Mini-Spotlight on African Cuisine

By Ruth Tobias  |  November 21, 2013
Credit: Ruth Tobias

That Denver has a thriving African-immigrant community is obvious to anyone who’s ever headed east of City Park on Colfax: the literal signs, in the form of restaurant storefronts, are scattered down the avenue, among them much-loved fixtures like the sumptuously appointed Moroccan date-nighter Mataam Fez and the one-woman show of Ethiopian cooking that is Zewditu Aboye’s Queen of Sheba. Ethiopian eateries indeed predominate on the Front Range - but other nations have stuck a few pushpins into the local dining map as well, including the following charmers.

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Sudan Cafe & Khairat Injera Bakery 

    At first glance, this Aurora joint doesn’t look like much - your basic strip-mall hole-in-the-wall with a few customers gathered around a blaring TV and a nearly bare pastry case. But sidle on up to the counter anyway: from that vantage point you’ll notice the piles of plastic-sheathed injera - the thin, spongy flatbread that’s a staple at the table of many a household in the continent’s northeastern quadrant - and the smiles of the people in front of them. “You just missed my auntie,” apologized Samy Wahabrebi when we stopped in recently for a taste of owner Sitena Ahmed’s Sudanese specialties - but he proved a perfectly savvy guide to the menu, and his sister Hayat Wahabrebi an equally dandy cook.

    The repertoire is small - 14 items in all - and similar to that of Sudan’s neighbors, namely Egypt and Ethopia: think leafy greens and legumes. But the fatta fool the siblings are pictured with is almost reminiscent of ribollita, the Tuscan cannellini-and-bread stew that eats like a casserole after sitting for awhile. In this case, the beans are dried favas, the torn bread a sort of sandwich roll and the cheese a salty, fresh type rather than aged parmesan; sprinkled further with bits of tomato, red onion and jalapeño, it’s robustly homey and rib-sticking and best washed down with a frothy, smoothie-like quencher based on aradaib, or tamarind.

    10375 E. Iliff Ave.; 303-337-7409

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Maandeeq East African Cafe

    In contrast to Sudan Cafe, this Aurora hangout for the Somali community definitely looks like something: the Chinese restaurant it used to be, albeit with pool tables in back for the regulars. There’s a paper menu taped to the host’s counter in front, another hung as a banner behind it, and a third printed and bound for the asking - but none of them exactly match, and though the dish descriptions are in English, they won’t help much, e.g. “any kind of fish with rice or pasta,” “firdis sports.” Better just to point at whatever looks good on another customer’s table.

    That may very well involve spaghetti, a staple in Somalia as a former Italian colony; it will often include a whole banana, which accompanies virtually every Somali meal. And then there’s ugaali, a cornmeal porridge whose consistency can vary across East Africa, but here is almost rice-cakey, bathed in a slightly sour, peppery broth and topped with sauteed spinach, cabbage and squash.

    Order it with a side of goat, and you’ll get a whole meal’s worth of tender, bone-in chunks as well as two soups: one based on spicy goat broth with rice and carrots, the other a little thicker with chicken and greens. If by some digestive fluke you’re still peckish after all that, head next door to the bare-bones Ifka Cafe for some sambusas (better known stateside as Indian samosas): triangular pastries with a savory, coriander-scented ground-beef filling.

    1535 S. Havana St.; 303-745-2355


  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    African Grill & Bar 

    With their gem of a flagship cafe in Aurora now firmly established, Ghanian natives Adwoa and Sylvester Osei-Fordwuo went and opened a second, more spacious location of African Grill & Bar in a shopping mall out by Denver International Airport on October 19 - and it sparkles just as brightly. The gregarious Adwoa will walk you nimbly through the huge menu - heavy on tubers, legumes and stews - before heading back to the kitchen to cook up your order herself.

    Among the vibrant, soulful house specialties, we especially adore red red (pictured above left) - which contrasts buttery, caramelized fried plantains with a meaty, salty, tangy mixture of black-eyed peas, onions and tomatoes. And tuo zaafi (above right), based on a smooth cornmeal-and-cassava-flour dough that’s submerged in a powerfully spicy stew of jute leaves, tomatoes and your choice of meat - in this case lamb and beef. And the black-eyed-pea loaf called moimoi, which looks like sausage, feels like sponge cake and tastes like an earty-sweet dream studded with bits of okra, carrots and corn. And, really, everything, right down to the warm bofrot (below), essentially donut holes, you’ll be treated to at feast’s unwilled end.

    18601 Green Valley Ranch Blvd., #100; 720-949-0784