Fargo is relatively new to international cuisine. Not that long ago, Mexican restaurants were considered exotic and Chinese buffets were candy bars. Recently, that changed.
Fargo has seen a number of African restaurants come and go and a few changed hands once in a while.
All maintained the kind of integrity that is unusual in the food industry. Owned and operated by Africans new to America, they haven't done much to localize the cuisine and that's a good thing. They also haven't done much with atmosphere and, if that's something you are looking for in your experience, you may miss it.
Madina is in the space that used to be Habib, which was in the space that used to be Habisha, and I think might have been Piccolo. It hasn't changed much and could use a little freshening up. If that's not an issue for you, and it often isn't for those who are interested in some very interesting cuisine, then you won't be surprised.
If ambiance is critical to you, you may have a rough time finding any. African food in Fargo doesn't caters to American expectations in that regard. Service is thoughtful, but you may be on your own when it comes to getting help with the menu.
But the food is generally and predictably good. The disappointment comes only in the form of appetizers which may have been prepared ahead. Our baajiya ($3), a bean fritter that needs to be served crisp and hot, arrived cold and soft and without the green chili sauce one might expect.
Not disappointing in the slightest was the roasted goat and basmati rice ($11). This is a common dish in African restaurants, and I've had it often. The goat was fresh with substantial pieces on the bone and the right amount of fat to keep it tender. The rice and goat was served at the right temperature with accompaniments cool as expected. Enjoy the hot sauce sparingly and skip the ranch.
For an introduction to Somalian comfort foods, the beef suqaar ($11) is one of those dishes that crosses a lot of cultural lines because of its simplicity. Relying almost entirely on vegetables for color and flavor and salt for a minimal seasoning, it's uncomplicated and heartfelt and, with the threat of sinus-popping heat that some African dishes bring to the party removed, it's safe for those trying something new.
And there's another pleasant surprise for the Ethiopian cuisine neophyte. The injera, a sometimes soft, damp and sour flat bread, finds a new interpretation as a tender and light, individually poured side dish that retains the sourdough flavor without taking over the mild suqaar.
Perhaps another unique interpretation is the muffo that accompanies a good spinach stew ($11) served with beef. More like a roll than a flat bread, it makes for a pleasant crossover for those looking for an easy introduction.
As an introduction to Somalian food with a smattering of Ethiopian offerings, Madina is a good option. Like other African restaurants in town, such as the Liberian Merry Go Round recently reviewed, one is best to check American expectations at the door and enjoy what someone's Somalian mother might serve.
Address: 2225 13th Ave. S., Fargo,
Food: 3 stars
Service: 2 stars
Ambiance: 1 stars
Hours: Monday to Sunday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Phone: (701) 235-0504
Reservations accepted: No
Credit cards accepted: Yes
Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at email@example.com.