A weekly column in which we ride the light rail to random stops, hop off, and wander around until something strikes our culinary fancy, treating the train like our own personal café car.
The Stop: Mount Baker
The Vibe: The station is located above the street level. When you get down to the bottom, your ears are assaulted. The sound of sirens permeates the air and a security alarm is going off at a vacant store front. Cars honk at each other as they attempt to negotiate the intersection Rainier Ave. and MLK, Jr. Way.
The restaurant options have a similar random and slightly chaotic feel. There is a cheesesteak joint designated by the giant "Philly" sign on the roof, a Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant, and the obligatory corner Starbucks. The block south of the station on MLK has been claimed in the name of Ethiopia. A convenience store advertises African spices and tucked into a shared parking lot is...
The Café: Café Ibex (3219 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way S., 721-7537).
It's early dinner time and Ibex--named for a small wild goat living in the mountains of Ethiopia--is nearly empty. Three men sit in the bar watching futbol. With the rest of the restaurant empty I sit there too.A woman comes over with a notepad and I order one of three combos. According to the menu it comes with a chicken, lamb and vegetable dish. I also ask about one of the Patron Citrus Crush's listed on a cocktail menu near the impressively well-stocked bar.
"Oh, she's not here," the server says, implying, I assume the bartender. The server leaves before I can ask anything else. It doesn't seem rude, it just seems that the early dinner hour isn't when Ibex does most of its business. As I take a look around while I wait for my order, it becomes clear why. Behind a pair of doors is a sizeable stage, with a full band setup, a dance floor, and several tables.
The food is great, but this is the real reason people go to Ibex.
A poster on a nearby wall advertises a 21+ show starting at 9 p.m. on Saturday. Having pretty much no knowledge of Ethiopian music, I don't recognize the band. "Dress code enforced," notes the poster.
But despite operating primarily as a nightclub, the food is hardly an afterthought. Not only does my order come with a chicken and egg dish and lamb stew, the kitchen added some kind of beef to the mix. And apparently "vegetable" means every lentil or steamed green on the menu. For $13 I get a feast with enough leftovers to satisfy three friends.