eliza sohn

According to the most recent act of fellatio performed on Portland by a very orally fixated New York Times, we live in a "a golden age of dining and drinking," with talented young chefs attracted to the city by a combination of brilliant local produce and affordable real estate. While I have no fundamental objection to an influx of hot young chefs to our fair town (or of hot young people in general, for that matter), one must not forget to seek out culinary experiences that lie outside the realm of Northwestern cuisine.

You won't find the words "organic" or "sustainable" on the menu at N Killingsworth's E'Njoni Café, a small storefront near Harold's Barbeque that's been quietly gaining regulars since it opened just over a month ago. You will, however, find a family-owned and locally minded business that Portlanders pride themselves on supporting, serving meticulously prepared regional dishes—the region just happens to be Africa. The family that owns and runs the E'Njoni is from Eritrea, which is bordered by Ethiopia on the south and the Red Sea on the east. Eritrea has a history of colonization by European nations (most notably Italy), and the cuisine has been shaped accordingly—thus you'll find a meatball sandwich with "Sicilian sauce" alongside flavors that may be familiar from Ethiopian menus. It's a lot of baggage for one sandwich—along the lines of bahn mi, which developed from the French occupation of Vietnam. (Taking the culture swapping even further, the E'Njoni's baguettes are supplied by a Vietnamese bakery.)

The restaurant itself is warmly decorated in yellow and orange, and staffed by the friendly family that owns the place. The front counter sports a pastry case and espresso machine, where coffee and treats are available from 10 am on; and in back, a full-service restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner six days a week (they're closed on Mondays).

The food is fresh and plentiful and good, from a simple sandwich of grilled eggplant, bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms on a baguette, to the special tibs, rosemary-infused chicken or beef sautéed with onions and garlic served on a plate of injera (the supple bread used in place of silverware to perform the important business of getting food into mouth). Don't miss the fuul, a traditional African breakfast food (available here all day) made of slow-cooked fava beans mixed with onions, scallions, tomatoes, and diced jalapenos, and eaten with hunks of crusty baguette—it's a perfect comfort food, high in protein and filling. Everything is prepped daily, so when it's gone it's gone, but when it's there, it's fresh.

Vegans and vegetarians will do just fine here—there are a few dishes in addition to the aforementioned sandwich, including a veggie rice dish, and a vegetable combination plate that comes with a variety of greens and vegetables, served on the ubiquitous injera. And don't overlook the dessert case, with an array of fantastic pastries (baked out of house, by Ararat and another European bakery).

While you're busy supporting the local restaurant boom, don't forget about this cozy, charming little spot—it's a welcome addition to the increasingly vibrant Portland scene.