Katie Hinkle
Horn of Africa

3939 NE MLK


The yellow-painted Horn of Africa restaurant, set on busy MLK, sort-of looks like another Ethiopian spice-and-phone-card-store, and yet, it offers so much more than spices and cheap phone calls. The restaurant's name is taken from the region of Africa to the East, the part that looks like a horn. (I thought, naively, it was named for some kind of legendary African cornucopia thing because of the syllabic match. Cor-ni-co-pi-a, Horn-of-Af-ri-ca. Get it? Me neither.) The cuisine served is regional, consisting of contributions from Somalian, Kenyan, and Ethiopian kitchens. This produces a more subtle affectation than the familiar Ethiopian spice wallop. It reflects, perhaps due to its perch on the Indian Ocean, a more Indian and Middle Eastern influence.

The appetizers at the Horn were great. The Sambusa and Bajiya combo ($5.50) offers two each of the tasty, ample morsels. The Sambusa are triangular pastries filled with your choice of beef, chicken, or green lentils. I chose lentils, but I was pleased to learn that my carnivorous compatriots suffered not an ounce. The Bajiya are like falafel except they utilize split peas and round out the flavor with a tasty, herby blend. They are then flattened and fried but, surprisingly aren't greasy. Both were served with a spicier, salsa-like chutney concoction, which provided plenty of bite-booster throughout the meal.

The dinner menu offers single plates, about enough for one person, or full meals that are enough for two. The Hoe-Dra plate ($9.75) is all vegan, enough for two, and consists of fresh collard greens (which are tender, and not bitter), sublimely spiced mixed vegetables, creamy navy beans, organic red lentils, and a tomato salad. The latter selection is served atop a bed of fragrant basmati rice, once again adding a not-unwelcome Indian spin.

The Lukkuu Hurdii plate ($10.95), also enough for two, consists of curried chicken-breast meat dressed up with Horn of Africa's finest spices and roasted to tender perfection. It's served with pretty much the same accompaniment as the selections on the Hoe-Dra, only in slightly smaller portions. There are also mouthwatering selections of beef and lamb available for the carnivore.

Each meal is served with Biddeena, which to me was exactly like Injarra, the spongy bread served with Ethiopian food. Apparently, though, Horn Of Africa's Biddeena is all-organic and vegan. The proprietor explained this in unwavering detail to me when I inquired, going so far as to say he'd spent five years developing the recipe. They also offer a next-to-impossible to make, wheat-free version that utilizes spelt and kamut grains. I tried both types and preferred the darker, more flavorful wheat-free Biddeena. It's also important to note that, when you run out of Biddeena during your meal, more will quickly appear.

The demeanor of the family-run Horn of Africa is so welcoming and positive that I'll surely return. They are as organic as possible. Also, with promises of an all-you-can-eat $6.95 lunch buffet and an adjoining East African grocery to explore, I'll count on them to assist me in the ongoing quest to expand my horizons.