East Africans have done much to shape the culinary scene of Minneapolis. Not many other American metropolises have African food mixed in to the take-out menu rotation. Safari Restaurant is one of the oldest Somalian places in town, but we find the new concept — Somali Xpress — to be more exciting. It serves East African stews over rice bowls in at a food court counter in the amazing Midtown Global Market.
The international food court just might be the world’s most cosmopolitan food center. Restaurants from classic American to Italian to Vietnamese to Mexican all are represented, but Safari Xpress might best capture flavors of the surrounding Midtown neighborhood. It’s interesting to experience such exotic food in so familiar a food court setting.
Safari Xpress offers plates over rice. You can order by pointing to what looks best. Sweet Pineapple Lamb with its sticky glaze actually tastes like a halal street food gyro plate channeled through a take-out Chinese kitchen. It’s delicious in a naughty, fast-food sort of way. The tastier, more wholesome choice is made-to-order camel stew: a massive bowl that comes from directly from the kitchen rather than the steam table.
Camel is very beefy with a gaminess that is milder than lamb but more pronounced than bison. The spicy stew goes great with aromatic jasmine rice, of which there are three options: lily-white coconut, cinnamon-scented saffron yellow, and chili-spiced orange. They’re all good. We recommend asking for a mix of rices or just ordering three different bowls with three different rices.
You can’t leave without trying the popular lunch special, which is House Soup served with a sambusa (essentially a skinnier samosa). The soup has a thick, hearty texture and a dull turmeric glow. Its flavors bridge those of garlic-loving North Africa and spice-crazy South Asia. It is something like a creamy mulligatawny. Like all of the food here, it is very filling. The crisp potato dumpling dipped in the sturdy soup eats like a classic Midwest worker’s lunch, only with exotic spices thrown in to liven things up.