Also on the menu: camel ($15); an Ethiopian medley that includes collard greens, yellow split peas, a hard-boiled egg and beef ($12); black-eyed peas ($7); and ugali, corn meal with collard greens ($10). Family-style meals run from $20 to $30, and can easily feed three or more. For the less adventurous: chicken and fish sandwiches, hamburgers, Philly cheesesteak and shawarma ($6 each).
What to write home about: The collard greens, cooked with vinegar, yellow peas and carrots, were a perfect blend of sweet and sour. The chicken “chapati/KK,” with its turmeric flavor and color, keeps me coming back.
The setting: An airy, windowed space in a busy shopping center. CNN plays loudly on the television. Seating for more than 65. Check out the attached “mall” next door, where merchants, many of them from Somalia, sell their wares.
Other things to note: Patience goes a long way when ordering. The servers work hard to communicate.
Summing up: A large dish of chapati ($10) and the Ethiopian injera plate ($12) — both served with soup, a side salad and nectar, came to $29.20 with tax and tip. Leftovers provided enough food for two more meals.
Susan Kelleher: 206-464-2508 or firstname.lastname@example.org