Never fear; it's still Azi's
By Justin Rude
Friday, Dec. 16, 2011
Azi's Cafe, a friendly little coffee shop in Shaw, has been one of the neighborhood's top spots since it opened a little more than six years ago. Serving Illy coffee along with breakfast and lunch on the corner of Ninth and O streets NW, it became a go-to cafe for nearby residents, workers and conventiongoers. So when the ownership changed hands six months ago, it prompted a question: Would the shift mean a slip in the homey appeal?
The spot - originally opened by Azeb Desta, a food industry veteran with experience at the Ritz-Carlton - was purchased by first-time restaurateur Woinshet Mekonnen. Under Mekonnen, the small cafe has stuck to what it does well and expanded some of its offerings, including new lunchtime panini.
On the menu: Azi's sandwich and salad list is short and filled with the classics. Think tuna salad with celery and red onion on multigrain bread; sliced roast beef with cheddar and horseradish; smoked ham and Swiss on sourdough. A pita pocket stuffed with curried chicken, dried apricots and walnuts is the most nontraditional offering you'll find there. Salads include a classic Cobb that's worth trying, along with less interesting Greek and chicken Caesar varieties. But if the flavors are familiar, they are at least done well. The produce is fresh, and the ingredients are balanced.
Panini, served with a bag of chips, are also nicely done. The gooey ham and Swiss and the herbivore-friendly veggie were cooked just enough to melt the cheese while leaving the bread toasted but still soft under the crust. The tuna panino, a new addition to the menu, was a pleasant surprise: a tuna melt made more portable through pressing.
Azi's big draw remains the coffee, and the Illy roasted beans are still in use. The espresso drinks Desta was known for are still a good selection under the new management. Another holdover: the pastries. Cakes and pastries from local bakers make for a sweet ending to any lunch.
At your service: From the cheery orange walls to the unforced smiles behind the counter, Azi's is an oasis of friendliness. The service isn't always the fastest (and a big show at the nearby convention center will bring crowds), but you'll have no trouble getting in and out in an hour, and the homey charm will make you feel like part of the neighborhood. Free WiFi is another draw, but make sure you have lots of juice in your battery: The two electrical outlets for customers are frequently in use.
Go early: If you stop by for breakfast, which is served until around 11 a.m., you can find omelets, breakfast sandwiches and house-made muffins on the menu.