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Best African food in Chicago

Dig into sambusas, doro wat, complex stews and more great African food at these Chicago and Evanston restaurants

Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki
Vegetarian Combo at Lalibela

Chicago's African food scene centers around Ethiopian cuisine, and excellent examples include Addis Abeba in Evanston for its combo plates, Demera Ethiopian for 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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Best African food in Chicago

1

Ras Dashen Ethiopian Restaurant

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.

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Edgewater
2

Demera Ethiopian

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.

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Uptown
3

Yassa

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 mafé, 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. But we’d move mountains for the dakhine, seared lamb shank with onions, tomato paste and peanut butter.

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Bronzeville
4

Lalibela

The Andersonville restaurant serves excellent renditions of Ethiopian classics, including shuro, a delectable chickpea dish with a complex, gradual heat; yemisir 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.

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Edgewater
5

Ethiopian Diamond II

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.

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Rogers Park
6

Addis Abeba

The NU crowd supporting this stalwart knows the scoop: Use spongy injera bread to sop up everything on the stellar combo plates. Best selections include yeater kik wot (yellow split peas with garlic, cloves and cinnamon), yesiga wot (a spicy beef stew) and azifa (cold lentils with tomatoes and jalapeño). Food is served on a mesob—a single, large platter symbolizing intimacy and loyalty.

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Evanston

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