Our 10 Best West African Restaurants in NYC
The peanut-dusted lamb kebabs called suya from northern Nigeria, available at Brooklyn's Buka
In the late '80s, the typical Senegalese immigrant was a guy who furtively sold counterfeit watches and handbags on the street. He took his meals at temporary restaurants set up in SRO hotels rooms around Times Square (the city's first "pop-ups"), with female cooks who had been imported from Dakar to provide the voluminous midday meals of cheb, mafe, and yassa the men craved.
In quick succession other West Africans arrived -- Guineans, Malians, Ghanaians, Nigerians, and Ivory Coasters being the main groups. And gradually the eating establishments of these ambitious and hard-working entrepreneurs grew to be full-fledged restaurants, just as they sought out more legitimate businesses to pursue.
Women adept at both the tribal and urban cooking of West Africa eventually appeared, and the quality of food improved as more and more raw materials were imported and African groceries popped up in diverse neighborhoods in Harlem, Clinton Hill, University Heights, Flatbush, and Hollis, and along White Plains Road in the Bronx.
This ranked list of 10 constitutes a thumbnail picture of West African restaurants today, more friendly to outsiders than ever before, and possessing, in most cases, all the amenities you'd expect from a full-blown restaurant (with the exception of alcohol -- many of the places are Muslim). Visit them and enjoy some of the tastiest and most unusual food in the city, and be prepared to eat with your right hand if you prefer.
The Ghanaian hot sauce called shito comes in two forms at the Bronx's Papaye.Next Page
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to New York dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.