Restaurant Review: Hoyo’s Kitchen
If you look at a map of the world, you’ll find Somalia down on the horn of Africa. It’s right on the coast, which explains lots about its cuisine. A historical exposure to ocean-traveling trade goes a long way in accounting for the presence of spaghetti and meat sauce in traditional cooking.
Meanwhile, if you look to the north end of Columbus, you’ll find a nice little joint that offers a great window into Somali cuisine: Hoyo’s Café. It occupies the spot in Columbus Square that was formerly occupied by the popular Solay Bistro.
The space is pretty, with a mixture of wood and tile floors and polished wood chairs with modern lines. It’s almost upscale-looking, save for the big menu board over the counter. The general idea is to assemble a meal order with a choice of meat, vegetable and starch. Even prepared with that sort of understanding, a control freak is going to have a hard time as a first-time guest. It’s challenging to figure out all the categories.
Not being a control freak, at least in this context, makes the decision-making process lots easier. Whatever the server suggests seems like a good idea.
So, for appetizers: Sambusa (ten for $10). If the name reminds you of samosa, that’s just perfect. From appearances alone, the large, fried triangular pockets are very similar. Inside the Somali beef version is feathery minced beef, it’s sweet at first, then peppery hot at the end. There is also a veggie version, filled with soft-cooked peas and carrots, the veggies version also got some late hitting, burning heat to it. Fried pockets, what’s not to like?
When it comes to meat choices, one option is to assemble a meal with Steak ($11). It comes in thin, circular slices, stewed in a good dose of cumin to give it a regional accent. Alternately, there is Chicken ($11 – pictured), you can order it as legs, but the boneless version is easier to eat and flavorful.
And for those who want to venture into the land of Goat meat ($11), it’s an option. At Hoyo’s, the mammal is characteristically tender and mild.
With each meat choice comes more choices. For vegetable sides, two were big hits. One was the spinach: finely chopped and well cooked (but not mushy) and mixed with a few big chunks of potato. The other favorite was the cabbage: it’s hacked into large chunks and cooked soft with shreds of carrots. Neither vegetable seemed overly processed or seasoned.
Did we mention the spaghetti? The side was really fun, and plentiful enough to make a whole meal. It’s served all mixed up in a natural tomato sauce with just a few minces of meat bobbling around. It’s like downscale mom-food; shove-in your mouth stuff.
As a side, the vermicelli comes in equally generous portions, offering a great big golden pile of savory starch. None of this is fancied, upscale food. It performs as starchy, satisfying comfort fair, with enough brine to make it addictive.
An extra side of Injera was also ordered. The Somali flatbread has lots of local fans. It’s an oversized, dirt-brown crepe. Made with buckwheat, it has a remarkably spongy texture and a vaguely astringent flavor. If you’re into that sort of thing: well, there you go. For most, including this writer, it’s an acquired taste.
You can find Hoyo’s Kitchen at 5786 Columbus Square. The business currently does not have a website.
Photos by Walker Evans. Photos are taken at a different time than review, so discrepancies between photos and review may occur.