The best ethnic food is often the most difficult to find. So each week we'll spin the globe and search for a new other-worldly spot to expand our eating horizons around the Valley.
This week we go to Sweden at Ikea cafeteria.
A portion of the menu at the cafeteria inside Ikea.
"Is Ikea's cafeteria really a Swedish restaurant?" I wondered aloud as I headed toward the Tempe Ikea off of the I-10.
Most know Ikea as a destination for cheap, difficult to assemble home furnishings with names you that are hard-to-pronounce. But in between filling your cart with ridiculously inexpensive knick-knacks and flat boxes, it's also one of the few places locally where a person can get any semblance of Scandinavian food.
Authenticity-rating: Meatballs and lingonberries sit along-side fried chicken tenders and fries. So, not the most authentic Swedish culinary experience, but in my mind, the experience is more about the process than the cuisine.
Eating at Ikea is similar to shopping at Ikea -- without the adjustment tool. It's a little DIY, with a decent selection of uncomplicated options for a great value.
For more about what to order, read after the jump.
The Swedish meatball, mashed potato and lingonberry meal.
What to order: On my visit, I tried the signature Swedish meatball lunch ($3.99): A sizable portion of meatballs smothered in gravy and accompanied by mashed potatoes and lingonberry sauce. The dish tastes a little like Thanksgiving, my favorite meal of the year, so in my mind, a good thing.
Also ordered, the spinach and cheese crepes ($2.99), which would have been greatly improved with the addition of a dipping sauce. The salmon salad (Gravad Lax, $4.99) came on a bed of greens with some dill, a mini-cup of dressing and a sprig of dill. It tasted good, in a good-for-me sort of way.
A note to sauce-ists out there; save the meatballs, a lot of items seemed a little...dry. A seafood sandwich with baby shrimp lacked condiments. Aforementioned vegetarian crepe could have used a little something. The wraps come with a small side of dipping sauce. I'd need at least two of those.
The ambience: Clean, streamlined, functional, just like the Ikea store.
Grab a strangely shaped cart and wander through the meandering aisle and view options from an array of well-styled food photos around the cafeteria space.
Pick up dishes from the warming or cooling cases below. If necessary, assistance is available. Once you've made selections, check out. Beverages (like the delicious lingonberry soda) are self-serve. Bus your own tray. Such self-service means cheaper prices -- just like in the store.
Vegetarian-friendly: Spinach and cheese crepes and salad are meatless options for diners.