If location, location, location is key to a New York restaurant making it in a cutthroat market, Teranga is—at least metaphorically—in a perfect spot. Here, you’ll find West African–inspired dishes in a fast-casual café nestled inside the Africa Center, which is a cultural hub that’s “committed to an integrated approach for understanding all aspects of the African continent, including transforming narratives.”
Look no further than chef Pierre Thiam’s food to tell the story. The Senegal-born chef draws on influences from Nigeria, Côte D’Ivoire and other African countries but imparts a break-the-rules approach. Order one of the three seasonal bowls, and you’ll understand: The Jollof ($14) features roasted salmon topped with fragrant spices with sides of spicy fried plantains and a bright black-eyed-pea salad. While jollof, a ubiquitous West African dish, is usually made with rice, Thiam stews the ancient grain fonio in an herbaceous tomato broth.
The gluten-free menu includes a market-plate section ($10–$14), which is perfect for exploring African food. You can fill your blue- and red-rimmed enamel dishes by mixing and matching a starch (don’t miss the fluffy, ruby-red Liberian rice) with a main ingredient, such as grilled chicken or the ndambe (a satisfying stew of sweet potatoes and black-eyed peas). Then add sides like the fufu, a spongy ball of pounded plantain that you’ll want to dip in the slightly sweet peanut sauce.
While all our food was served lukewarm from this counter-service–only eatery, you get a feeling that Teranga is about more than just the food. The communal tables, surrounded by tropical plants and art installations, foster a sense of community. A cozy seating area that looks like a corner of a bookstore invites you to linger; there’s a mix of families, a college student pecking away at his keyboard and food-obsessed couples looking to expand their palates.
When you’re ready to leave, Central Park is across the street, and Museum Mile is steps away. You’re at the intersection where East Harlem—though quickly gentrifying like all Manhattan real estate eventually does—neighbors the stuffier Upper East Side. It’s a café you’ll want to keep coming back to again and again.