Africa at night from satellite
It’s been noted that the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (enacted in 1968) is one of the key reasons Los Angeles today is the city that it is. That act ended the practice of favoring European immigrants and as a result transformed what had once been promoted as the “Great White Spot of America” into “the world’s great Pan-Asian metropolis.” It didn’t just open the door wider for Asians though, although Africans have immigrated in much smaller numbers. In 1970 there were only about 80,000 African-born Americans. According to the 2008–2012 American Community Survey, today that number has grown to about 1.6 million — or roughly 4% of total immigrants, 3 in 4 since 1990.
California has 155,000 African immigrants — the second largest population after New York — 164,000. Africa is a vast and diverse continent, though, and whilst over half of New York’s African population comes from West Africa, the plurality of California’s come from East Africa (including, especially, the Horn of Africa). California also has the largest population of North Africans — primarily Egyptians. Los Angeles is home some roughly 68,000 African immigrants, a number equaling Atlanta and quite a bit smaller than the populations of Washington, DC and New York City. New York has Le Petit Sénégal and Los Angeles, Little Ethiopia.
As the only African enclave in Los Angeles, block-long Little Ethiopia and the city’s Little Ethiopia tend to fuel the most of what little food writing there is about the city’s diverse, intriguing, African restaurant scene. I’ve eaten at about a dozen African restaurants in Los Angeles and am certainly no authority. I’m compiling this guide, rather, as a resource (and hopefully incentive) for all the food writers, listiclers, foodies, tourists, and adventurers (including myself) to explore Los Angeles’s under-explored pan-African food scene.
My introduction to African cuisine was at a short-lived restaurant in Iowa City called Sahara which, if I recall correctly, was nominally pan-African but seemed to lean rather heavily towards West Africa. I don’t recall having any sort of African cuisine after its closure until I first visited Los Angeles in 1998 and was taken by a friend to Nyala (sadly now closed). It was a revelation not unlike the first time I had Indian food. I next remember frequenting the Santa Monica Promenade for it’s International Food Court, which included Ethiopian and Egyptian restaurants as well as others. Although hard to imagine now that the promenade is a conglomeration of the same faceless corporate chains one encounters in any suburban mall, in the late ’90s it was the sort of place people would often describe as “hip” and perhaps, “funky.” Back then there were record shops, independent book stores, and street performers (often including a gifted guzheng player). In 1999 the food court closed and was replaced with an outlet of the Bebe chain, which, believe it or not was itself once a hip brand.
There are several “brands” of African cuisine: Central Africa, East Africa, the Horn of Africa, North Africa, Southern Africa, and West Africa. Each have their own distinct dishes and every culture within them has its own culinary traditions which draw upon locally available ingredients, their unique history, the traditions of neighboring regions, and colonial traditions. There may be more but there are at least three African cuisines which are generally held to be as globally significant as, say, American, Chinese, French, Indian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Lebanese, Mexican, Peruvian, Spanish, Taiwanese, Thai, and Vietnamese. Those would be Ethiopian, Moroccan, and Tunisian.
Ethiopian cuisine is generally characterized by its thick stews known as wat (less often w’et or wot), which is served atop and a sour flatbread known as injera which doubles as the utensil. Commonly eaten animals include chickens, cows, goats, fish and sheep — many of which are sautéed with vegetables and known as tibs. Ethiopian restaurants are generally quite accommodating for vegetarians and vegans and common plant ingredients include cardamom, carrots, chard, chilis, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, enset, garlic, ginger, lentils, onions, potatoes, and split peas. Dairy products include ayibe (a feta-like cheese) and niter kibbeh (spiced, clarified butter). Kinche (or qinch’e), a porridge made from cracked wheat and niter kibbeh, is commonly eaten for breakfast. Another common breakfast dish, fit-fit (or fir-fir), consists of stir-fried injera (or kitcha — another type of unleavened bread), a wat, eggs, and honey. Popular Ethiopian beverages include tej (a mead-like honey wine), atmet (a sweet, thick beverage made from flour, butter, and other ingredients), and coffee. Coffee was, in fact, first cultivated either in Ethiopia or its cross-strait neighbor, Yemen. Perhaps predating even coffee cultivation is khat (or qat), a flowering plant which contains an amphetamine-like stimulant barely known in the US which the American DEA nevertheless classifies as a controlled substance.
Moroccan cuisine reflects the historic cultural interactions between Morocco’s indigenous Amazighs (or Berbers), Arabs, and the Andalusians of southern Spain. Commonly eaten animals include chickens, cows, fish, goats, and sheep. Common plant-derived ingredients include anise, bay laurel, caraway, cayenne, cloves, coriander, cumin, fennel, ginger, grapes, lemon pickle, mace, marjoram, mint, nutmeg, nuts, olive oil, oranges, oregano, paprika, parsley, pepper, peppermint, saffron, sesame seeds, tumeric, and verbena. Spices are especially important and a blend of 27 are used to make the country’s famed ras el hanout. A typical Moroccan meal involves hot and cold salads followed by a tajine (or tagine), a stew named after the pot in which it’s cooked. The most internationally well-known Moroccan culinary is invention is couscous; small, steamed balls of semolina which are utilized rather like rice. Most meals also include couscous topped with meat and vegetables and served with bread. Only Turks drink more tea than Moroccans and the most common local version is sweetened and flavored with mint.
Tunisian cuisine reflects the cultural interactions of that country’s indigenous Amazighs with the traditions of Arabs and various Mediterranean cultures which have made their mark on the country. Tunisian tajine is quite different from the Moroccan dish of the same name, resembling more a sort of frittata-sort of pie than a stew. Commonly eaten animals include camels, chickens, cows, cuttle fish, fish, octopus, partridge, pigeon, quail, sea snails, sheep, and squid. Common plant-derived ingredients include almonds, anise, apricots, basil, bay leaves, bell peppers, capers, caraway, carrots, celery, chestnuts, chickpeas, chilis, cilantro, cinnamon, coriander, cucumbers, cumin, dates, eggplants, fennel, fenugreek, figs, garlic, geraniums, ginger, hazelnuts, honey, jasmine water, lemon, mint, olive oil, olives, onion, oranges, oregano, parsley, peanuts, pepper, pine nuts, pomegranates, potatoes, quince, rose, rosemary, saffron, squash, thyme, tomatoes, tomatoes, and turnips. Spices are prevalent, especially in the creation of harissa, a North African condiment made of bakloutis, caraway, coriander, cumin, garlic, mint, olive oil, salt, serranos, and other ingredients. Despite being a Muslim country and that religions prohibitions against alcohol, Tunisia produces beer, brandy, and wine in addition to its locally popular (and non-alcoholic) scented waters.
OTHER AFRICAN CUISINES
Other African cuisines represented in Los Angeles and Orange counties include Eritrean, Ghanian, Kenyan, Nigerian, Senegalese, Somali, and South African. The modestly sized city South Bay city of Inglewood is home to ten African restaurants representing five types of African cuisines. In other words, Inglewood is to African cuisines what Alhambra is to Asian… except that no one seems to acknowledge it.
Eritrean and Somali cuisines are both similar to but distinguishable from Ethiopian cuisine. Nigerian and Senegalese cuisines are both representative of West African cuisine, featuring as they do spicy stews, porridges, and rice and bean-based dishes. Kenyan cuisine resembles that of other countries of Africa’s Great Lakes region, with many dishes built around millet or sorghum and various meats and vegetables. South African cuisine probably deserves its own entry but my personal experience with it is limited to eating a couple of sides at a Nando’s in London. Its complexity of influences doesn’t surprise me since South Africa is so characterized by waves of migration and invasion. The country’s indigenous people, the San, were historically hunter-gatherers and who ate local plants and roasted game for 100,000 years before they were joined by the pastoralist Khoikhoi, who raised sheep and cattle. The Bantu Expansion brought black Africans from the north. Colonization brought whites from Europe and their Asian slaves and servants — all brought their own cooking traditions which have combined to create modern South African cuisine. It’s worth noting that popular South African ingredients like maize, rice, beans, cabbage, and potatoes were all introduced by outsiders.
Here’s my list (and map) of all African restaurants in Los Angeles and Orange counties. If I’m missing any, please let me know. If any open or close, please keep me updated. Finally, please support and nourish our unparalleled restaurant scene and let their chefs and cooks nourish you!
AFRICAN PRODUCE MARKET
African Table is an African restaurant (I’m not sure what specific cuisine, if any, it specializes in) in Hawthorne. It’s served by Metro’s 126, 210, and Rapid 710 lines as well as Torrance Transit’s 2 and 10 lines.
AIRPORT ROYAL CUISINE
Airport Royal Cuisine seems to serve Ghanian and American fusion. The web page offers little information, but includes the name of Nana Yeboah (Yeboah is a Ghanian family name; fufu and waakye are Ghanian dishes. It’s served by Metro’s 117 line.
Azla is a vegan Ethiopian restaurant located in South Central. It’s served by Torrance Transit’s 4 line; Metro’s 460 line, Silver line, and Expo line; OCTA’s 701 and 721 lines; and LADOT’s Commuter Express 438 and 448 lines.
Banadir is a Somali restaurant in Inglewood served by Metro’s 111/311 line.
The Briks is a bistro specializing in North African pastries. It’s served by Metro’s 14/37, 70, 71, 76, 78/79/378, 81, 96, 442, and 460 lines; LADOT’s Commuter Express 419 and 423 lines, and Foothill Transit’s Silver Streak.
Buna is an Ethiopian café and market in Little Ethiopia and is served by Metro’s 28, 217, Rapid 728, and Rapid 780 lines.
Darna Mediterranean Restaurant is a Moroccan restaurant located in the Woodland Hills neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley. It was opened in 2014 by Aviva Bendavid and her son, Sam, both of whom are from Marrakesh. Previous to moving to Los Angeles, Aviva ran a catering service in Tel Aviv, which likely accounts for the presence of several kosher dishes. It’s served by Metro’s 150/240 and 243/242 lines.
Dirdawa is an Ethiopian restaurant in Inglewood that is served by Metro’s 115 line.
ELDORADO BAR & GRILL
Eldorado is a sports bar with pool, live music, and both American and South African dishes. It’s located in the Harbor city of Long Beach’s Rancho Estates neighborhood and is served by Long Beach Transit’s 102, 104, and 173 lines.
Fresh is an Ethiopian restaurant in Inglewood that’s served by Metro’s 110 and 607 lines.
INDUSTRY CAFE & JAZZ
Industry Café & Jazz is an Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurant which features live music. It’s located in Culver City’s McManus neighborhood and is served by Culver City Bus’s 1 line and LADOT’s Commuter Express 437 line.
Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant is in Little Ethiopia served by Metro’s 28, 217, and Rapid 728 lines. Owner Tenagne Belachew previously worked in the kitchen at Rahel and Marathon.
Little Ethiopia is, naturally, an Ethiopian restaurant located in Little Ethiopia. It’s served by Metro’s 28, 217, and Rapid 728 lines.
Marathon is an Ethiopian restaurant located in Little Ethiopia. It’s served by Metro’s 28, 217, and Rapid 728 lines.
Madinah Restaurant is a Somali restaurant located in Inglewood which is served by Metro’s 115 line.
MEALS BY GENET
Meals By Genet is an Ethiopian restaurant in Little Ethiopia with great food and a pleasant atmosphere. It’s served by Metro’s 28, 217, and Rapid 728 lines.
Merkato is my favorite Ethiopian restaurant in Little Ethiopia due to its great food, unique atmosphere, sassy servers, and the attached market and coffee bar. It’s served by Metro’s 28, 217, and Rapid 728 lines.
Messob Ethiopian Restaurant is a fine Ethiopian restaurant located in Little Ethiopia which is served by Metro’s 28, 217, and Rapid 728 lines.
Nkechi is a Nigerian restaurant located in Inglewood that is served by Metro’s 115 and 442 lines.
Palm Grove is an Ethiopian restaurant in Midtown‘s Harvard Heights neighborhood which is served by Metro’s 35/38, 207, and Rapid 757 lines; as well as LADOT’s DASH Midtown line.
PORTUCAL PERI PERI
PortuCal Peri Peri is a restaurant located in Burbank and is served by Metro’s 92, 94, 96, 154, 164, 165, 183, 292, and Rapid 794 lines. Although the name and website suggest acknowledge a culinary debt to Portugal and California, “peri peri” is a Swahili term for a Mozambican-Portuguese fusion method of preparing chicken.
Rahel is a tasty vegan Ethiopian restaurant in Little Ethiopia which is served by Metro’s 28, 217, and Rapid 728.
Fekere Gebre-Mariam’s Rosalind’s Ethiopian Restaurant was the first Ethiopian restaurant to open in what became Little Ethiopia. It often features live music. It’s served by Metro’s 28, 217, and Rapid 728.
SPRINGBOK BAR & GRILL
Springbok Bar & Grill is a South African restaurant located in Van Nuys. Co-owners Peter Walker, Robin McLean, and Graham Taylor hail from Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg. It’s served by Metro’s 164, 236/237, and Orange Lines as well as the LAX FlyAway.
Sumptuous African Restaurant is a small, Nigerian chain with locations in Lagos, Abuja, Illorin, Port Harcourt, and now, Inglewood. The local location is served by Metro’s 40, 442, and Rapid 740 lines.
Tagine is a Moroccan restaurant in the city of Beverly Hills, co-owned by sommelier Chris Angulo, chef Abdessamad “Ben” Benameu, and Canadian-American actor Ryan “Hey Girl” Gosling. It’s served by Metro’s 20, 220, and Rapid 720 lines. The Purple Line subway is currently scheduled to arrive sometime around 2026.
Tana Ethiopian Restaurant and Market is located in Anaheim. It’s served by Metro’s 460 line and OCTA’s 33 and 38 lines.
Toto’s African Cuisine is a Nigerian restaurant located in Van Nuys and is served by Metro’s 163/162, 234, and Rapid 734 lines.
Veronica’s Kitchen is a Nigerian restaurant in Inglewood, owned by Veronica Ogbeide Shoyinka, who opened the restaurant in the 1990s. It’s served by Metro’s 115 line. It will also be served by The Crenshaw/LAX line, currently under construction, expected to open in 2019.
Zula Eritrean Restaurant is located in Inglewood and is served by Metro’s 212/312. The Crenshaw/LAX line, currently under construction a short walk to the south, is expected to open in 2019.
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, Boom: A Journal of California, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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