Diaspora Eats: 9 of Chicago's Best African Restaurants
Here are some African spots to check out the next time you're in the Windy City!
The diaspora is brimming with a variety of restaurants that offer savory dishes that'll remind you of mom's cooking.
In our Diaspora Eats series, we highlight these many eateries, and offer recommendations for the best African food in whichever major city you might find yourself in.
Whether you're looking for options to fit your dietary restrictions or you're simply looking to stuff your face with quality eats, there's a spot in the city that will cater to your palette. Below are 7 African restaurants to check out while you're in Chicago.Check out some of the best African food in L.A, Houston, London, New York, Paris, and Washington D.C., Amsterdam, Toronto and Madrid and Los Angeles and Lisbon.
When it comes to African restaurants, Chicago is no Paris or London, where fancy eateries and humble spots coexist. Chicago's African restaurants are all still family-run businesses that to tend cater to Africans seeking an affordable taste of home.
The variety may be limited but Chicagoans take care of their most cherished spots. Most of the restaurants below have been open for 10 years or more and will surely see at least another decade or two.
Below we give you nine of the best African restaurants in Chicago. Enjoy!
When I returned to Chicago in 2004, I spotted a Senegalese food stand dishing out yassa poulet (onion chicken) and Thieboudine (tomato, fish and vegetable stew) at the annual African Festival of the Arts. Senegalese food had finally arrived in Chicago. For the next decade I often trekked to the far South Side to Yassa's standalone restaurant. The neighborhood had seen better days but this didn't prevent people from seeking out the best African restaurant in Chicago. A couple of years ago, Yassa moved to a more gentrified black neighborhood. The dining is more refined but the food still tastes the same—damn good. Check out the live entertainment every 2nd Sunday.
Senegalese entrepreneur Adama Ba launched Chicago's third Senegalese restaurant right next door to his first African clothing shop. In the morning, locals come for pastries, coffee, and tea. By lunchtime, Senegalese dishes like maffé (peanut stew), thiou boulette (fish meatball), and yassa poulet (onion chicken) take center stage. His grandmother also runs a restaurant on the Gorée island.
Ethiopian cuisine is plentiful in Chicago and Ethiopian Diamond is one of the best. The menu includes meat and vegetarian stews, all served on a platter of injera. The menu is naturally gluten-free, reflecting a cuisine noted as one of the world's most ancient and healthiest. The restaurant is able to cater to gluten-free folks, vegetarians, and vegans. Communal dining makes the restaurant a great date spot too.
Vee-Vee's African Restaurant is often the first African restaurant that many Chicagoans come to know— it has been the only African restaurant at the Taste of Chicago culinary festival for the last 20 years. The jollof rice, sautéed goat and egusi are the best in Chicago. Like many African restaurants in Chicago, this one also serves Caribbean food, often jerk chicken and plantains. Sunday's all-you-can-eat-buffet draws a big crowd.
Chicago's lone Eritrean restaurant serves dishes that would be recognizable to fans of Ethiopian cuisine alongside Italian pasta dishes—as influenced by the country's Italian colonization. One of the most unique dishes is a chicken stew served with boiled eggs—derho. Diners say that Eritrean food has more herbs than Ethiopian food, making it taste fresher. Check this spot out and decide for yourself!
Demera and Diamond Ethiopian restaurants compete with each for the title of best Ethiopian restaurant in Chicago and Demera appears to be winning. Visitors often claim that it's the best Ethiopian food that they have EVER had. Even the Michelin Guide recommends the restaurant. One of their best dishes is Ye-Shrip Wot, which comes with a whole, pan-fried fish seasoned with onion, garlic, jalapeño, awaze and a special Ethiopian spice. The owners recently opened up a nightspot called Safari Lounge on N. Clark St.
A condensed menu of Goat, pounded yam, spinach stew, jollof rice, and plantains allow diners go travel to Ghana without the visa. This is Chicago's only Ghanaian restaurant and it's still a family affair.
Mogadishu Restaurant is a leftover from the pre-gentrification era of Near North Chicago. What is this hole in the wall restaurant doing in the middle of a street with designer clothes shops and whole foods? The restaurant originally catered to Somali taxi drivers looking to fill up on the cheap between shifts. But now well-heed locals often wander in. For $13, you can get a plate of Somali rice lentils, sauteed chicken, fried fish fillets, cabbage and salted carrots. Don't forget the banana.
Barwaqo Kabob is located in a strip mall and offers a global menu that spans east African and the middle east. The menu includes flatbread, basmati rice, spicy chicken, lamb, canjeero (pancake-style bread that is similar to a crêpe), nafaqo (seasoned potato stuffed with hard boiled egg) and sambuusa (fried or baked pastry with a spiced potatoes, onions, peas, lentils). The watermelon juice is another delectable treat.