Sitting at the westernmost tip of the African mainland, Dakar in Senegal is an elegant and cosmopolitan capital that encapsulates the Francophone glamour of the colonial period and the rich tradition of the Old World. Today, the city offers everything, especially in terms of eateries. Soak up the ambience of this bustling cultural hub in one of the top ten cultural restaurants in Dakar.
Ali Baba might seem like an unusual addition to such a list, given that it is a fast food establishment. You only have to visit on a Saturday afternoon however, to see that Ali Baba is a Senegalese favourite and a hub of local experience. Specialising in Lebanese food, pizzas and sandwiches, Ali Baba is the perfect place to try one of the unique Senegalese baguettes that come stuffed with French fries and smothered in sauce. The restaurant first opened its doors in 1986 and the charming ambience and original décor would have you believing that not much has changed since. Recently, Ali Baba has expanded, opening another restaurant in Ngor.
Another local favourite, Chez Loutcha serves up the best of Senegalese and Cape Verdean cuisine. It is centrally located, constantly busy, and offers a warm welcome. There is nowhere better to try your first taste of mafé: a delicious meat stew cooked in a thick peanut sauce and served with rice. Chez Loutcha is also ideal if you’re feeling homesick, as part of the restaurant’s success is based around its familial and laidback atmosphere – the perfect place to spend a few hours and get to know the locals. With friendly service, no-frills surroundings and locally renowned food in generous portions, Chez Loutcha is a must-visit.
A Dakar institution, it is safe to say that no visit to the capital is complete without stopping by
Just4U. Serving delicious, authentic food with particular emphasis on desserts, Just4U is equally famed for its live music, making it the perfect introduction to all things Senegalese. The Just4U stage has been graced by many renowned local and international names. If you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of Senegal’s musical treasure, Youssou N’Dour, who has been spotted more than once on the dance floor. Order a Gazelle, sit back and let the reggae beats welcome you to Dakar.
La Fourchette prides itself on upholding the rich cultural history of Dakar. Dining in this elegant establishment, you would be forgiven for thinking that you had been transported to a restaurant on Paris’s Left Bank. The menu – sophisticated and European, with a twist of Asian fusion – is a nod to Senegal’s colonial past, whilst the live music and entertainment offer a welcome reminder that you are in the heart of West Africa. La Fourchette is not the sort of place you go to have an average meal, but rather one to write home about. And if you are going to write home about it, you should probably do so on the outdoor terrace over a tarte aux pommes.
Where better to enjoy lunch than perched on stilts overlooking the Atlantic Ocean?
Lagon 1 is a refined eatery, offering visitors stunning views of Gorée Island on one side and the eastern headland on the other, all to be enjoyed whilst taking in the lapping of the waves underfoot. If the local customer reviews are anything to go by, Lagon 1 is famed for its excellent cuisine – the menu is packed with delicious fare, impressive desserts and tasty cocktails. Dining at Lagon 1 is a premium experience, having catered for the likes of Jacques Chirac, Bono and Pierre Palmade to name just a few.
One of the better legacies from French colonial rule is the fact that Dakar boasts some of the best pastries and cakes on the continent, some of which can be found at La Marquise. If you need a break from Café Touba— the incredibly strong, sweet beverage of choice for most locals—this patisserie serves great coffee and a wide range of delicious flaky croissants, pain au chocolat and other moreish desserts and snacks. The atmosphere is particularly electric in the mornings, when Dakar’s professionals stop by for a coffee to set them up for the working day. La Marquise first opened its doors in 1958 and has been thriving ever since.
Le Patio is to Dakar what the Chateau Marmont is to LA: the place to see and to be seen in, frequented by Senegal’s high-profile socialites. The patio itself is a low lit, rustic outdoor space adorned with twinkling lights and palm trees – the perfect environment to capture your best angles. Le Patio serves a wide range of sophisticated dishes and the bar offers an A-Z list of cocktails, which are best enjoyed later in the evening when the venue fills up and transforms into a lively nightclub staying open until 5am.
Who needs the Med when you can eat crêpes al fresco by the sea in Dakar?
Noflaye Beach could easily be mistaken for a French beach resort à la Betty Blue with its wooden interior and pastel coloured tables. Dakar’s beaches are a closely guarded secret, but the arrival of restaurants and cafés such as Noflaye Beach are setting about changing that. It’s marketed as a crêperie and steakhouse and the quaint eatery offers Francophone classics such as salade niçoise, gratin dauphinois and ratatouille. Its seaside location guarantees fresh fish, but no visit would be complete without sampling the extensive range of crêpes, both savoury and sweet.
Its name translates as ‘question mark’ but there is nothing questionable about the cosy, down-to-earth ambience and hearty dishes that Point d’Interrogation promise. This would be an ideal location to try
thieboudienne, the classic Senegalese favourite made from fish, rice, and carrots. Point d’Interrogation offers the perfect combination of full plates at low prices and is a great place to rub shoulders with the locals. Its central location means that it is an ideal spot in which to recharge your batteries between periods of sightseeing in the bustling city of Dakar.
If you like the busy throng of traditional markets and enjoy food fresh, then you absolutely must pay a visit to the Soumbedioune night market. As the sun sets over Dakar, the crowds flock to the market to peruse endless stalls of freshly caught fish and seafood. Soumbedioune is as much a social experience as it is a gourmet experience; it is a point where locals, tourists, fishermen and food-lovers come together in the pursuit of delicious dinner and a festive atmosphere. What’s more: the finest seafood here will set you back no more than a few dollars. It’s a small price to pay for a truly unique dining experience.