When most people think about eating in Phoenix, they likely don't think about eating African food. And that's too bad. Our metropolitan area is more diverse than many realize. Yes, there's worthwhile African food to be found here, food from across the continent. You can find tangy injera heaped with half a dozen Ethiopian stews. You can find Somali goat, Egyptian coffee, and spicy West African ground nut soup. You can find so much more if only you open your mind. Here are three scrumptious African eateries to start.
5050 East McDowell Road
“If you’re going to invite somebody in your home in Somalia, you cook goat,” says Basheir Elmi, owner and host of Waamo. For his signature goat dish, he cooks “everything except the neck and head.” Elmi, who came to the U.S. from Somalia in the 1980s, recalls the oven-roasted goat of restaurants in Somalia, describing meat “falling apart” by the time it reached his table. Some pieces of his goat have that melting texture, some don’t. With many different parts of the animal in the mix, each bite varies. Look for the marrow inside split bones. Slurping it brings a rush of intense flavor. This goat is great for that flavor, a window into a far part of the world.
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325 West Elliot Road, #103, Tempe
Jollof King, a West African restaurant in Tempe that opened three months ago, features Ghanaian food with a few Nigerian touches. Stews, soups, dumplings, and starches like jollof rice are cornerstones of Ghana's diet. The food of West Africa has earned a reputation for its chile heat, and little-known peppers like the Guinea pepper and alligator pepper are widely known there. If you go to Jollof King, you would be smart to try one of the nut soups, Ghanaian staples with no analog in western gastronomy. Phoenix doesn't have a ton of African restaurants. The African country most represented is Ethiopia, a country 4,000 miles from Ghana. The cuisines are very different. Eating at a place like Jollof King, where you can savor okra stew or egusi, soup made with melon seeds, you wish we had more African options.
Authentic Ethio African
1740 East McDowell Road
Despite an awning striped with the green, yellow, and red of Ethiopia's flag, Authentic Ethio African is hiding in plain sight on 18th Street and McDowell Road. Inside, you'll likely see wide, chestnut-colored pancakes. These are the Ethiopian flatbread known as injera, and they are the heartbeat of Ethiopian cuisine. Authentic Ethio offers numerous combo platters that feature preparations served on injera. Plant options include split peas, lentils, collards, and cabbage and carrots with turmeric. Animal options include chicken, beef, and fish. Authentic Ethio also sells uncooked Ethiopian specialties to go: coffee beans, lentils, flax seeds, turmeric, and other spices. You shouldn't expect full-service comforts in this nook that specializes in takeout, but there is great food to be found under the striped awning.