My favorite restaurants (#16)

People often ask for restaurant recommendations in Dakar. I’m a bit hesitant to do so simply because if there’s one thing that’s consistent about the food scene in Dakar, it’s that it can be inconsistent. So in order to give a nice, well-rounded view of things, I’m asking readers to give their opinions as well. If you’d be willing to participate, please email me!.

Today we’re hearing from Sam, a New Yorker who has lived in Dakar for about three years and recently opened the very popular Sam’s Pizza & Bread.

Favorite Ice Cream:
Regis. I think there are a couple locations, but there are definitely natural ingredients in the ice cream there, and they are bold enough to offer flavors like maad and ditakh. The workers are very friendly to boot, which is a rarity at ice cream parlors here. Even standard flavors like chocolate and coffee are a cut above the rest.

Ethnic Restaurant:
La Corée in Mamelles is the restaurant I go to most often, partly because it’s close to me, but also because it does a couple things very well. One, they have the only true sushi option in Dakar that I am aware of. When I say “true sushi”, I mean that they serve fresh, seasonal, local fish like Badeche. It’s cheaper than the upscale locales where you pay twice as much for farmed salmon, and it’s better. Two, they have some pretty authentic kimchi, and other assorted fermented veggies; I have a soft spot for anything fermented. Fermented foods can have magically layered flavors: magic in the sense of taste and in the deployment of good bacteria that do work for the chef and eater (in the form of probiotics).

Favorite Splurge:
It’s usually backhanded to begin a compliment with an insult, but I don’t intend for any backhandedness here. I have “splurged” a few times at the restaurants in Almadies and downtown, and I have never been impressed (caveat: I haven’t been to Le Mokai yet). I have even been annoyed on occasion. The Trio Toque dinners, run by three female part-time chefs, is an itinerant restaurant that does, sadly, only one meal a month. And the cost is between 25 000 and 35 000 CFA. However, it’s a bargain and by some margin the best food I have had in the city. You get three to five courses of thoughtfully prepared dishes, plus a couple cocktails (the last one I had was gin, cucumber, and kiwi), dessert and coffee. There’s nothing pretentious, and the seating is random. You’re likely to make a few friends at no extra charge.

Favorite Senegalese:
Le Calebasse is consistent, clean and well-serviced. You can get a large thiof with plantains, or honey-glazed chicken with a bunch of fixins. It’s not outstanding and a bit static, but consistency is something to respect in Dakar.

Favorite Pizza:
Mine. I realize that’s immodest and gauche. But I know what goes into my pizza, and I try to make it in accordance with my platonic pizza ideal. It’s not there yet, but I am trying. One of the reasons I wanted to start a pizza/bread joint in the first place was because I didn’t think the options in Dakar were very good.

Best Burger:
I haven’t been to that new place downtown with Angus beef, but the French Cultural Institute has freshly ground beef burgers that are spiced in non-standard variations. They are a shining downtown option for lunch.

What’s missing from Dakar’s food scene?
Chinese food that isn’t bad. I’m still surprised that’s not arrived yet, or maybe I just don’t know about it. Dakar needs a good Chinese option for Sunday nights.

There’s also a dearth of lunch options that aren’t Maggi-saturated thieboudiene or listless baguette sandwiches. I am trying to convince one of the Trio Toque chefs to open a lunch cart with her amazing sandwiches. That would be an enormous upgrade to the status quo.

Mexican food (not just in name) might be a pipe dream considering so many of Mexican chile peppers and spices aren’t to be found here, but some sort of approximation would be welcome.

If I were stranded on a deserted island and could have only one of Dakar’s restaurants, it would be ______:
I am going to cheat on this answer, and list a place outside of Dakar… although perhaps it’s less of a cheat because you can actually stay on your own little island there. Lodge Les Collines De Niassam in Palmarin has the best regular food option in the country that I am aware of, enhanced by the stunning scenery. There’s no menu, and the food is chosen for you – I like that. Last visit, we were served raw shredded daikon with cilantro-lime fish salad for lunch and zebu steak with polenta for dinner. You can expect to be surprised by their resourcefulness. They infuse their own liquor with local fruits too. Not to be missed.

Thanks, Sam!

5 comments

  1. If you want real chinese food, try the one near the chinese embassy. I don’t remember of the name.You can’t read the menu… unless you can read Chinese! It’s an experience!

    I miss the pizzas from “La Piazza” in Plateau.

  2. I miss having a “Starbucks’ option (I know… sacrilegious)! What I mean by this is a place (or chain of places) I can grab a fairly healthy snack / lunch for around $10 and where I can work away on my computer. Presse Cafe and Sweet Coffee come close… but both are a bit to expensive and not quite the right atmosphere.

  3. Love that Jason included Trio Torque. They are the only “splurge” meal I have had here and can say it was worth it! I look forward to their “reservations are now open” email every month!

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