Back at the end of August, I noticed a new restaurant opening up next to Nha Sang in Burnsville in the location which used to house Taqueria Hidalgo. Named Tawakal (Facebook), and serving Somali food, this restaurant hopes to serve a fairly small ethnic population successfully through open access to all who are willing to try the African fare they serve.
After letting her know Tawakal was opening, a friend of mine invited me out for lunch yesterday. We headed over to the restaurant and arrived just after noon. There were only a few people inside and we had the place more or less to ourselves. While little has changed since the Hidalgo days, they have closed off the kitchen and changed to a sit down restaurant from the counter ordering format of the taqueria. We took a seat in one of the booths along the wall and received copies of their menu.
Offering breakfast, lunch, appetizers, dinner, and dessert, Tawakal has quite a menu for really inexpensive prices. With breakfast prices ranging from $3 to $6 and dinner/lunch between $7 and $10 (there is a single $20 item meant for sharing with two people), they have certainly hit a price point which will be attractive to a large number of people in the South Metro. Because my dining partner and I had never tried Somali food, we asked a lot of questions which our server (sister of one of the co-owners) was quite happy to answer. We placed orders for a variety of items: Goat Meat with Rice ($7), Fish w/Injera ($10), Key Key ($10), Muffo w/Chicken Suqar ($7), and two Sambusa ($1.50/ea).
Soon after ordering, two bowls of soup in a goat broth were delivered to the table adorned with lime wedges. The soup had a few carrots and some pieces of meat floating, but was for the most part simply broth. However, the broth was incredibly flavorful and I found myself liking a simple soup for the first time in my life. Never having tried lime in a soup other than pho, my dining companion informed me that she really enjoys lime in her chicken soup, something she uses often. I had to agree that it mitigated some of the saltiness and really brightened the flavors.
Soon after we finished our soups, the Goat Meat arrived coupled with a plate of flavorful rice and vegetables (onions and bell peppers). While we tried to narrow down the spices used, we tasted cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. The owners only knew the Somali name for what they used and couldn’t really come up with an English translation for it. Whatever it was, it was really excellent. The Goat Meat was fall off the bone tender but not so tender that it fell apart when you ate it. The flavors were wonderful and very similar to teriyaki. The salty flavors coupled with the bright rice had my mouth watering. I was in heaven. While the rice and goat were wonderful, the Key Key left us wanting something more. The chapati “noodles” were starchy and tasteless. The chicken wasn’t all that flavorful and while it wasn’t offensive to eat, it was not something either of us were eager to try again. I am not much for leaving food on my plate (Clean Plate Club representing!) but I had no real interested in filling up on any more of that with more food yet to come.
The Fish w/Injera was delivered with more chapati and some soup. While there was no injera, for whatever reason, I was happy to slurp down more of the soup and try some of the chapati that hadn’t been destroyed and made into noodles. The bread was delightful and coupled with the extremely flavorful and nearly blackened fish and vegetables, the little rollups I made were to die for. Not being much of one for fish, this was a meal I could have time and time again. The fish flavors weren’t aggressive but the fish was cooked nicely, leaving a great texture which wasn’t dried out as fish all too often is. Whatever spices were used were a bit salty but the banana brought to the table and explained to us as a traditional Somali way to mitigate the strong spice and salt flavors, was just the thing to combat these issues. I have to admit it was a little different eating a banana in the middle of my meal, being that the fruit is usually reserved for breakfast for me, but it definitely worked and our server was delighted we both took her suggestion to try it seriously. I said, “When in Rome,” something which tickled her immensely.
I don’t ever remember receiving the Muffo w/Chicken Suqar but near the end two of the Sambusas arrived. Golden brown pockets filled with curried beef and vegetables, these were incredible treats. They were spicy and flavorful dumplings which carried some real heft and had me dying to eat more–especially at only $1.50. Comparable only to the curried pastries I’ve had at Satay 2 Go, aside from the temperature of the items burning my hands even after several minutes of cooling, these were some of the best things I’ve tasted in recent memory.
Overall I was extremely impressed with everything we ate at Tawakal yesterday. I was so impressed that I intend on making it a regular workday lunch stop for myself and hopefully my family, friends, and coworkers. If you’re into ethnic foods, especially Ethiopian, Somali food isn’t that much of a stretch and includes many of the same bases and flavors. However the food and low price was only part of it. Our server was wonderful and it was very nice to have one of the co-owners check on us several times during our meal to ensure everything was good. It’s usually at this stage that service issues are a problem (and the missing menu item–which may have bene a communication error on our part being that we ordered so very many items for only two people) but there was none of that at Tawakal.
I highly recommend you check this place out and blindly order some fantastic Somali food. While I have only Ethiopian to compare it to as far as African foods go, I was blown away by the flavors and the hospitality. I’ll definitely be back and soon.
Have you ever been to Tawakal? If so what did you think? What did you order and what would you order in the future? Have you ever eaten at any other Somali restaurants in town? How does Tawakal compare? Are you planning on going to try it yourself? Whatever you have to say about this one go ahead and comment on as I’d love to hear your thoughts.
12609 Nicollet Ave
Burnsville, MN 55337