Full disclosure: Sometimes my “research” for these restaurant blogs involves watching Anthony Bourdain during lunch. Covering a Burmese restaurant? Time to microwave leftover Jet’s Pizza and flip on the episode where Tony goes to Myanmar.
To cover the new Yalleys African Restaurant on Kenmore Avenue, owned by Ghanaian immigrant Patrick Agyapong, I watched a No Reservations episode on Ghana from 2007. Sadly, getting a tour from the younger, edgier Travel Channel Bourdain felt cheap and distant, like the faux-maple taste in a bottle of ‘pancake’ syrup. Sure, it’s enjoyable, watching Tony crack PG-13 jokes and do shots of indigenous beverages, but I didn’t come away with a sense of the people or the place.
Conveniently, a big part of going to Yalleys is getting to meet the people and learn a bit about the culture. Communing with others is fundamental to West African food culture, but not necessarily part of restaurant culture. You can’t go to Olive Garden and expect to talk to the hostess about the wonders of Parma or the historical significance of the Tour of Italy.
While the food at Yalleys may be great, and we’ll get to that, word about the cultural vibes in the restaurant is getting around, according to employee Olivia Arthur: “People also come here for the experience and just to have a conversation about what Africa is. Cause a lot of people, when they hear the word ‘Africa’, they think it’s just one big culture, one type of food.”
Tropical decor and African art on the wall welcomes you into the restaurant. On my lunch visit, I walked to the counter and ordered peanut soup with fu fu — a doughy ball of cooked starch used to sop up liquid.
My order was brought out with a fork, knife and spoon. But using utensils isn’t the traditional way to eat it. After letting my server know I wanted to eat with my right hand (using your left is considered insulting), she brought out a wash basin and showed me how to use my first finger, middle finger and thumb as a pincher:
“Grab a piece of the fu fu like this, pull a bit off, dip it in the soup, and then swallow”
Dipping your fingers into hot broth is definitely something to get used to but enjoying fu fu this way felt far more satisfying than falling back on the trusty fork, knife and spoon.
I ordered fufu because I saw it on No Reservations and it is one of the more popular West African* foods, along with jollof rice. But these dishes aren’t necessarily the biggest sellers at Yalleys.
“I feel like a lot of people have heard of fufu and jollof rice, and I thought those would be the most popular,” Arthur says. “But since we opened here on Kenmore Avenue, all the foods are pretty popular. We might think that one dish is going to sell out real quick, but often it’s the other way ‘round. You cannot predict what someone is going to buy when they come in. A lot of food seems interesting to our customers, and they want to give different things a try.”
Of course, there are a few African drinks, such as Malta Guinness and sobolo, a cold drink made from hibiscus, pineapple and spices. For the less adventurous, there are American soft drinks like Canada Dry ginger ale and orange Fanta.
As good as the food and drink is at Yalleys, the friendly vibes and growing community will keep you coming back. On my visit, another customer came over to ask what I had ordered. A couple guys also came for a takeout order of donuts, which were not on the menu. My experience may not have taken me to Ghana, but I did experience the spirits of curiosity and cultural hospitality, things you can’t find at every restaurant.
“At the end of the day, we are here to serve our customers and have conversations with them,” Arthur says. “When African food isn’t familiar to them, we talk about what they are eating and the ingredients in it. We just don’t take orders and serve food.”
Hours at time of publishing (Subject to change): Tuesday to Sunday 12 p.m. – 9 p.m., Monday CLOSED
Want to share info or news with us? Send us a note!