Karibu Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Karibu Cafe in the Scottsdale Village Plaza on Eubank

During the dry season in Africa, the protective shade of majestic trees casting their cooling shadows are prized–and not only for their impressive and assiduous statures. For generations, the “palaver tree” has served as a meeting place in which the community comes together to discuss issues of common interest, listen to stories and resolve problems and conflicts. Unlike many of the conference room melees…er, meetings of contemporary work life, meetings under the palaver tree are conducted with the utmost of mutual respect and trust. The palaver tree is a symbol of peace and reconciliation, symbolizing the spirit of acceptance and compromise. Much of village life—weddings, rituals and rites, and sharing of news—takes place under the palaver tree.

Among Swahili speaking people, visitors to the palaver tree are greeted with the salutation “karibu” which translates to English as “welcome.” Under the palaver tree, the contribution of each member is welcome, driven by a common search for what is real, true and good. While the concept of the palaver tree may not be alive and well in Albuquerque, you’ll find the welcoming spirit of the palaver tree at a restaurant in the Northeast Heights. Fittingly known as the Karibu Café, it serves the foods of the East African coast where the palaver tree tradition continues today. The Karibu Café is located in the Scottsdale Village Plaza on the northwest corner of the Eubank and Candelaria intersection. Among its neighbors is long-time Korean restaurant favorite Fu Yuang.

Karibu Cafe Dining Room

When Friends of Gil (FOG) members John and Zelma Baldwin waxed enthusiastic about the Karibu Café, we pictured the Rio Rancho food truck which–from its debut in 2013–attracted hungry diners like flowers draw bees. Indeed, the Karibu Café did have its genesis as a food truck, one of the Duke City area’s most popular mobile kitchen operations. Two years later, founder and owner Lemmy Mamuya opened the brick-and-mortar version of Karibu at the Scottsdale Village. Lemmy, one of the most engaging and enterprising restaurateurs you’ll ever meet, is planning another expansion. He is literally within days of launching a second restaurant, this one within the Westside Marble Brewery.

With two restaurants and a food truck, Lemmy has become a restaurant impresario. The journey from the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro to a burgeoning restaurant empire in Albuquerque was not an easy one nor did it involve matriculation at an accredited culinary school. Growing up in Dar Es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania, Lemmy was exposed to a wide variety of cuisine from the city’s many cultures. He learned to cook from various family members, and honed his culinary skills through exposure to different types of food. Though he demonstrated a high aptitude for cooking, Lemmy’s academic prowess dictated a different path, one that would eventually bring him to New Mexico.

Chef-Owner Lemmy Mamuya and his Beautiful Children

The path first taken was the pursuit of a degree in Construction Engineering from Iowa State University. Upon degree completion, he was offered jobs in Kansas City, St. Louis and Albuquerque. Not fond of Midwestern weather, Lemmy opted for the Duke City offer where he built a very successful career and started a family. Though a prosperous future in engineering was all but assured, his true passion was in cooking. Utilizing his engineering skills, he essentially built his own food truck, personally performing all the electrical wiring, plumbing and mechanical tasks needed to launch Karibu. It didn’t take long for his cooking to win over the hearts and appetites of Duke City diners.

It’s been said that a chef’s work is never done. A typical day for Lemmy involves significant prep work, meticulously grinding and precisely measuring the spices which give his food their incomparable flavor profile. On the days in which the food truck has a scheduled gig, the prep work begins even earlier in the morning to ensure the truck is fully provisioned with all it needs to serve hungry diners. As with many home cooks in Tanzania, you won’t find recipes for Lemmy’s dishes on any cookbook. While the food he prepares may share a name and similar preparation style with other Tanzanian dishes, it’s all prepared to his exacting specifications—in his inimitable style. Lemmy is a perfectionist with exceedingly high standards.

Jamaican Jerk Humus

Signage in front of the Karibu Café is subtitled with “E. African & Caribbean Cuisine,” a description which falls short in describing the variety and deliciousness of a vibrant cuisine. As with many ancient culinary cultures, the cuisine of East Africa draws upon diverse ethnic traditions merged with seasonings and techniques of other countries, including India. Knowing this, you might not do a double-take when you see chapatti and samosas on Karibu’s menu and you’ll certainly discern the spices and aromatics of India when you taste the curry. Indian influences have their roots in colonial times when more than 32,000 indentured laborers were brought in from India to construct railroads in Kenya and Tanzania. When the railroad was completed, many of the laborers chose to settle in the area and brought their families over. The melding of two ancient culinary cultures is a delicious one.

Caribbean influences on Karibu’s menu can be attributed to the nefarious slave trade of the Americas when ingredients indigenous to the Caribbean were transported back to East Africa. The most obvious ingredient adaptation is the use of piquant chiles which were introduced to East Africa by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Almost synonymous with Caribbean cuisine is the term “jerk’ which describes the seasoning and preparation of meats in a style originated in Jamaica. The meat is first marinated for hours in a spicy blend of peppers, scallion, thyme and pimento seeds. The low heat allows the meat to cook slowly, retaining its natural juices which are infused with the flavor of spices and wood.

Beef Samosas

12 March 2016: There are two Caribbean inspired items on the appetizer menu: grilled jerk chicken wings and Jamaican jerk hummus served with pita bread. Only at the San Pedro Middle East Restaurant have we enjoyed hummus as much as we did at Karibu and the hummus at both restaurants could not have been any more different. At the former, the prevailing flavor of the hummus is garlic infused with a tinge of lemon juice. At Karibu, the hummus has a pronounced heat level courtesy of jerk spices. Spanish paprika is liberally sprinkled atop the two scoops of the hummus, lending a bittersweet, medium piquancy element. This hummus is not for the faint-of-heart though it has such an explosive flavor profile that even the wimp-tongued among us will enjoy it.

12 March 2016: Over the years we’ve enjoyed samosas at Indian, Nepalese and Kenyan restaurants, but have found none better than the samosas at Karibu. If you’ve never had a samosa, you owe it to yourself to experience this simple, but wonderful treat. Samosas are akin to Greek spanakopita in that they’re deep-fried triangular-shaped pastries. That’s where the similarities end. The interior of samosas is stuffed with beef, chicken or vegetables all flavored with fresh ground spices and fried in vegetable oil. Served two per order, they’re addictively delicious on their own, but are made even more magnificent when dipped or dunked into Lemmy’s unique barbecue sauce, a sweet-piquant elixir which should be bottled and sold.

Spicy Jamaican Pork Curry

12 March 2016: Perhaps because we’re weaned on red and green chile, New Mexicans tend to be a hearty breed. When we visit a restaurant purporting to serve cuisine with a piquant bent, we tend to order it if only to measure its heat against the chile which practically flows in our veins. As with our beloved New Mexican cuisine, the secret to preparing incendiary cuisine is in using piquant peppers to boost flavors, not to kill taste buds. Karibu’s spicy Jamaican Pork Curry (slow-cooked pork with green peas, carrots, tomatoes, coconut milk and hot spices to make a thick curry sauce) straddles that fine line between too hot and just right, leaning more toward the latter. New Mexicans will find this curry dish has the perfect amount of heat which allows flavors to shine brightly. With every bite of this fabulous curry, you may just curse the relative blandness of American stews. Not only are Lemmy’s stews more flavorful, he refuses to compromise by using flour or corn starch to thicken them (shame on New Mexican restaurants who use thickeners on their chile).

12 March 2016: With Indian food as well as East African cuisine, spicy does not necessarily mean hot. A dish may be super spicy as in redolent with intensely flavored spices without having much of a bite. Pilau Beef Masala Stew is such a dish. It’s a spice haven, loaded with a combination of spices that please different sections of the palate. In addition to a myriad of flavors, Karibu’s rendition of this stew has a plentitude of beef. That’s a commonality of all meat-based dishes at Karibu. Lemmy hand-trims every cut of meat to ensure an optimum blend of protein and fat for maximum flavor. Maximum flavor well defines the Pilau stew, a dish my Kim likened to pure deliciousness.  The Pilau stew is served with an East African ground-spice jasmine rice so flavorful, it would make a great meal on its own.

Pilau Beef Masala Stew

12 March 2016: You’ll want to ensure you have plenty of chapatti on hand, either to enjoy on its own or as a scooping/dipping appliance for the wonderful entrees on the menu. Chapatti, a type of Indian whole wheat bread is to East Africa what flour tortillas are to New Mexicans. They’re an essential part of the dining experience. The chapatti at Karibu inherit the flavor of the exposed flame over which they’re prepared. They’re relatively thin (similar to naan, another Indian bread), but are formidable enough for picking up larger pieces of food and scooping up foods of a more liquid consistency (can you say curry).

15 March 2016: Lemmy’s artistry with sandwiches is on full display with Karibu’s jerk chicken sandwich, a beauteous behemoth constructed on fresh brioche bread.  Nestled between the bread are generous pieces of moist breast and thigh meat  from freshly pulled chicken.  The breast meat is more flavorful while the thigh meat is more moist.  The chicken is marinated for 24 hours in a Jamaican jerk-bbq sauce which impregnates it with a spicy deliciousness.  The menu describes this sandwich as “spicy” and it is indeed spicy without being overly piquant.  All too many jerk chefs tend to overemphasize the piquant elements on jerk spices at the detriment of flavor.  Not so with Lemmy who constructed one of the best jerk chicken sandwiches I’ve ever enjoyed.  The sandwich is served with a mound of nicely salted freshly cut French fries.

Jerk Chicken Sandwich with Fries

In 2009 when Jambo opened its doors in Santa Fe, the Land of Enchantment became just a bit moreso. Jambo, the restaurant to which Karibu seems most often compared, has garnered significant acclaim, even an appearance on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Cognoscenti consider Jambo one of New Mexico’s best restaurants of any genre. Perhaps because of the enthusiasm with which Jambo has been received, New Mexico has experienced an influx of outstanding African restaurants. The fabulous Talking Drums opened its doors in 2012, introducing Duke City diners to the cuisine of West Africa. The short-lived Rafiki followed suit in 2013, shortly before Karibu rolled onto Albuquerque’s hungry streets. One common element each African restaurant has shared is a welcoming attitude to which New Mexicans have responded in kind.

Chapati (Wheat Flat Bread

When John and Zelma raved about the Karibu Cafe, we should have rushed over at our next opportunity.  As eloquent and inviting as their descriptions of  the fabulous East African cuisine were, they fell short.  So does this review…by far.  You’ve got to try this terrific restaurant to truly understand just how good East African and Caribbean cuisine can be.

Karibu Cafe
3107 Eubank, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 March 2016
1st VISIT:
12 March 2016
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pilau Beef Masala Stew, Spicy Jamaican Pork Curry, Beef Samosas, Chapati, Jamaican Jerk Hummus, Jerk Chicken Sandwich

Karibu Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Safari Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

The Safari Grill launched in June, 2014

“The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do what’s right
Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti
I seek to cure what’s deep inside, frightened of this thing that I’ve become.”
~ Africa by Toto

Shrouded in mist and steeped in myth and mystery, Mount Kilimanjaro attracts visitors from all over the world.  Often called “the roof of Africa,” the towering, snow-capped, conically-shaped mountain is the crown jewel of the United Republic of Tanzania.  At 19,340 feet, the magnificent freestanding peak commands the skies, looming over the plains of the bushveld savannah like a majestic sovereign keeping vigilant watch over her people. 

Majestic as it may be, Mount Kilimanjaro is far from Tanzania’s sole travel destination.  The country boasts of dozens of beautiful white sandy beaches such as those found in the island of Zanzibar.  A number of national parks, conservation areas and game reserves allow visitors to get up close and personal with lions, leopards, elephants, cheetah, giraffes, zebras,  jackals and thousands of migratory birds.  Tanzania is also one of Africa’s most popular safari destinations.

The Restaurant’s Interior Might Just Transport you to Tanzania

Now, safaris need not entail hunting animals in their natural habitat and trophies need not be stuffed and mounted.   Set against a backdrop of unrivaled natural beauty makes Tanzania one of the greatest wildlife photography safari destinations on the planet.  Photography safaris reward participants with an incomparable portfolio of wildlife and landscape images they’ll cherish for a long time. 

Whatever your reasons are for visiting Tanzania, you’ll also find the cuisine to be memorable and delicious.  The food culture of Tanzania is a fusion of Indian, Middle Eastern, and local African ingredients and cooking techniques. Knowing this, you might not do a double-take when you see chapatti and samosas on a menu at a Tanzanian restaurant and you’ll certainly discern the spices and aromatics of India when you taste the curries.

A very generous sample includes Samosas, Zucchini Chips, Calamari and a Variety of Sauces

The spirit and cuisine of Tanzania are alive and well in Albuquerque thanks to the June, 2014 launch of The Safari Grill on Albuquerque’s burgeoning far west side.  The Safari Grill occupies the space which previously housed California Pastrami, The Chili Stop and the Bombay Grill.  If the exterior architecture seems more befitting of a Chinese restaurant than an African-Indian restaurant, that’s because the edifice’s original tenant was indeed a long defunct Chinese eatery. The Safari Grill occupies the western-most section of the building, a small space accommodating but a handful of tables.

Before there was a Safari Grill, there was the Safari Street Grill, a food truck often parked at some of the city’s breweries which don’t serve food.  The Safari Street Grill gained a significant following, in some cases becoming the primary reason some patrons visited those breweries.  While not all mobile eatery operators aspire to diversifying their offerings by launching a brick and mortar operation, after nearly five years, the Safari Street Grill left the streets and settled into a cozy space.

Goat Stew with Rice

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say the Safari Grill’s new digs aren’t significantly larger than its mobile predecessor.  In a Lilliputian space offering limited seating, the Safari Grill has already established a fairly robust take-out operation.  Your first visit, however, should be an eat-in venture so you can interact with one of the most friendly and attentive families to operate a restaurant in Albuquerque.  The family is justifiably proud of the cuisine of their Tanzanian homeland and will bend over backwards to ensure you have a great dining experience. 

Your first visit should also include intrepid friends who’ll order something adventurous and don’t mind sharing their bounty.  For our inaugural visit we were joined by Hannah and Edward, themselves prolific food bloggers as well as nonpareil podcasters. Together we set off on a dining safari, exploring and experiencing as wide a swathe across the menu as we possibly could.  A fairly impressive menu belies the restaurant’s diminutive digs.

All beef short ribs

True to the restaurant’s name, featured fare includes a number of char-grilled entrees, each created from fresh prime cuts of meats marinated for more than 24 hours to ensure the peak of flavor.  For fire-eaters, sauces are applied before, during and after the grilling process to ensure the meats “bring the heat.”  Unless otherwise requested, all meats are cooked to Medium.   

12 July 2014: Your introduction to your dining safari should begin with a sampler platter, one featuring each of the three Indian-style samosas: veggie, marinated chicken and beef.   Samosas are delectable, triangle-shaped savory pastries stuffed with a variety of spiced ingredients and having a delightfully crispy exterior.  The Safari Grill serves them with a variety of housemade sauces: green chile, red chile, tamarind chutney and coconut chutney.  All three samosas are a real treat either by themselves or with the sauces, among which the green chile packed a piquant punch.

Curry Corn

12 July 2014: Our sampler platter also included zucchini chips served with Ranch dressing and calamari served with cocktail sauce.  Shaped rather like Coke bottle tops, the zucchini chips are lightly battered then fried to a golden hue.  Though not quite al dente, the zucchini chips are moist and crisp.  The calamari strips are light and delicate, wholly unlike the rubbery ringlet-shaped calamari.  The only appetizer we didn’t sample were the tandoori-style “elevated” wings. 

12 July 2014: For many people the world over, stew is the ultimate comfort food.  The special of the day during our inaugural visit was goat stew with rice, a rich, filling and nicely spiced exemplar of comfort food stews.  Long and slow simmering renders the goat meat falling-off-the-bone tender.  That’s an absolute necessity because there are a lot of bones in goat stew.  This allows for long, loving lingering of every morsel.

Indian-Style Fish and Chips with Sliced Sauteed Potatoes

12 July 2014: The all-beef short ribs, available in quantities of three, six or a dozen, will probably remind you of Korean beef kalbi without the sweet barbecue sauce.  The Safari Grill’s short ribs are marinated and seasoned to imbue them with bold, addictive flavors.  You’ll enjoy gnawing on each meaty morsel of these finger-licking ribs though it may take more than a half dozen to sate you.  Fortunately all entrees come with your choice of one side. 

12 July 2014: The consensus best side from among the four we enjoyed was the curry corn.  While corn is often thought of as a summer dish, it’s transformed into a dish for all seasons with the addition of a hearty curry.  Each sweet corn niblet is punctuated with mildly spicy, wonderfully pungent and delightfully aromatic curry.  Curry corn is an idea whose time has come.  It’s a wonderful departure from buttered corn.

Curried Chickpea and Potato Stew with Lays Potato Chips

12 July 2014: The Safari Grill’s unique twist to classic “fish and chips” features two filets of somewhat thickly-battered salmon fused with East Indian flavors served with lightly pan-fried, seasoned sliced potatoes.  Perhaps attributable to high heat, the salmon is just a bit on the desiccated side, but it’s still light and delicate.  The sliced sauteed potatoes are a highlight, especially with a little bit of the green chile. 

12 July 2014: As a precocious child, I often experimented with food, adulterating dishes otherwise lacking in personality with sundry ingredients.  Crumbled potato chips on pinto beans was among my favorites.  I’d long thought only children liked crumbling potato chips on their food, but at the Safari Grill, one dish actually encourages it.  Who are we to argue with savvy cooks.  That dish is the curried chickpea and potato stew which is actually served with a side of Lays potato chips.  The staff calls it an Indian Style Frito Pie.  You’ll call it surprisingly good.

Southwest Burger, Salsa and Chips and Curry Corn

14 November 2014: While my friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate and his assistant, the dazzling Deanell, have enjoyed the Safari Grill’s exotic offerings, they also rave about the burgers.  All too often international restaurants don’t infuse their nation’s culinary elements and personality into American food favorites such as burgers.  As a result, burgers at international restaurants tend to either mimic burgers you can get at virtually every American restaurant or they fall short. 

At the Safari Grill, the hand-formed ground beef patties are infused with Tanzanian seasonings that liven up the beef which is then char-grilled to the level of juicy deliciousness and topped with roasted green chile and thinly-sliced avocado all deposited gently on a toasted brioche bun. Very thinly-sliced onion, tomatoes and lettuce are served on the side along with ramekins of mustard, ketchup and mayonnaise, none of which are needed. This is a burger you can enjoy “competition style” with only beef, bun and green chile.  It’s an excellent burger with more personality and flair and best of all, it doesn’t detract from the high standards of New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile cheeseburgers.

Fruit Cup Sorbet

12 July 2014: The menu features only one dessert, but it’s a good one. The fruit cup sorbet dessert features fruit “cups” made from actual fruit shells: a pineapple shell for pineapple sorbet, a coconut shell for coconut sorbet, a lemon shell for pomegranate sorbet and a hollowed-out orange half for mango sorbet. Unlike some sorbets, these taste like the fruits they’re supposed to be. They’re served chilled and provide a wonderful respite from the sweltering summer heat.

With a little imagination, the Safari Grill could become your own culinary safari adventure on the Serengeti with an exotic and delicious cuisine all adventurous diners will enjoy.

The Safari Grill
3600 Hwy 528, Suite B
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 14 November 2014
1st VISIT: 12 July 2014
COST: $$
BEST BET: Appetizer Sampler (Samosas, Calamari, Zucchini Chips), Goat Stew, Curry Corn, Curried Chickpea and Potato Stew, Fruit Cup Sorbet, Indian-Style Fish and Chips, All Beef Short Ribs, Southwest Burger

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