photo credit: Natalie Schaefer
In the choose-your-own-adventure book Journey Under the Sea, your quest is to search for Atlantis. You have a lot of decisions to make along the way, and it can all go very badly. If you choose to ride a whale, you may fall off, accidentally harpoon yourself, and lose your eyesight. Your short-sighted self will subsequently be sucked into a whirlpool that could, fortuitously, spit you out at the front gates of Atlantis. But you’ll then be imprisoned by the locals, and forced to live the rest of your life as an Atlantean farmer in service of the empire - all because you chose to ride a whale.
Yet the potential to find something great was the reason you embarked on that quest in the first place, and also why you should go to Tawakal Cafe in East Boston. If you navigate wisely, you’ll find that this Somali spot along the outer edges of Logan makes some of the best food in the city.
The generously-filled beef sambusas have the perfect balance of crunch, spice, and warming-blanket comfort. The coconut milk grits with spinach and chickpeas is a sweeter, vegetarian version of shrimp and grits - it’s the best vegetarian dish on the menu, and you’ll never go back to non-coconut grits again. Then there’s the beef chapati wrap with freshly grilled bread, tender beef, and the surprisingly essential briny pickles, all of which remind you just how great a sandwich can be.
But like 76% of Journey Under the Sea, there’s a less-than-ideal experience you can have at Tawakal. If you visit on a busy day, you might wait an hour for your food since there’s only one cook in the kitchen. Sometimes, the restaurant isn’t open when you expect it to be. And while you wouldn’t complain about the chicken dora or fish malay as Atlantean prisoner food, they’re both very forgettable, especially in light of the other stellar dishes here.
Discovering something special, like the utopian island of Atlantis or an amazing meal at Tawakal, requires a certain level of luck, effort, and risk. Only at Tawakal, there are no whales, harpoons, or whirlpools involved. Considering how that turned out, it’s probably for the best.
It’s hard to imagine disliking something that’s fried and filled with spicy beef. But these sambusas are perfect, and easily one of the best appetizers we’ve ever had.
Beef “Hilib” Chapati
Sandwiches, like toothbrushes, are useful and necessary, but not the most exciting things in the world. This chapati wrap is so good that we’ve been telling our dentist about it regularly.
Grits “Soor Iyo Maraq”
Coconut milk grits are the perfect compliment to the cumin, coriander, and cardamom-spiced chickpeas. We would eat this every day, especially during the seven-month stretch from November to May.
Tawakal Hot Sauce
It’s made from one of those fabled family recipes, but in this case, it’s so great it might make Spider-Man 3 a better movie. Put it on everything in sight.
Fish “Malay” Biryani
The fish is cooked well, but despite having a deep red hue, it’s really bland. The biryani is seasoned well though.
Lamb “Hilib Ari” Spaghetti
The lamb shank is tender and flavorful, in contrast to the mound of spaghetti sitting next to it. If you want lamb, order it with biryani instead.