To most Chicagoans, Devon Avenue is where you go for the most authentic Indian and Pakistani food in the city. As a Nigerian-American immigrant, I, too, long for a place where I can find food that reminds me of my mother’s kitchen, ignites my taste buds with a multitude of traditional spices, and helps me reconnect with my West African roots. Therefore, I’ve begun a quest to discover the best West African restaurants in Chicago and I’ve determined that the South Side is to Afro-Caribbean food as Devon is to South Asian food.
There are numerous Afro-Caribbean restaurants to choose from on the South Side. Some of these places are so authentic that they can help homesick African immigrants like me forget our gut-wrenching nostalgia for home-cooked delicacies. While there are many to choose from, Yassa African Restaurant in Bronzeville—dubbed “Best Resurrection” in the Weekly’s 2015 Best of the South Side—is one of the best in the entire city. Although initially located on 79th Street, a catastrophic roof fire destroyed the original location in late 2014. When I thought Yassa was gone forever, I would cry myself to sleep at night, thinking about how much my taste buds would suffer without it. Yet with time comes ease and hope!
The owners opened the doors of their new Bronzeville location in early 2015. Lucky for me, Yassa emerged from the flames bigger and better. In my opinion, this is a much more strategic location; it is more centrally located, making it accessible to more foodies in search of terrific Senegalese cuisine. If you’ve never been to Yassa before, it’s quite the experience. As soon as you walk in the door, you’re greeted by bright pieces of West African art adorning the walls. There’s everything from statues and masks that are usually associated with the Yoruba ethnic group to a massive African map that proclaims “Welcome to Yassa” and “You Are What You Eat And Drink.” And if the decorations don’t already alert you to the fact that you’re in an African restaurant, the sounds of French, Wolof, Yoruba, and other West African languages definitely will.
But the best part of the Yassa experience is the food. Sadly, sometimes you have to wait for what seems like an eternity for your food—so don’t arrive too hungry. I get so hungry waiting sometimes that I unconsciously start glaring at others in the restaurant, jealous that they already have their food. If you ever wanted to see what your “hangry” (hungry + angry) face looks like, you may discover it while waiting for your mouthwatering meal at Yassa.
Fortunately for me, Yassa makes all kinds of West African favorites: everything from jollof rice (tomato-flavored rice) and fried plantains to the lesser-known dishes such as Tiebu Djeun (fried fish stuffed with parsley) and more. The portions are extremely generous, and the price will leave a huge smile on your face and even make you want to order seconds. That is, if you’re not already in a food coma from your first round.
AK Agunbiade is a Nigerian American who grew up in the Midwest. He currently lives in Hyde Park, where he is finishing up medical school. In addition, he’s a stand up comedian and maintains a fashion and lifestyle blog at slightlyrefined.com. Follow him on Twitter: @AKagunbiade88 and catch AK’s column every fourth week of the month.