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Cafe Mogador
Photograph: Courtesy Beth Levendis Cafe Mogador

The best African restaurants in NYC

At an African restaurant in NYC, you’ll find textures, spices and flavors you may not have tried before

By Arielle Shorr

Chances are, most New Yorkers haven't had the chance to try the cuisine at an African restaurant outside of Ethiopian restaurants, if at all. But luckily for foodies looking to expand their epicurean horizons, the city is home to restaurants that reflect some of the diversity of the second-largest continent in the world. You might recognize some common elements of Middle Eastern restaurants’ dishes when it comes to Northern African fare or notice the French influence on food from formerly occupied countries of West Africa. But the more you explore, the more you might find yourself craving comfort food dishes in the form of injera, tagine or fufu.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best restaurants in NYC

Best African restaurants in NYC

Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

1. Awash

Restaurants Ethiopian East Village

Take your vegetarian-restaurant-loving friends to Awash. You can also take your meat-eating companions, who will definitely enjoy sampling Doro Wat, chicken simmered in a sauce of the classic Ethiopian Berbere spice, or any dish of Tibs, a stew of cubed beef or lamb. But few cuisines offer up such an array of flavorful vegetarian choices that even carnivores might opt to fill their bellies with more of the meatless lentil, split pea, beet, collard greens and bean dishes. Either way, all dishes come served atop a platter of injera, sourdough flatbread, which spends the meal soaking up sauces like a sponge until it’s packed with flavor, so save room! Thankfully, Awash’s three locations make some of the best Ethiopian food some of the most accessible.

The Cecil
Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

2. The Cecil

Restaurants American Harlem

The Cecil is the remnant of the former Cecil Hotel, home of the beloved jazz club and home of bepop, Minton’s Playhouse, which closed after a fire in the mid ’70s. Now jazz and blues provide the soundtrack to diners sampling Chef Joseph Johnson’s Afro-Asian-American creations, a fusion symbolic of the movement of the African diaspora. Kimchi makes several appearances on the menu, next to items like piri-piri sauce over Nigerian prawns, or feijoada, the spicy Brazilian black bean stew. Perhaps most exciting are< the familiar African American classics that deliver unexpected flavors thanks to the addition of international ingredients for a culinary journey that’s not to be missed.

Photograph: Courtesy Buka New York

3. Buka

Restaurants Pan-African Clinton Hill

In the Nigerian language of Hausa, Buka is a small hole-in-the-wall eatery, which does not describe this high-ceilinged, brick-walled Clinton Hill spot. However, despite the swanky trappings—which include a DJ booth, a chandelier and, most delightfully, a yellow Volkswagen T3 retrofitted to house a table for four—the food itself is authentic Buka food. Start with fufu, pounded yam flour that takes the shape of a bun but lacks the absorbency of bread, using it to scoop up stews and mashes that come with additional sauces on top. If you don’t like foods with slimy textures, steer clear of the okra dishes. Picky eaters should have no problem getting behind akara, black-eyed pea fritters that come with a couple of tangy sauces, and more adventurous folks might want to try the rich and spicy goat-head stew.

4. Bunna Cafe

Restaurants Ethiopian East Williamsburg

Vegan foodies, rejoice! This former Smorgasburg vendor and pop-up restaurant has settled down for the long haul in Bushwick. The all-vegan restaurant serves up injera and classic Ethiopian dishes you know and love but replaces the beef, lamb and chicken with mushrooms, pumpkin and other hearty root vegetables. Portions are generous and so flavorful that you can assure all meat-loving fellow attendees they will not leave hungry or unhappy.

Photograph: Courtesy David Rosenzweig

5. Madiba

Restaurants South African Fort Greene

Madiba claimed the title of New York City’s first South African restaurant when it opened back in 1999. Named after the honorary title of Nelson Mandela and modeled after South Africa’s illegal bars established during the Apartheid era, the Fort Greene establishment also pays homage to South Africa by way of its kitchen. Many dishes hail from the city of Durban, where a large Indian population contributed to fusion Indian restaurant items such as samoosas and curries. Madiba offers you the rare chance to try ostrich carpaccio and pap, a cornmeal porridge, which perfectly soaks up juices from boerwors, a gamey, traditional horseshoe-shaped South African bratwurst made from beef tenderloin.

Ponty Bistro
Photograph: Courtesy Ponty Bistro

6. Ponty Bistro

Restaurants Pan-African Gramercy

People tend not to think of fusion food as authentic, yet French-influenced fusion food is indeed authentically Senegalese. cousin chefs Alhadji A. Cisse and Chekh Cisse bring the two cuisines together seamlessly in their Gramercy-based Ponty Bistro. Though the menu leans a little heavier on the French than on the Senegalese tones, dishes like the Moules Africana or the Poisson Yassa allow African spices to lead the departure from the milder French style preparation of standard bistro fare.

Cafe Mogador
Photograph: Courtesy Beth Levendis

7. Café Mogador

Restaurants Moroccan East Village

Take a break from your bagels and breakfast burritos and try the best brunch Moroccan-style at the East Village or Williamsburg locations of Cafe Mogador: Think omelets spiced with Za’atar or the Moroccan Benedict featuring eggs with a spicy tomato sauce, reminiscent of shakshouka. You’ll also find the traditional Middle Eastern fare of hummus, baba ganoush and falafel, and a noteworthy tabouli. Then there is the authentically Moroccan tagine, a saucy chicken or lamb dish with cous cous, named after the clay pot it’s cooked in. However, if you do go for brunch, don’t miss the blood orange mimosa.

La Savane
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/David D.

8. La Savane

Restaurants Pan-African Harlem

La Savane offers a short menu with options assembled from several African countries, including Senegal and Guinea, but its decor, its name, which translates to “the Savannah,” and the majority of its dishes are distinct tributes to Cote d’Ivoire. Come to the small Harlem eatery to practice your French, and be sure to try any stew with peanut or peanut butter on the listed ingredients: It tastes nothing like peanut butter but is fantastically rich. Fried meats, rice, chopped vegetables and plantains make up many of the selections that can hardly be described as adventurous eating—unless you add too much of the super spicy Ivorian hot sauce.

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