The family and I spent a couple of weekends in Chicago recently and were able to sample a number of African restaurants. Here's my report:
7118 N. Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60626
This Nigerian restaurant was located for a number of years on Leland Ave, but I never had the opportunity to drop by before. Caato (spelled "Qaato" on the outside sign), newly relocated to Rogers Park (just south of Tuohy), is a pleasant surprise. Offerings here are much the same as at Chicago's other Nigerian establishments, but exceptionally tasty and generous. A bowl of Egusi Soup arrived with three huge chunks of goat meat and a liberal helping of Gari (pounded yam, Amala or semolina fufu are also available). A $5 bowl of Pepper Soup was properly incendiary and brimming with tender goat meat (a fish version is also available), an excellent deal. Asaro (yam porridge) had a slightly lower proportion of tomato than usual, and was studded with shrimp, usually lacking at Chicago's other Nigerian places. The menu also offers suya (Hausa kebabs), snail and other delicacies. The young waitress, the owner's daughter, seemed overworked but was pleasant and competent. Verdict: Caato is my new favorite Chicago Nigerian restaurant!
6221 N. Clark St.
Somali. I dropped in on a Friday afternoon for the $8 all-you can-eat buffet, and was greeted warmly by the proprietor, who told me "just take a plate and help yourself" to chicken, goat meat, two kinds of rice, pasta, tea, salad and a sort of mango-flavored Kool-Aid. What Banadir lacks in sophistication it more than makes up in friendliness and good cheer. As I ate the place filled up with Somali cabdrivers and families, who filed in, filled their plates and conversed amiably. All in all the ambiance was more like a house party than a restaurant. The food was tasty enough, but I'll have to stop in a couple more times to make a definitive judgment.
Bolat African Cuisine
3346 N. Clark St.
Service at Bolat continues to be hopelessly haphazard and incompetent. The food is still good (although Caato is now Chicago's best Nigerian restaurant in my opinion, see above). Cleanliness has also suffered since our last visit. Tables weren't clean and the overall ambience was a little "icky." A carryout order of Egusi Soup & fufu was not properly packed. By the time we got to the car sauce was dripping out of the bag. When we went back inside to ask the lady behind the counter to repack, she had an attitude, like it was OUR fault.
Ras Dashen Ethiopian Restaurant
5844 N. Broadway
With every visit, the food here seems to get better - Ras Dashen continues to be Chicago's best Ethiopian. Prices a tad higher than elsewhere but worth it. Stop by the Abyssinia Market next door for Injera and Ethiopian CD's.
Vee Vee's African Restaurant
6232 N. Broadway
Chicago, IL 60660-1902
The menu here offers a couple of things not available at other Chicago Nigerians - Ofe Imo and Edikaikong from the southeastern part of the country. They unfortunately weren't available when we dropped by. Vee Vee's also has an all-you-can-eat buffet on Sundays. A carryout order of mixed Egusi/Agbono Soups and Joloff Rice was good but not especially notable. I'd have to give Vee Vee's a couple more visits before making a definitive judgment.