Chicago's African food scene centers around Ethiopian cuisine, and excellent examples include Demera Ethiopian for its' flaky sambusas and Ethiopian Diamond II, which practically doubles as one of the city's best coffee shops. To sample West African fare, a Senegalese chef is cooking up stews and other specialties at Yassa. Tip: some of these spots are BYOB, so make sure to grab some craft beer on your way.
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Spinach sambusas—hot, crispy dumplings—are a fine way to start your meal. When you get to the main courses, be brave and try the fiery zilzil tibs, beef strips sautéed with peppers in berbere sauce, an Ethiopian specialty made with red peppers and cumin. Or go for the doro alicha, a fragrant, tender, milder chicken dish. This stuff is likely to induce a food coma, so snag a table with big, cushy chairs.
The long wait for food at this Ethiopian spot in Uptown can be frustrating. But keep your cool: Once you get your hands on the flaky, lentil-filled sambusa, the kik alicha (mild yellow split peas transformed into a silky ginger-and-garlic–riddled puree) and cool kitfo (Ethiopian steak tartare), you’ll understand why everybody in the restaurant is so patient.
The Senegalese chef at this eatery uses slow methods of cooking mingled with the flavors of West African spices to make Old World, yet innovative, dishes. Signature entrées include maffe, a thick stew of lamb with ground peanuts and habanero peppers, and the succulent chicken yassa, grilled chicken that’s marinated in mustard powder, vinegar and lemon juice.
The Andersonville restaurant serves excellent renditions of Ethiopian classics, including shuro, a delectable chickpea dish with a complex, gradual heat; yemser azifah, cold lentils with a great piquant tang; and hearty duba wat, tender chunks of butternut squash in a gingery sauce. It's BYOB, so stop by In Fine Spirits before dinner.
The menu here is similar to the original, but this locale has later hours, Friday jazz, Sunday brunch, and traditional coffee and hand-washing ceremonies. At brunch, you’ll encounter plenty of traditional dishes at a buffet, including yemisir watt (spicy, savory lentils) and doro watt (ginger-kissed chicken legs falling apart under a spicy sauce)—all surprisingly good with that potent coffee.