Aida is a new Middle Eastern quick-food concept that recently popped up in Richfield. While you wait your turn at the order counter, try not to think of riffs on the iconic BK “Have It Your Way” ad campaign as the monitors suspended overhead tout that creating your meal is as simple as one, two, three.
First, you decide what kind of meal you want: sandwich, salad, or a platter with wonderfully perfumed basmati rice or french fries. Second, you select your main ingredient, choosing from eight options that range from crunchy deep-fried falafel and grilled vegetables to lamb kabobs and impeccably rotisseried beef shwarma. Third, you customize your meal with preferred choices from a list of 10 toppings and five sauces. Talk about a franchise-ready concept.
It does take 15 to 20 minutes to grill kabobs to order, and the converted Taco Bell ambience isn’t quite in sync with the ethnicity of the food, but you can easily get around that by calling in your order and bringing it home. And the budget-priced two- to four-person Mediterranean combo is a perfect choice for doing just that. It includes samples of the excellent, nicely seasoned ground lamb kofta kabobs, skewers of grilled lamb and tasty chicken, a trio of falafel, a family-size portion of rice, and smatterings of just about all of the toppings and sauces along with plenty of pita to mop up everything.
Be sure to include one or more of the three great desserts: a nutty, flaky baklava; a slice of Egyptian basboosa, a semi-moist honey and yogurt cake soaked in rose water with almond studs; and the cannoli filled with vanilla whipped cream and chocolate chips. I managed to try just about everything on the menu, and I’d gladly have it all again. I particularly relished the peppery edge to many of the preparations, a pleasure that was enhanced by a small pour of green chili oil that graced our order of hummus. About the only caution I’d offer is not to go too crazy when it comes to the toppings. On my first visit, I elected to have my kofta kabob sandwiched in a Greek naan wrapper and paired with hummus, baba ghanoush, tahini, and sliced onions. It proved to be a rather gloppy combination in which all the otherwise distinctive flavors were pretty much neutralized. If you want to savor the food, keep it simple.
With only two small tables and a four-seat counter, Sosa Foods & Deli is more a takeaway spot than a restaurant. So if you want to sample the Puerto Rican food that’s featured here, your best bet is to plan to eat it somewhere else. One good option is to enjoy it al fresco at nearby Minnehaha Park. The centerpiece of the relatively short menu is mofongo, the Puerto Rican national dish. It comprises a softball-sized mash of green plantains with a choice of shrimp or deep-fried pork and a sauce of broth and assorted seasonings. The idea is to combine everything on a plate or in a bowl and just dig in. Although the version served here is a bit less garlicky than I prefer, it’s freshly made as you watch, plentiful, and true to form.
A couple of other Sosa specialties are the crispy meat-filled ambadas and the ubiquitous Caribbean side dish of deep-fried green plantains called tostones. A handful of combination platters also offer choices of potato flake–crusted fried pork chops, succulent roasted chicken, or wings served with a choice of white or yellow rice and beans. Because the tiny kitchen can quickly get backed up, it’s a good idea to call ahead if you’re going to carry out. And if you plan to dine somewhere outdoors, consider packing some sturdy plates and utensils, as the Styrofoam packing containers don’t work particularly well for sharing.
Where to Find Them
Aida: 2208 W. 66th St., Richfield, 612-866-5061
Sosa Foods & Deli: 3909 Minnehaha Ave., Mpls., 612-728-9662