Safari Restaurant

Safari Restaurant, Columbia Pike, Baileys Crossroads, next to the Acura dealer, at approximately 5831 Columbia Pike, Falls Church, VA, across Columbia Pike from the strip mall with Full Kee and Best Buy. 703-820-1008 [Somalian cuisine on Wikipedia]

Fisherman in Berbera, Somaliland
Creative Commons License photo credit: Alfred Weidinger

I didn’t write down the phone number or exact address because I thought I could Google to them but so far nothing is online, even though the restaurant has been open for seven months, since mid-2011. Was it a dream? All that broken glass on the doorstep? The rolled-up carpet obstructing the entrance way? The ramshackle decor? The apparent surprise from the staff that a customer might show up and request some food?

I enjoyed my visit. The menu had I think four items, none of which were so clearly explained, although there were deeper descriptions in Somali. I asked them to bring me the two best items. I received a fried chicken steak, some plain beef bits which are good if you apply the spicy green sauce, a delicious rice, and decent spaghetti noodles. It came with a free lemonade. Then they brought some Somalian empanadas (pretty good), a few empty doughy things (decent), and two plain unpeeled bananas, all in rapid succession. There was talk of goat in the future. All for $25.

You can pick nits with the food, but I’ll go back, it’s been my most unique eating experience in some time.

Update: charleybicycle sent this comment on 2/11/12:

I went to Safari tonight, Saturday, with some friends. There were about 15 taxis parked in the lot which we took for a good sign. There was an OPEN sign on the entrance door but it was locked. A man came and opened the door. A large carpet was lumped folded over in a pile in the entrance way. A pair of boots was left unattended right in the center of the walkway as you enter the dining room. The man who let us in explained that they had just had an event, but it was now over and we were welcome. We sat down at a table and noted the decor which included some factory-produced banners saying something like “Enjoy the Celebration!” There were about 15 people in the large brightly lit room, all were standing and amicably talking in the back of the room. No one was eating and no food nor beverage was in sight. A congenial man approached us smiling, shook our hands and introduced himself as Paul, if memory serves me. He politely explained to us that the restaurant had been rented for the evening and he was unable to serve us. He invited us to return soon and said we would love the food. He especially praised the rice, and noted that visitors from as far away as Canada had said it is the best. He said he only recently took over the restaurant from another man and was still printing the menus and creating a website. He explained he was concentrating on making the food the best it could be. He did provide a phone number which he said had been activated only the day before: 703-820-1008. He shook our hands again as we said goodbye. As we left we noticed the carpet pile had been moved aside and was no longer in the center of the entanceway.

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3 Responses to Safari Restaurant

  1. Xaoc says:

    I went to Safari tonight, Saturday, with some friends. There were about 15 taxis parked in the lot which we took for a good sign. There was an OPEN sign on the entrance door but it was locked. A man came and opened the door. A large carpet was lumped folded over in a pile in the entrance way. A pair of boots was left unattended right in the center of the walkway as you enter the dining room. The man who let us in explained that they had just had an event, but it was now over and we were welcome. We sat down at a table and noted the decor which included some factory-produced banners saying something like “Enjoy the Celebration!” There were about 15 people in the large brightly lit room, all were standing and amicably talking in the back of the room. No one was eating and no food nor beverage was in sight. A congenial man approached us smiling, shook our hands and introduced himself as Paul, if memory serves me. He politely explained to us that the restaurant had been rented for the evening and he was unable to serve us. He invited us to return soon and said we would love the food. He especially praised the rice, and noted that visitors from as far away as Canada had said it is the best. He said he only recently took over the restaurant from another man and was still printing the menus and creating a website. He explained he was concentrating on making the food the best it could be. He did provide a phone number which he said had been activated only the day before (703) 820-1008. He shook our hands again as we said goodbye. As we left we noticed the carpet pile had been moved aside and was no longer in the center of the entanceway.

  2. Stephen says:

    Safari totally belies its parking lot and building. Great food, warm service, and low prices can be found inside a building that has looked tired for years, going back to when it held the Peruvian restaurant Cuzco. Don’t be put off by by appearances, even if it looks like there is no life in the relatively large parking lot.

    As the only non-Somali group we were greeted immediately and made to feel totally at home. As a matter of fact, the owner doted on us. We got the sampler with goat. A somewhat spicy chicken broth soup came out of the kitchen immediately, followed soon after by ground meat samosas in a wrapper that was about as thick as an egg roll skin–either of them was worth the trip. The entree was three meat dishes on a special rice: a beef and chicken mixture, a piece of sauteed chicken breast, and a succulent portion of goat meat. The rice had grated carrots, golden raisins, and maybe some onions–very tasty. Their spicy green sauce was a perfect accompaniment.

    The owner, Mohammed, said he had taken over the place two months before and was getting the place in shape. Though Somalia and Ethiopia are neighbors, their cuisines are quite distinct. I will be going back.

  3. xaoc says:

    Two friends and I paid a visit to Safari Restaurant last night, a Thursday. Despite the Open sign on the front door it was locked, and peering in the door we could only see a dark and vacant room off to our left. However, we remembered seeing the back door open as we pulled into the parking lot. A man sat outside in a plastic chair by the back door staring at us. When asked if the restaurant was open, he replied yes. We walked in, passed the restrooms and saw one man sitting at a table looking at us. There was no food on the table; he was just sitting there. At the far side of the room two people were moving a table. One man approached us and introduced himself as Mohammed, the owner. Mohammed shook my hand and smiled as he led us to a table of our choosing.

    Mohammed asked if we had tried Somali food before. We said no. He asked if we would allow him to bring us a selection of foods. We readily agreed without ever having seen a menu — they may not exist. Mohammed asked if we would be sharing or would we prefer individual plates. We said we would share. The first of several pitchers of lemonade was brought out to us, followed by simple, individual plates of small-cut lettuce and tomato wedges.

    Silverware and individual plates were provided to us. A huge platter was presented to the three of us with multiple pounded beef steaks; formed chicken breast halves; tilapia; goat on the bone; and vast piles of soft basmati rice with ruby-colored raisins, randomly-cut carrot chunks and long, thin onion strips. The goat meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender and flavorful. We were brought flat bread slices. Mohammed later approached us with long 10-inch rolls, fresh out of the oven, and said “the chef wanted you to try these”. Mohammed pointed out to us that we ate much less rice than Somalis who usually ask for additional rice to be provided. That was rather astonishing to us given the mounds of rice on the platter. Still, he asked if we would like even more rice; maybe it’s a hospitable gesture in Somali culture.

    Mohammed was a doting, polite host, wishing to accommodate our desires and introduce us to Somalian cuisine. He told us of his long, daily commute from La Plata, Maryland and his wish to relocate to Northern Virginia. He proudly told us of his two children in colleges in the mid-Atlantic region. We were provided with three large styrofoam take-out containers (and plastic bags) to take home the several pounds of leftovers. Mohammed offered to give us some additional rice to take home, which we politely declined with amused smiles on our faces.

    The giant meal for three came to $36 before tip. I would like to go back again, but with a larger group to better tackle the portions. However, the dismal, dirty condition of the parking lot, building exterior and overgrown weeds and bushes makes the place look like an abandoned lot, and would no doubt be unsettling to the majority of potential customers.

    We were the only customers during our stay of more than an hour. Somali pop music, presumably, played pleasantly in the background. We were told the restaurant is open daily and offers a lunch buffet on Fridays only. The Friday lunch buffet window is about two hours long, and seemed to start rather late, something like 1:30pm — so best to call ahead to confirm. Mohammed says most of his business is carry-out with occasional events like wedding feasts. The restaurant has no website.

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