Eating the World: Caffe Sarajevo

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 Bosnia at Caffe Sarajevo.

Phoenix cold-weather temperatures might not be fur hat-worthy, but it does seem a perfect time to sample some stick-to-your-ribs Russian fare. 

I was expecting some borscht and vodka on the menu, but the fare ran more toward sausage sandwiches, hearty soups, and stuffed pita breads...and sadly, no alcohol.

Authenticity-rating: I was the only person not speaking Russian in the joint.

A group of 4 men convened at a nearby table, drinking coffee and playing some sort of card game, and chatting in, what I imagine was Russian.

What to order: According to my server, the most popular dish is the cevapi, or sausage sandwich made with homemade bread, which comes in a variety of sizes. I ordered the small cevapi ($5), which arrived looking like a big bread pillow.

"How big is the extra-large cevapi," I queried, imagining an actual pillow-sized sandwich.

"Same size," my server explained, "just filled with 15 sausages instead of 5." 

The bread is baked like a big pocket, and stuffed with pork and veal sausages. That's it. No condiments, just bread and meat. For 50 cents extra, you can get it paired with a dollop of sour cream or a veggie spread and a pile of raw onions, which I'd recommend. 

The sandwich is a knife and fork affair. The sausage is good, but the bread is real highlight: light, fluffy, yummy.  After many, many bites of sausage, bread, some onion and a dip into the veggie spread -- I was stuffed, and only managed to polish off half of my sandwich.

Perhaps because I also ordered the Bosanski Lonac soup ($5)  at the recommendation of my server. I mean, how can I not try a soup he said had been around for 500 years?  The soup was a good, hearty rice, meat and vegetable soup with lots of flavor...and filling.

Wanting to try a few more menu items, I also ordered a couple of stuffed pitas ($4 each) for the road. Russian pitas are altogether different than what you'd find at a Greek restaurant. Flaky and thick, they resemble the result if a croissant and sweet roll got together and made a baby. The filling in the stuffed pitas (one meat, one spinach and cheese) was a little more subtle than I was expecting. I'd suggest a pita as  a nice appetizer or meal accompaniment,  but not necessarily a main performer.

The ambience:  Caffe Sarajevo is a blink-and-you-may-miss it restaurant sandwiched between a tobacco shop and a trophy store in a strip mall in northwest Phoenix. 

The sit-down restaurant is small, but the service is friendly and welcoming.  When I'm seated server and gives me a menu and asked if I was familiar with the food. When I explain I'm a newbie, he proceeded to explain the entire thing dish by dish, making suggestions along the way.

As I left he gave me a card and let me know they had a takeout menu as well. 

Vegetarian-friendly: The only non-meaty thing I saw on the menu was a cheese-filled pita. I read online that they have a raw onion salad, which seems like a passive-aggressive (or maybe just aggressive) nod toward vegetarians.

Read what the folks at Yelp had to say about it.


Caffe Sarajevo is located at 3411 W. Northern Ave, Ste B,  Phoenix, AZ 85051 and open from Tuesday to Sunday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Know of a good ethnic restaurant we should check out. Let us know in the Comments section below.

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