For years, yours truly has driven right by the bright red shed labeled “Karibu Grocery & Deli.”
And boy, am I kicking myself for that now.
Karibu sits on Payne Avenue, a road that’s slowly transitioning into an up-and-coming thoroughfare in to East St. Paul’s emerging food scene.
Usually, when I’m driving by the big red shed, I’m heading to the always amazing chef-tasting menu at Tongue in Cheek, grabbing one of the city’s best burgers at Brunson’s Pub, or desperately getting my fix at one of the best Thai restaurants that’s open on Sundays – Eastside Thai.
And so you’d think that by now, someone who claimed to be so in-tune with Payne Avenue’s food scene would have tried the hardest to miss building on the block…
Well, better late than never! I’m back to share the glory of Karibu Grocery & Deli. Because this spot is serving up some of the best Somali food in the entire Twin Cities!
Our Full Review
The name and the building say it all.
Karibu means “Welcome” in Swahili, and on our visit we found ourselves a super friendly worker who welcomed us to the place with a big smile and plenty of patience as we himmed and hawed about the menu.
At first glance, that menu is a bit confusing. The right side will have you thinking you walked into the bar, with a mix of Burgers, Wings, Fries, a Gryo, and even a Philly Cheesesteak.
But the real foodies come here for the left side of the menu. There, you’ll find a short list of a few Somali appetizers, plus a small handful East African Specials.
We’ve heard great things about all of those specials, but ultimately decided on three pieces:
- The Sambusa/Samosa
- Nomad Ari
- Chooza Chicken
A sambusa is a traditional Somali pastry. The most bastardized way I could explain it would be like an East African empenada or wonton.
Anyway, Karibu stuffs their sambusas with mix of ground beef, onions, and African spices, and then they serves it with a sweet side sauce.
The result? Amazing.
Crunchy, flavorful, amazingness.
(And yes, these were so good, and we ate them so fast, that we forgot to get a picture!)
Described on the menu as “Fried goat meat cooked with onion, garlic, green peppers, and cilantro.”
I’d actually disagree with the menu description of “fried” here.
Instead, you’ll get some bone-in goat meat that comes out looking like it’s been stewed in the most fragrant mix of Somali spices your palate’s ever tasted.
I immediately knew I was in for a treat when I used the provided plastic spork to easy shred this tender goat meat right off the bone!
This one is served with two sauces… a lighter sweet variety and then a thicker one that packs some serious heat.
It’s all served over a bed of colorful (and perfectly cooked) basmati rice.
Overall impression? Just wow.
This is one of the best rice dishes around. The goat meat is so flavorful, and so tender, that I found myself digging deeper and deeper into the rice mixture while barely coming up for air.
This one is similarly described as “Chicken spiced and roasted in a clay oven. Cooked with onion, garlic, and green peppers.”
It’s a very similar dish to the Nomad’s Ari, but the tender goat is replaced with heavily spiced, bright red chicken.
Lily was in love with this one and preferred it over the Nomad Ari. I too thought it was spectacular, but if I had to choose, I’d go with the Nomad Ari.
They’re both fantastic though, so you certainly can’t go wrong!
Conclusion – Karibu is a hidden gem in plain sight.
I’ll be blunt. If you ever find yourself ordering a chicken/rice bowl from one of the big box build your own burrito places (we won’t get any more specific here) when you live within driving distance of Karibu, then you’re totally nuts.
It’s that good.
In my mind (and Lily’s, too) both the Somali meals we tried here were pretty much the perfect meat/rice bowls.
There’s times when we’re blown away by high-end dining, and admittedly most of our published reviews lean towards that side of the spectrum. But there’s also times where a little affordable, unassuming joint brings a dinning experience that could challenge anywhere else in the city, and this quick experience at Karibu was certainly one of those instances.
In other news, to complete your experience at Karibu, you can also browse the space’s two little grocery store aisles of Somali ingredients, and either eat in the big open indoor space or on the patio overlooking Payne Avenue.
But no matter what you do, you’ve gotta get yourself to this total gem!
- Address: 719 Payne Ave, St Paul, MN 55130
- Website: Karibu Grocery & Deli
- Service: Fast casual – order at the counter and they’ll deliver to your table.
- Parking: Dedicated lot
- Price range: $10-15 a meal