I hate to be one of those food bloggers who massively overuses the word “best”, but I think I might have eaten the best African food of my life recently. And that’s saying something, since I’m a little bit obsessed with African food.
Jubba Restaurant, in sunny San Jose, California, is incredibly easy to miss. Drive forever through some urban sprawl, turn into the nondescript housing subdivision when you see the tiny sign that inexplicably says “ristorante,” continue to the light rail station, then the follow the smell of Somali food to a place that really doesn’t look like it should serve Somali food, because it’s right next to a freaking suburban train station.
Then pretend you’re a hippo and eat everything, because holy crap, this place is amazing.
Jubba is owned by an incredibly friendly family of Somalis who know how to handle their meat. The menu is small, and that’s a good thing – really, do you need more than a dozen items, when all of them are phenomenal?
We started with some underpriced fried appetizers: mandasi (fried dough made with coconut milk, $1), and probably the most perfectly seasoned sambusas ($1.50) – the East African version of samosas – I’d ever eaten, stuffed with finely minced beef, onions, and spices. Both appetizers were served with a magnificent green sauce that looked like some sort of avocado cream sauce, but tasted like it might have a mix of chilies, onion, and maybe clove and ginger. I loved it.
We ordered four entrees, all of which looked remarkably similar – but were absolutely ludicrously delicious. It’s like these guys have some sort of magic frying pan back there: the onions were beautifully caramelized, and everything had this amazing char to it. And maybe tamarind and a bit of cumin and ginger? I don’t know. But it was epic.
Here’s the beef suqqar, also served with mixed vegetables and a side of chapatti, a grilled flatbread that’s popular in East Africa:
And this is the chicken suqqar with vegetables, served with a side of injera, a much spongier, slightly fermented flatbread:
Here’s the tilapia with vegetables, served with rice :
Before I continue: yeah, there are water chestnuts on that fish. Nearly all of my previous encounters with water chestnuts have been in Chinese dishes, and I’d never thought much of them – they’re usually canned and bland. But they were amazing in Jubba’s dishes – a crunchy change-of-pace vegetable, just when you need it in the middle of a strong-flavored meal.
And then there’s my favorite thing ever: goat.
You know, I used to think that goat was gamey and unappealing. When I ate an Uruguayan chivito (literally, “little goat”) sandwich, I was totally relieved that it didn’t contain any actual goat. Now, I love the stuff – it strikes me as being more flavorful than most meat; beef seems bland and stringy by comparison.
Anyway, Jubba’s goat is charred like a boss, and served with more of those deliciously caramelized vegetables and a side of rice. (“Charred like a boss” – um, that’s a phrase, right?)
You know I’m stoked about the food when I insist on taking pictures of the owners and staff. I know – it’s a really silly habit, but these guys are pretty awesome:
The worst thing about Jubba? It’s in San Jose. I don’t live in San Jose. It’s too bad that the subway can’t take me to this random-ass subdivision of San Jose for $2.75, no matter how many times I swipe my Metrocard.
5330 Terner Way
San Jose, CA