So you’re just starting across 116th from 5th Avenue. First you’ll see MIST café, bar, theater and restaurant on the left side. Arguable best diverse social spot in Central Harlem. Next door is a new Jamaican Pop Up, “Jerk to Go”. Its seasonal and mightr be closed. Regardless we heard good things about it.
Travel further down and you’ll hit the Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market on your left. It has authentic, traditional clothing, fabric and artwork from Nigeria, Kenya, Senegal and Ghana. Some touristy stuff, but look through it. Think Sunday afternoon flea-marketing. It’s a collection of vendors with small shops, boxes and piles of treasures under the radar.
In case you didn’t recall, Mayor Giuliani was tough on the 125th street vendors. The former NYC mayor hustled vendors off the streets and into this market starting in the 90s and the legacy hasn’t gone anywhere but you’ll find several vendors grinding it out in the Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market.
Across the street is Louisiana Popeye’s fried food. Don’t knock the food or the hustle. Some days you just need that spicy, greasy and crunchiness. Personally, I like the dirta dirta rice.
Across Lenox Avenue is Amy Ruth’s soul food spot. One meal puts you in a coma! Say hello to General Manager Boy for us!
Further down 116th near Adam Clayton is Tropical the Dominican spot. Roasted chicken, rice and peas to perfection. Great idea for catering impromptu party with people or family that don’t mind eating with their hands.
Enter 116th at Adam Clayton Powell Blvd and that’s when you hit Kilimanjaro Fashions and Senegalese classics foods like Keur Coumba’s Thiebu Dien, the fish yassa at Le Baobab, and the dibi lamb at Pikine.
My favorites are Safari (Somali) and La Savane which is Ivorian. (So many Senegalese places, they seem run of the mill here, right?) Let’s diverge into the bisbaas sauce at the Safari for a minute. Spicy. Goes with everything: the chicken sambuzas (samosas), the braised goat and rice, the mango chicken which starts sweet and ends hot.
As for La Savane, the menu is full of favorites. Whole braised or grilled fish, grilled guinea fowl, fotou (plantain mash), couscous, okra stew, lamb shank. This place is a meat lovers den and every other dish is a second to the meat, oh, and the fish.
Marcus Samuelson’s Street Bird is killing it at 116th and Fredrick Douglas. My son Nigel love’s the chicken sandwiches and Mark inhales the green veggies side dishes.
Across from Street bird is Lolo’s Seafood –cross between the Caribbean and cape cod. The Shark Bake sandwiches and the messy crab legs are finger amputation worthy.
We didn’t cover every African or African Diaspora merchant along 116th street. Just high lightening a few spots we frequent. I’m sure we didn’t hit your favorite spot. Tell me about it. We’ll feature in the future.