SOMETIMES FATE, and engine trouble, determine what restaurant finds its toothpick digging at the teeth lodged in my ever-masticating jaws. I was, in fact, admiring the igloo-shaped building that houses Banadir at the edge of Columbia City when the 1984 Subaru wagon I was victory-riding in (I had recently acquired it in a trade) shuddered. A block after this quivering premonition, my recent acquisition bellied-up. Preface the roadside drama with an entire Saturday consumed by a car spa: I'd just returned from changing the brake pads, followed by a loving soap, sponge, and spray. As other, more trustworthy cars on Rainier South blatted past, I performed my "Knows a bit about cars" act. Propped up the hood, stuck a hand in my back pocket, and scratched my head laconically.

"Overheated." I touched the dipstick.

"Probably a fan belt." Mucked my finger around in a particularly greasy section of the engine.

"Or something." Smudged my cheek, marking myself as a knowledgeable, mechanically inclined possessor of the car.

Participants in the victory ride waved from the car, making strange, lewd motions at their mouths and bellies. Moments later, we found ourselves seated in sweltering Banadir, sipping mango and Safari Isbarmuto drinks ($1). Somehow, the man in charge found us, among the jungle-like proliferation of plants and broken chairs. Helpful and patient, he explained the menu: Breakfast is served until noon, featuring dishes such as liver, chicken, or beef stew, and foule with injera for around five or six bucks. After noon comes lunch and dinner, served with seasoned rice, spaghetti, chapati, or muufo. If you're not in the mood for all that, there are sandwiches: gyros, chicken roti, burgers, and steak sandwiches. Victory-ride participants, though, were in the mood for all that.

We ordered Hilib Ari ($8), marinated goat meat with onions, green peppers, and Somali spices, and Beef Steak ($7), sliced thin, with onions, tomatoes, and green peppers in a spicy sauce. The man in charge repeatedly warned us that the rice might take as long as 15 minutes, which was okay by me. I wanted more time to wonder at Banadir's decor. On the south wall a mural of Mexico's states curled above diners' heads. A generic waterfall mural spanned the north wall, although taped-up posters of Somalia began to encroach their sea and bus-polluted street scenes upon the Mexican restaurant aesthetics. On my trip to the washroom, I noticed some really succulent-looking Chicken Barbecue ($8).

In spite of the warning, platefuls of meat appeared in record time. How do these bountiful meat-type restaurants make any money? The tender and rich goat, with slightly sweet, heavily seasoned rice, vanished--leaving a small trail of bones. Having never tasted goat before, I was pleasantly surprised. I ate llama once, which had the flavor and mouth-feel of an old leather belt. We scooped up all our beef with chapati, which flaked sweet and dense layers of bready pleasure. Banadir--generosity obviously being its motto--provides plenty of this delicious stuff to shovel with and snack on. Not that it is necessary to fill up on such side dishes. Victory-ride participants, well-known consumers of meat (ridiculous portions notwithstanding), ended the meal tilted back in chairs, hands over bellies.

I really wanted to order a steak sandwich for the road, because of (A) the "Steak Sandwich" neon sign buzzing in the window; (B) the fact that it could take hours of cursing and performance to get the car home; and (C) the price: $3. My inability to order desired steak sandwich indicates how fully Banadir sated my appetite. Besides the intriguing breakfast menu, I noticed King Fish ($7) and a T-Bone Steak ($8) that, under normal conditions, would pique my interest. Instead, we were compelled to walk off dinner, thereby discovering the most hideous apartment complex spawned by fascist architects of the 1960s, the Crescent. A monument to poor workmanship and hatred, the Crescent appears at first to be a prison, then a carnival ride. If Juvie and the Gravitron mated, the Crescent would be their offspring. Children's voices echo from the beige, semi-circular building, reverberating within its soul-crushing metal cage exterior, rust bleeding down its windowless sides. After circumnavigating most of its circumference in a stunned and awed silence, we left the Crescent, boil upon the city, and returned to my snub-nosed, sniveling possession for the last lap of the victory ride. Apparently, the rest had entirely revived the petroleum-fueled pony. We proceeded home, too full to stop for ice cream bars at the Busy Bee Grocery and Convenience Store.

Banadir Restaurant

5212 Rainier Ave S, 721-9162,

daily 8am - midnight, no alcohol.

Price Scale (per entrée)

$ = $10 and under; $$ = $10-20; $$$ = $20 and up

Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer: Jan 13-Feb 14 at Bagley Wright Theatre
Part theater, part revival, and all power, this one-woman show will have your head nodding and hands clapping!