The interior of North-African restaurant, Nomad, in the East Village. Image courtesy Nomad.
Although New York City has its fair share of Ethiopian restaurants, new places featuring a broader range of African cuisines continue to open across the city. From the food of Ivory Coast to Senegal or the tastes of Morocco to South Africa, New York City restaurants aren’t shying away from the bold flavors of African cuisine.
Here are 10 must-visit New York City African restaurants that offer selections inspired by culture and locations from all across the African continent.
10. Nomad in the East Village: Mediterranean and North African
Image via Nomad
Located in the heart of the East Village, Nomad offers a dining experience with Mediterranean vibes and North African cuisine in a Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian-style setting. Nomad is owned and operated by chef Mehenni Zebentout, who was born in Theniet El Had, Algeria.
At Nomad, the food and ambiance both exude authenticity, but with a refreshing, refined quality that inspires dedicating an evening to sit-down dining. Mehenni’s wife, Salima Zebentout, can be found in the kitchen rolling the dough for Nomad’s cookies from her childhood memories of spending time in the kitchen of grandfather’s restaurant in the Alas Mounts of Algeria. Then, Zebentout set his sights on creating a traditionally Moroccan atmosphere that now features North African antiques and Moroccan-style murals. Even the front gates are welded together to create an authentic Moroccan feel.
However, beyond simply wanting to create authenticity to the region, Mehenni also says that the idea behind Nomad is to honor the tradition of a huge mixture of cultures that came through his homeland. “The influence is really though the centuries and centuries of trade with all the African countries” Mehenni says. “Everyone drops something there (Morocco), and food is truly a mixture.”
As a result of being such a trade hub, classic Moroccan dishes like lamb shank with prunes cinnamon and nutmeg as well as a chicken pastilla (an almost pot-pie type dish) can now be found on Nomad’s menu.
Address: 78 Second Ave. (Between E. 4th St. and E. 5th St.)
Address: 195 Dekalb Ave, Brooklyn NY
8. Safari in Harlem: Somali
On 116th Street in Harlem, Safari is a part of town known as Le Petit Sénégal, or “Little Senegal.” For the past 30 years, Harlem’s community has become home to Senagalese fashion, food and culture, but Safari’s nod to Somalia (located on the East Coast of Africa– the opposite of Senegal) offers a subtle change of pace. According to the restaurant’s official website, Safari is also the only Somalian restaurant in New York City.
Somalia is a diverse culture that has Italian, Indian and Arab influences, which have been entrenched in its cuisine. As a result, guests at Safari can order equally diverse food from mango curry chicken to Flank Stead marinated in garlic and ginger and served with pasta.
See their menu.
Address: 219 W.116th st. Harlem
7. Ponty Bistro in Harlem: French-African
Photograph by Melissa Almonor
With two locations, Ponty Bistro gives diners the opportunity to experience the French-African cuisine in either Harlem or Gramercy. The two locations were created by the founders and the restaurants‘ head chefs: Chef Cisse and Chef Chekh. Cisse and Chekh are cousins originally from Senegal who moved to the United States in 1995. Now, the two each have over 18 years of experience in the food industry, over the course of which they worked under acclaimed chefs such as Daniel Boulud and Jean-George Vongerichten.
The culmination of their experiences can be seen in the cuisine served at the Ponty Bistro locations, as a mix of Sengalese, Mediterranean, and French foods and cooking styles are found amongst the menus. On Wednesday and Thursday from 7:00pm to 10:00pm there is live music and on Fridays and Saturdays form 7:30pm to12:00am there is a DJ.
Gramercy Location: 218 3rd Ave, New York, NY
Harlem Location: 2375 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd, New York, NYA
6. La Savane in Harlem: Ivorian
La Savane, which translated is “The Savannah,” was inspired by plains of the Cote D’Ivoire (or Ivory Coast); the mural on the restaurant’s wall was painted by a Côte d’Ivoire painter and the majority of the cuisine, like the signature dish foutou, is authentic to the Ivory Coast as well. However, in reality, the kitchen produces food that comes from several regions in Africa including Guinea, Mali and Senegal.
As a result, diners coming to La Savane should prepare themselves to experience quite the fusion of culture. The food features an array of of tastes from stews and marinades made from peanut butter to whole guinea fowls, from sweet plantains to attiéké– a couscous-like dish and another signature of the Ivory Coast. Along with the range of foods, a mix of French and English is also spoken among the staff and customers alike.
See their menu.
Address: 239 West 116th street, New York, New York
5. Ghenet in Park Slope, Brooklyn: Ethiopian
Park Slope‘s Ghenet opened restaurant 18 years ago. Ghenet prides itself on surviving traditional Ethiopian cuisine, which utilizes a flat-bread called Injera, a chili-spice and herb mix used on meats called Berbere and a special clarified butter called Nitir Kibe. These basics, among others, form the foundation for all of Ghenet’s cuisine.
Ghenet also promotes a chance to buy collectibles called “EthiDolls,” under the “marketplace” tab their website. EthiDolls are barbie-like figurines that are committed to preserving black heritage. Currently available for purchase is a figure of Makeda, The Queen of Sheba and Queen Mother Ya Asantewaa. Each doll also comes with their own story book excerpt.
Address: 348 Douglass Street, Brooklyn, NY 11217
4. Joloff in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn: Senegalese
Joloff has been serving traditional Senegalese food in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn for over 20 years. Since 1995, people from all over the world have visited it, including a host of celebrities such as AKON, Mos Def and Kevin Powel. Today, Joloff is known for its version of the Senegalese national dish: Tiebou Jeun (baked fish, joloff rice, and veggies).
Originally, Joloff was founded on the belief that Brooklyn needed more delicious, vegetarian options for consumers and thus today, Joloff’s menu still has many vegetarian choices. Joloff also hosts a monthly open-mic night in their quest to support community artists, where anyone is encouraged to sign up and show their work or do a live performance.
Address: 1168 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn, NY
3. Café Mogador in The East Village and Williamsburg: Moroccan
Café Mogador’s original location in the East Village quickly became a staple in restaurant world and life of downtown New York City when it was opened in 1983. Just a few years ago in 2014, The Village Voice touted that Cafe Mogador was still an East Village anchor 31 years later. Although Café Mogador is now in two locations, and the original location has grown to twice its size, many of the original dishes on the menu remain. This includes their most signature dish Tangine– a special moroccan stew cooked in an earthenware pot.
The family of the founder, Rivka Orlin, still owns and operates both the East Village location as well as their newer location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
East Village Location: 101 Saint Marks Place New York, NY
2. Bunna Café in Bushwick, Brooklyn: Ethiopian
Photograph by Sam Saverance. Courtesy of Bunna Café
New York City has its fair share of Ethiopian spots, but in part what separates Bunna Café in Bushwick, Brooklyn from the pack is its strictly vegan menu. Although it might seem miraculous that a traditionally meat-centric cuisine has been able to go totally vegan and stay afloat, Bunna Café hasn’t only survived but thrived. Or as New Yorker reporter Nicolas Niarchos put it: “Bunna is well and rightly loved. It’s one of those vegan restaurants were the absence of meat and dairy isn’t obvious while you’re there, but when you venture out the door your step has a new spring in it.”
Another key staple of Bunna Café is the very product for which its name is derived: coffee. As the official website states, “Coffee is everything in Ethiopian. Not only does it drive the economy, but it drives everyday life.” Therefore, in order to honor what coffee does and means for Ethiopia, Bunna Café frequently performs the intricate coffee ceremony at their events and then serves the coffee for free.
See their menu.
Address: 1084 Flushing Ave., Brooklyn NY, 11237
1. Kaia Wine Bar, Upper East Side: South African
Photograph by Piko Sipamla. Courtesy of Kaia Wine Bar
Kaia, which takes its name from the Zulu word for “hut,” was conceived by South African native Suzaan Haupfleisch. One part South African small plates and entrees, one part South African wine and cocktails, Kaia has been a new type of African dining experience for New York City. It’s also been Michelin recommended for the past three years.
The cuisine itself is derived from Haupfleisch’s own Boer (Dutch) heritage– the technical name being “Voortrekker” cuisine. Among the small plates are takes on traditional Boer dishes such as wildevark– a wild boar with a cherry compote. It also serves a version of cured elk– elk carpaccio with arugula and hazelnut oil and sweet mustard.
Address: 1614 Third Ave., New York
To read more about New York City cuisine, check out the Top 10 Hidden Restaurants in New York City or look at Photos Inside the DeKalb Market Hall at City Point in Downtown, Brooklyn with First Outpost of Katz’s Deli. Get in touch with the author: @Erika_A_Stark