I’m big on atmosphere. Give me a place where the music and the decor aid my fantasies of world travel or lux living, and I can forgive bad coffee or mediocre fare. My husband, M, can shrug off a cafeteria-like atmosphere as long as the food is spicy, hearty, and plentiful.
A few weeks ago, we found the best of both worlds.
We’d gone out planning on Mexican and were met with a potential 45-minute wait and an impenetrable wall of sound at Ponce’s. Using my new smartphone for the first time, I Googled “African Cuisine, San Diego,” which brought us to Flavors of East Africa, at the corner of Louisiana and El Cajon.
The easy-to-miss restaurant is now on our list of favorites.
This past Saturday, the huge party of white people that took up more than half of the restaurant’s tables made it a little harder for me to fantasize my way to Kenya. No matter, though. The food, the tribal music (interspersed with a little John Legend and other surprises), and the mask-and-batik-laden walls did give me an elsewhere feeling.
Arian, our super-efficient waitress, and Evelyn, whose smile lit up the night, worked the room with grace, keeping our water glasses filled and our questions answered.
Arian and Evelyn
We started with the Masala Fries ($4.99), described on the menu as “French fries dipped in a creamy masala tomato sauce.” Delectable.
M ordered the Goat Stew special ($12.99) and asked them to make it “spicy, but not too spicy.” (He learned his lesson last time. Apparently, hot in “Kenyan-inspired cuisine” is really hot.) He chose rice and Sukuma Wiki (“collard greens mixed with cabbage sautéed with garlic and spices”) for his sides.
Goat Stew, rice, and Sukuma Wiki
I went for the Beef Stew ($12.99 for the dinner plate), rice, and Nyoyo (“hominy, kidney beans, potatoes, and carrots cooked in olive oil with garlic, tomatoes, and onions”).
Beef Stew, rice, and Nyoyo
We licked our plates clean.
And then, as if we aren’t already happy enough, just before we ask for our bill, Arian says, “Do you have a coupon? No? I’ll give you 20 percent off, yeah?”
Total bill: $28.10
(Please note: the restaurant has no liquor license, but you can bring your own beer or whatnot. And if you forget, there’s a gas station a few doors east on El Cajon.)