After 11 years as a food and beverage staff member with Ritz-Carlton hotels, Azeb Desta decided the time was right to open her own food business. "I always wanted to do a coffee shop," says Desta, called Azi by her friends and family.

She wanted it to be in the U Street area, because "so much is going on" there. But Desta could not find an affordable location along the hot U corridor. So she settled on a site at Ninth and O streets NW in a part of the Shaw neighborhood that has few other businesses. Azi's Cafe, with seating for 14, opened in late April. "It's a new growth area," she says.

The menu options are limited. There are good-looking breakfast pastries ($1.35 to $1.95) -- scones, croissants and Danish pastries -- made by private bakers whom Desta met while working at the Ritz. Of the four salads, the chef's salad ($5.25) with grilled and sliced chicken breast, bacon, avocado, hard-cooked eggs, blue cheese, romaine lettuce and tomato with a balsamic vinaigrette, is the most popular. The most popular sandwich is the garlicky chicken salad sandwich ($5.50), which is served on a dill-flavored ciabatta bread.

Of particular interest are the little bottles of Next brand fruit juices ($1.99 each) from Yugoslavia. According to the label, the very tart cherry drink, for example, is made with 24 hand-picked wild cherries and a single apple. There are peach, apricot, pear and raspberry flavors as well. Coffee drinks are made with Italian-roasted Illy coffee. Desta's favorite is called iced chocolate biscotti. It's a double espresso with chocolate and hazelnut syrup topped with whipped cream ($3.75). "The taste is different. Sort of like eating a biscotti," she says. "Not too sweet, just right."

Azi's Cafe, 1336 Ninth St. NW; 202-232-0001. Open Monday through Saturday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

-- Walter Nicholls

Azeb Desta offers sandwiches, plus salads, pastries and unusual fruit juices.