Where to Eat West African Food in Philly
From Nigerian jollof rice to Senegalese thieboudienne, Philly offers an embarrassment of riches when it comes to West African cooking.
“Little Africa,” they call it, the stretch of Woodland Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia that’s home to one of the largest West African populations in America. Home to bubbling crocks of cassava leaf stew and styrofoam clam shells filled with jollof rice and braised goat, there to feed a growing community of West African immigrants and those of us who love to eat off the bone.
In this sliver of Philadelphia, and in the West African restaurants of West and North Philly, you don’t use utensils. I mean, you can, but it’s best to just roll your sleeves up and use your hands. I know this because when I ate at Nafisa’s Kitchen, a man eating at a nearby table told me that he saw an American trying to eat African food with a fork and knife. “It looked so uncomfortable,” he said. “We told her that this is African food, use your hands! Americans feel like they’re not being proper when they do that. No, use your hands, man!”
Use your hands for everything — the fried plantains, the yams, the meats, and especially the jollof rice — a staple in West African cooking. It’s a delicacy that varies in style from region to region, and the fight for best jollof is both contentious and eternal. But it also represents “interconnectedness,” says Nneka M. Okona in her 2017 Saveur piece. “Despite our cultural and national differences, this pot of seasoned rice ties us all together. It’s home. It’s comfort. For me and many others.”
The same can be said of many of these restaurants. They are a taste of home. They represent home. And we’re all invited for dinner.
Note: Be sure to bring cash. Many of these spots don’t accept credit cards.
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Thank you @fatikmedia for bringing me to #WazobiaPhilly Restaurant here in Philly (near 11th & Spring Garden). I got the #JollofRice with chicken and #egusi. Warning: you will be ready to go to sleep after a meal. The portions are both tasty and generous. Napping is nearly inevitable. | #fatkidssunite
Wazobia Restaurant, Spring Garden
Spring Garden’s only Nigerian restaurant does mostly take-out, but there’s a small seating area with a T.V. if you want to dine in. Get the Nigerian-style jollof rice and your choice of beef, chicken, goat or fish topped with a spicy red sauce. 616 North 11th Street.
Le Mandingue African Restaurant, Southwest Philly
Le Mandingue does a borderless style of West African cooking — Nigerian Egusi soup, Ivory Coast attieke (a dish made from shaved cassava) with meat, Guinea-style jollof rice mixed with crab meat, turkey, and mixed vegetables. 6620 Woodland Avenue.
Kilimandjaro, West Philly
One of the few places where you’ll find thieboudienne (fish, with broken rice, vegetables and tomato sauce), the national dish of Senegal. The mafe (lamb cooked in a creamy rich peanut butter sauce) is a crowd pleaser, too. Whatever you do, make sure you order it with a side of homemade ginger juice blended with strawberries or mangoes. 4317 Chestnut Street
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African Small Pot, Southwest Philly
Make sure you call ahead to place your order at this Senegalese spot because everything is made to order. Or you can wait. Good news is it’s absolutely worth the wait. 6505 Woodland Avenue
Sahara Restaurant, Southwest Philly
Another spot to have a taste of many regional West African delicacies all in one place, this restaurant features Liberian-style cassava leaves, potato leaves, Ivory Coast attieke, and Senegalese jollof rice. 6528 Woodland Avenue
Ecowas African Restaurant, Southwest Philly
Every Saturday, Ecowas does an all-you-can-eat buffet for $15. Do that. 6421 Woodland Avenue
Nafisa’s Kitchen, Southwest Philly
Salmon walls. Friendly service. African films on the TV and classic Liberian eats, like attieke, oxtail stew, and roasted lamb. 5629 Chester Avenue
Fantastic Senegalese eats, halal meats, a cute dining room and a friendly staff. Definitely order your chicken dibi with extra onion sauce. 5514 Rising Sun Avenue
Kings and Queens, Upper Darby
This Best of Philly winner has a staff that’s happy to show you the ropes when it comes to Liberian cuisine — but honestly, go in blind. Order anything that sounds good (because it will be), and don’t miss the spicy goat-pepper soup. 107 Fairfield Avenue