ESSENCE Eats

Dine Like The Diaspora: Get A Taste of Africa at These Harlem Restaurants

Courtesy of Ponty Bistro
Dana Givens
Aug, 24, 2018 4:04 PM UTC

Harlem has long been home to a large and diverse community of African immigrants from all over the continent. Because of this blend of cultures, you are able to see the influence in each of its neighborhoods — from the numerous braiding salons to merchants selling shea butter and essentials oils that make your melanin glow. The influence is also evident in the food, with restaurants offering every type of cuisine that you can imagine.

In this guide, we travel through Harlem to visit 4 different African restaurants, each highlighting different parts of the continent. Offering savory dishes such as jollof rice, injera, sambusas, tripe and fufu you’ll want to hop on a flight to the continent for more!

The Ponty Bistro (Senegalese/French Fusion)
This Harlem establishment started in 2014 after already experiencing success in their original Gramercy location. Helmed by Chef Ejhadi Cisse, he infuses his French culinary background, with his cultural roots in Senegal, creating a beautiful fusion of African and French entrees that attracts guests from all walks of life. His reach and his food only continues to grow, with plans to open a second location in East Harlem.

When you enter the bistro, you will see that Cisse is very well known and considered family to many patrons. His food and venue stand out and redefine what most people think about when it comes to an African restaurant. The best part about it? The upscale ambiance matches the elaborate dishes, but at the end of the day, it still feels like home.

Abyssinia Restaurant (Ethiopian)
At Abyssinia, it all starts with the bread, or homemade injera, as is apart of traditional Ethiopian cuisine. Opened in 2011 by Chef Frehiwot Reta, the restaurant has attracted locals and tourists alike to taste her deliciously authentic Ethiopian fare. At night, you will find this restaurant packed with groups of people indulging in her injera and sambusas. Guests get up close and personal with their food (dining with their hands, instead of utensils), and meals consist of flavorful meat and vegetarian options.

Safari Restaurant (Somali)
In a city like New York, the food options are endless. What makes Safari so special is that it is the only place in New York City where you can eat Somali cuisine. For Maymuuna Birjeeb, it was about introducing people to delicious Somali food, but also to her native culture. “My customers would ask ‘Somali food?’ ‘What is Somali food?” she says. She knew that for most people, the only representation many had of her country was the devastation that the media presented. She was determined to show people the richness of Somali culture and how not all African cuisine is the same.

The food shows the cultural complexity of Somalia with Middle Eastern, Italian, and Indian influences that are apart of Somali culture, like the pasta and the biryani rice. It is a tiny space that is usually always crowded with people looking to get a taste of her mango curry chicken and famous Hilib Ari which is also Somalia’s most popular dish.

Accra Restaurant (Ghanaian)
Accra brings the best of Ghana to Harlem with a buffet style restaurant where you can eat as much (or as little) as you like. Serving as a neighborhood favorite for many years, the family-run business nestled between 123rd and 124th streets on Seventh Avenue, offers cuisine combines Southern soul food such as fried chicken, sweet plantain and fried fish, with traditional Ghanaian dishes, such as their delicious jollof rice, tripe and fufu. Accra is the ideal for someone who is curious about trying African food and may not know where to start. Just be sure to have cash on hand, as the restaurant is serving up their dishes old school, and doesn’t allow for credit cards or other forms of payment.

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