18 September 2010

If You’re Ever in Juba… (A Patchwork Restaurant Guide for Travelers in Africa)

Sometimes, let’s face it, expats are annoying. Some of us adopt pseudo accents. We occasionally (and with dramatic flair) blame our bad habits on the countries we live in (you’d drink too if you’d seen what I’ve seen). We act superior when we are home. An innocent trip to the grocery store can get you an ear full on overabundance and consumption.

Lately, I’ve been catching myself doing another such annoying thing, something that even annoys other expats. The conversations go like this:

Friend: Want to grab dinner?

Me: Sure. Where should we go?

Friend: Maybe pizza?

Me: But there’s no good pizza here. Let me tell you where you can get REALLY good pizza. Have you ever been to south Sudan? (At this point my friend has stopped listening because she thinks I’m being just a little show-offy.)

Annoying though it may be, in the spirit of eating well in far flung places, I’ve put together this handy restaurant guide based on the cities I’ve lately traveled to. Let me be clear: I haven’t spent long periods of time in any of these places, except for Tanzania, so you may find lots of phase 1 restaurants (i.e., the places where the wazungu go when they don’t know where the really good places are). If so, apologies. Pease add to it—consider it a public service for expats and travelers everywhere.

Dar es Salaam

There are many things to love about Tanzania. The sun, the sand, the gentle sway of palm trees in the moonlight. Quick jaunts to Zanzibar in tiny toy airplanes piloted by 26-year olds nursing blistering hangovers. Ficken.*

Yes, there is much to love. But the gourmet traveler may find Dar wanting. Nonetheless, here's a random sampling of some of my favorite places to eat:

Zuane—Okay, it’s all relative, right, but for Dar, this is pretty good Italian food. Dine al fresco on the veranda lit with lanterns and pictures of Italian people from the 1940s on the wall. The pasta isn’t the highlight: try the pizza. The Zuane is especially good. Also, this may be the one place in Dar that serves a FREE appetizer (bread with bruschetta).

Sweet Eazy—Also known as the Sweet Sleazy (for a certain, ahem, clientele that frequent the place in the small hours), this rooftop restaurant, with tables beneath a canopy of trees, serves a nice mix of sea food and has a sleek indoor club section with great live music on Thursday nights.

The Patel Brotherhood—Not as scary as it sounds, this Indian restaurant, situated alongside badminton and tennis courts, serves great, cheap Indian food. Most of the members and guests are local Indian families, and there are usually kids running around, and men sitting in far off corners smoking and talking quietly. Some nights, a projector is set up to beam cricket or football. You’ll also hear the call to prayer from a mosque nearby.

Rehobot—This is a great Ethiopian restaurant in the backyard of the woman who used to be the head chef at the other Ethiopian restaurant in Dar, Addis in Dar, but left to start her own business. (Snap!) It’s small (you literally walk through their living room to go to the bathroom), charming and inexpensive. Plus her husband makes great furniture.

Slipway—Now four months ago I would not have recommended Slipway to anyone. It always struck me as a fly-infested tourist trap. BUT, since the restaurant/bar renovation, I’m in love. Wide open tables, comfy couches, right on the water, it’s the best place for a drink to watch the sun go down. The food isn’t great, but watching the fisherman sail their Dhows in for the evening completely makes up for it.

Africafe—I bet some of you thought I was going to say that Epi DÓr was my favorite café in Dar, but you would be wrong! Granted, I spent every other day of my first six months in Tanzania at Epi DÓr—and the croissants are lovely—but they keep raising their prices and aren’t super nice to their staff. Go instead to Africafe up by Seacliff, where they have even better coffee, better music (not that I don’t LOVE Celene Dion and Michael Bolton on a loop) and occasionally, drum roll: free wireless internet. But only occasionally. When they remember to pay their bills. Don’t push your luck, ok?

New Kibo Business—If you’re in the mood for some local fare, try this pub nestled in the working class Kinondoni neighborhood of Morocco. Good mishkaki and beer, especially when there’s power.

*Chickens are often fed fish meal in Tanzania, which causes ficken, the dreaded by all experience of confronting a slightly fishy taste when you bite into your chicken sandwich. The horror.


Osteria del Chianti—Now there are two Osteria’s in Nairobi. You want to go to the one with the gelato shop outside, not the one in Westlands by the mall. This restaurant is the MOST charming, the COZIEST, the BESTEST Italian restaurant in Nairobi, with a smoldering fireplace inside and a warm glow of candles and lanterns outside. Good for long, meandering conversations over wine. Get the pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil. Delicious.

The River Cafe—Off Limuru Road, near Village Market, this place is also LOVELY. Really, really lovely. Tables nestled between gardens, grassy hills and a pond, surrounded by flowers and bougainvillea, the place feels like a bit of Eden in big, hectic Nairobi. Their breakfasts are delicious. Try the eggs benedict or eggs with grilled tomatoes.

Java House—Saying you like Java House in East Africa is a little like saying you like Starbucks in Seattle. Totally UNCOOL. But we’ve got to face facts: the coffee house chain is pretty damn great. First, most outlets offer free wireless internet. This is gold. Second: they serve Mexican food. Now granted, it’s Africa Mexican food, but hell. It’s been a long time. I’ll take what I can get.

Havana Bar—First question: why is there a Havana bar in every African capital (see Juba and Bujumbura below)? But to the point, this Westland not-so-divey dive bar is fun for a drink and people watching. Dimly lit and smoky, with walls painted cherry red, the music is loud, and the drinks are good. And if you get bored, there are a random smattering of bars all within stumbling (I mean walking) distance.

Addis Ababa

Lime Tree Café—Hands down, the best. Macchiatos to die for. Free wireless. Good music. And you can get a pedicure at the spa downstairs.

Top View—Up the hill from the Megenagna Roundabout, the view of Addis from this place is amazing (and the food is delicious to boot). The only place with a better view of the city is on the steps of the Orthodox church on top of Entoto mountain. Take a mini bus from the market, and slowly wind up and up the narrow road, through the foothills densely covered with eucalyptus trees, to the top of Entoto, over 10,000 feet up, in the clouds.

(Anyone have anything to add for Addis?)


Think fifty years of civil war are going to stop Juba, the capital of the soon-to-be-new-country, South Sudan from making the “patchwork restaurant guide” list? No way! South Sudan may be one of the most under-developed places on Earth, but they do have a few awesome restaurants.

Da Vinci—This mixed fare restaurant is expensive, but located right on the banks of the Nile, it’s worth it. Just down the river is the one bridge in Juba, which trucks traverse to bring goods in from Kampala in the south. At twilight, under the mango trees, when the Nile is silvery and calm, Da Vinci may be one of the most enchanting places in Africa.

Logali House—If you’re in the mood for something vaguely neocolonial, check out the restaurant and bar at Logali House, a charming boutique hotel definitely stands out amidst a sea of tents and containers in Juba. Their veranda is a great place to watch the game and have a glass of wine, but as with everywhere else in Juba, it’ll cost you. A burger runs about $18. The vege lasagna is particularly good and costs about the same.

Afex—This is actually a U.S. compound that started as a tent camp. They still have the tents, along with cottages for USAID contractors (that run about US$5,000-8,000 per month—hello aid dollars hard at work), but there is also a great buffet restaurant that is open to the public. Enjoy the burrito bar and mingle with some friendly neighborhood Blackwater contractors (I mean XE).

Havana—Right next door to Logali, this is where the Cuban-Jubans hang. A group of former Sudanese exiles—doctors, engineers, economists—started the place. They gather to share a bottle of whisky and talk, very often in Spanish, about the days when they were educated in Cuba during the civil war and. Havana has great pizza: try the pumpkin with fontina cheese.


Rumors of coups and post-election violence hover like smoke over the tiny central African capital, but civil strife aside, Bujumbura is a culinary jewel.

Bora Bora—A Saturday afternoon at Bora Bora and you’ll consider retiring in Burundi. A stylish beach shack /bar/cafe/restaurant on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, you can chill out on wide couches by the pool and listen to mellow reggae tunes. Try the avocados with prawns.

Havana—This nightclub and lounge is sleek and stylish, the place to be seen on the weekends. Also a great spot to grab a beer and watch the game after a long day at the office fighting poverty.

Botanika—With candle light and palm trees swaying in the evening breeze, the quiet murmur of conversation and chink of wine glasses, this restaurant oozes intimacy, and the steak and chocolate mousse are amazing. (Alas, good wine is hard to come by in Bujumbura, but you will make due at this place.)

L’Archipel (and) Kiboko Grill—Both places have great Belgian fish dishes, with tables outside in the garden. Kiboko is set on the grounds of Ubuntu Residence, a charming inn on the lake, which has some of the warmest, friendliest staff in Bujumbura. Say hi to Blandine when you go.




  1. Re: Java House

    I would, in my opinion, include it for people who have been in East Africa for awhile. For short trips, the Mexican is not all that special. However, if you have had a steady diet of ugali and sakuma for weeks on end, it is the best food ever.

    Thanks for the list

  2. Dar: for the basic prison tray lunch of staple/beans/meat/greens/chili you can't beat the hoteli at the DSM Children's Remand Home opp. Regency Hospital in Upanga. And they sometimes have mackerel. Say hello to Winnie.

    Addis: No mention of Castelli's?

  3. One more for the Juba list, an essential I may add:

    Spice n'Herbs