Saying that Harlem has a monopoly on great Senegalese spots in NYC is probably going a bit too far, so let’s just say it’s the top dog, and it’s not even close. In fact, just the area around 116th and Frederick Douglass Blvd has as many must-visit Senegalese places as the rest of the city combined. That mini-neighborhood, known as Le Petit Senegal, as well as a couple blocks a bit north of there, are where you’ll find all of the spots on this guide.
Due to the pandemic, all but one of the restaurants listed below are takeout-only for the time being. They are, however, all within three blocks of either Morningside or St. Nicholas Park, where you’ll find a nice patch of grass or bench to enjoy your chicken yassa or thieboudienne.
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Choosing the single best dish on this guide would require breakthroughs in data processing and decision fatigue. Since we can’t wait for science to catch up, we’ll say that it can’t get much better than the pintade with attieke at Chez Alain. The skin of the whole guineafowl is flaky and charred like the best bites of dark meat turkey, while the meat is as rich and salty as slow-cooked duck. Soak up the juices at the bottom of the plate with a side of attieke - slightly sour cassava with the texture of couscous, and chew on the bones like they’re chicken wings.
Senegal’s national flower is the baobab, the national soccer team is known as the “Lions of Teranga,” and the national dish is thieboudienne. You can find the last one - stewed fish in tomato broth - at every place on this guide, but you can’t find a better version than the one at Pikine. The big pieces of perfectly grilled and stewed white fish are served with five different vegetables, all of which make clear that they’ve spent plenty of time getting to know each other over the past few hours. Even Sadio Mane in national green rather than Liverpool red can’t outshine this thieboudienne thanks to the mound of heavily seasoned, crispy rice, which soaks up the tomato-y juices, and becomes spicier the longer you let it mingle with the scotch bonnet pepper on the plate.
On a recent visit to the takeout window inside Le Baobab Gouygui, the cashier listened to us list off lamb and fish in okra-thickened palm oil sauce and plenty of other dishes, before eventually letting us know that there were only three items available at that time. We quickly realized there would’ve been no wrong way to go about ordering. The fish in the thieboudienne has skin so salty and crispy it tastes like fried chicken skins, and the tender chicken yassa is smothered in lemony, onion-heavy sauce. The one dish that you need to prioritize, though, is lamb mafe, which has a ton of peanut butter flavor, along with the intense gaminess of a rare lamb chop.
You could eat nothing but bread at Les Ambassades, and leave quite satisfied. After all, the storefront next door is the restaurant’s bakery, where the flaky, glistening croissants taste like they showed up after a leisurely pit stop in a butter jar. But don’t leave without trying the best dish here - thiebou yapp. This variant of thieboudienne replaces fish with tender stewed lamb topped with sweet and peppery onions and vegetables, and served alongside a mound of crispy, seasoned rice that’d absolutely be worth ordering on its own.
Africa Kine serves most of its meat dishes without a knife, and for good reason. Lamb falls off the bone as you lift it from the pool of slightly spicy mafe sauce, and when you poke the peppery, smoky chicken yassa - our favorite dish here - with a spoon, the meat shreds into the mix of onions, olives, and citrusy sauce. There’s no seating in the small dining room at the moment, so place an order at the takeout window in the hallway, and bring it a short walk away to a bench in St. Nicholas park.
Chez Maty Et Sokhna is a few doors down from Africa Kine, and the two spots have some things in common. They both serve nem - crispy springs rolls stuffed with ground sausage - multiple orders of which need to be part of any meal at either place. They’re also both small, quiet spots you should use mostly for takeout, which you can eat a couple blocks west in St. Nicholas Park. One difference is that your go-to entree here should be the dibi lamb with thin, peppery chops topped with mustardy onions, and served with your choice of side. We say ‘choice,’ but if you choose to get anything besides the vermicelli noodles, choose again.
Whether you want to pick up ingredients for suppu kandja, or you think keeping a few scotch bonnets in your fridge will deter your roommates from midnight raids on your leftovers, check out Adja Khady. This wholesale market on 116th Street right in the heart of Le Petit Senegal sells halal meats and fish, as well as Senegalize imports like baobab syrup, spiced coffee grounds, and a whole lot of palm oil.