Sudan Cafe Builds a Lasting Home in Aurora's Immigrant Restaurant Community

The coffee at the Sudan Cafe, at 10375 East Iliff Avenue in Aurora, comes in tiny metal pots with even tinier coffee cups. A spice is brewed into it, most likely cardamom, that adds an herbal, medicinal note — not bad, just unexpected. But then, there's plenty of the unexpected at the little cafe, which also houses Kairat Injera Bakery.

I first visited this spot nearly two years ago for a breakfast of fava beans and Sudanese shakshouka eggs. Among the unexpected things I found: black lacquered tabletops with images of chile peppers; the way owner Mekki Idris stops at every table to make sure you're enjoying your food; the warm injera bread similar to that served in Denver's many Ethiopian restaurants. All of this comes together to turn the unfamiliar, uncommon experience of a Sudanese restaurant into something familiar and comfortable.

Idris has owned the Sudan Cafe for nearly six years and says that business has steadily grown;  he's been able to build his menu from one small laminated card to a multi-page roster of offerings from his home country. I wanted something that came with the housemade injera, so the woman at the counter suggested molokhia, a stew made with jute leaves that thickens the stock, adds a dark green tint and lends a bitter, vegetal flavor not unlike spinach or mild kale.

While molokhia isn't the most beautiful dish (then again, neither is Colorado green chile), it's warm and filling and goes well with the dark-tan injera, which is as spongy and delicious as its Ethiopian counterpart, if a little less sour. A side of freshmade hot sauce perks up the dish to green-chile level.
click to enlarge Molokhia with chunks of lamb atop housemade injera bread. - MARK ANTONATION
Molokhia with chunks of lamb atop housemade injera bread.
Mark Antonation
Customers from different parts of North Africa and the Middle East sit and read the paper over lunch and with the background chatter of BBC News on the lone television; others come in for a bag of injera or other breads and pastries to go. The cafe has become an integral part of this section of Aurora, even amid the constantly shifting restaurant scene around it. Despite Aurora's sprawling, strip-mall-heavy layout, there's an inclusiveness here rare in American cities. You can park your car in one spot and pick up a few groceries from a Persian market, have a simmering bowl of tofu soup at a Korean restaurant and purchase Sudanese bread for dinner.

Would any of this be possible if our federal government's current travel and refugee restrictions were the norm rather than a capricious executive order that's on hold for the moment, thanks to a decision by a federal appellate court? National security is an important issue, but at a certain point, fear becomes the prevailing emotion and we forget that America is a land of refugees, of those seeking a new life without persecution, famine or strife. People from countries like Sudan, currently listed in Trump's travel ban, leave their homes and friends because of a promise of something better here, even if it's something as simple as baking bread and serving coffee in peace. The fact that we can walk into an Aurora storefront and be greeted with a friendly smile and the aroma of good food is something to celebrate, not something to fear.