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Dining in Nairobi - An Overview

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Hi

I just posted this in reply to another thread and though it might be useful to repost as a seperate topic for anyone who might interested in the future.

I was born and brought up in Nairobi and while I've been away at school for a year or so now the list below should be pretty up to date. I am terrible at remembering addresses so you may have to use some initiative to find these places - most will be listed in the local edition of the Yellow Pages, or just ask a good taxi driver.

One point worth making is that the list below is by no means comprehensive as Nairobi is chock full of restaurants with new ones opening (and old ones closing) every week.

Finally, I'll give fair warning that many of my favourite places are more upscale and expensive by Kenyan standards - but in US money they'll be pretty cheap.

Happy Eating!!

CHAINS
Java House
This is a local chain of coffee shop / cafes very popular with both locals and members of the ex-pat community. They have a number of different locations and serve an excellent selection of coffees, teas, sandwiches, burgers etc. My personal favourite there is the fish and chips.

Dormans
Another coffee shop chain with a good menu which is slightly less cafe-ish than Java House. Again they have a number of locations through out the city.

Kengeles
A restaurant / bar chain owned by a white Kenyan called Bell (Kengele in kiswahili) which is slightly more down market and is very popular with locals. The food is pretty standard but it's a good standby for cheap eats and a cold one or two.

INDIAN
Haandi
Probably the best Indian food in town (Kenya has a relatively large population of people from the sub-continent). Located in a shopping mall called 'The Mall' in Westlands, which is restaurant and bar central. I haven't eaten here much as, being of Indian descent myself, we tend to cook this kind of food at home.

Open House
Again located in Westlands. This is a relative new comer to the scene serving very authentic Indian food and is very popular with the Asian African (as we call ourselves) community.

Hashmi Pan House
Located in a mall known as UK Centre also in Westlands. Excellent tandoori food that tasty and cheap! Try the ice-cream too and, if you're adventurous, pan - betel nut, spices and various other tasty things wrapped in a betel nut leaf (a traditional digestif on the sub-continent)

Diamond Plaza
This mall in Highridge is a little slice of India in Africa. As well as various stores selling everything from saris to incense there are a number of little restaurants serving Indian food and street snacks - try dropping by one afternoon for a cold glass of passion juice and some maru bhajia (potato slices deep-fried in spice gram (garbanzo) flour).

CHINESE
There are a number of chinese restaurants in Nairobi but most (if not all of them) cater to the local palette and aren't as authentic as places here in the US or in the UK.

Hong Kong
Located downtown near the Nairobi Safari Club (aka Lillian Towers) this is probably Nairobi's oldest Chinese restaurant and one my parents used to take me to when I was a kid. Still popular with businessmen and women as a venue for a working lunch.

China Jiang-Hsu
Probably the most authentic Chinese in town and one which was popular with our family when it first opened although I haven't been there in a while. Located in Westlands in Soin Arcade.

Also, there's a new Chinese trade centre that's opened in an area called Hurlimgham which I haven't been too but which apparently has a good food court.

THAI
Siam Thai
The best of Nairobi's two Thai restaurants is located in Rank Xerox House in Westlands. A bit pricey by local standards but I love the food here - especially the spicy fried prawns (shrimp) and the date pancake with vanilla ice-cream for desert.

JAPANESE
Furusato
My favourite of Nairobi's numerous sushi joints. Conveniently located in Westlands a little behind the Sarit Centre (Nairobi's biggest mall). Try the 'dynamite roll'.

Tokyo
Again this can be found in Westlands (on Raphta Rd). My friends like it but I tend to stick with Furusato. They also have a small outpost at "The Village Market" a mall out near the US Embassy and UN HQ in Gigiri which also has an excellent food court that's great over the weekend as a place to hang out and people watch.

Akasaka
Located downtown at the Six-Eighty hotel (I think) this is another strong Japanese venue which is popular with businessmen for lunch - they're bento box is pretty good value.

ETHIOPIAN
There are a number of excellent Ethiopian restaurants in Nairobi all of which are fairly hole-in-the-wall-y and cheap, cheap, cheap. My favourite is located on Arwhings-Kodhek Rd in Hurlingham just after the junction of Elgeyo-Marakwet (if you're coming from Lavington). I can;t remember the name but it's located in a converted house and has a big sign outside the gate - if you have local guide, or a decent taxi driver they should be able to find it.

ITALIAN
There are a number of good italian restaurants around the city - but I can't remember any of their names! There's one in Westlands next to a place called China Plate (in a strip mall) that I like going to. Look out also for Mediterraneo another old favourite in Westlands.

FINE DINING
Alan Bobbe's Bistro
Sadly Alan Bobbe passed away recently but the restaurant has been taken over by his long-term partner Christian who pretty much ran it for the last few years anyway and who is doing a great job of keeping the flag flying at one of Nairobi's best, oldest, and well-known restuarants. Located downtown on Koinange St.

Ibis Grill
The restuarant at the Norfolk hotel has a an excellent reputation and on the one or two occassions I've been there I've always enjoyed the food though the atmosphere can be a bit lacking at times as it isn't always busy - more about the price than the food

Tamarind
Kenya's best seafood. Ideally you want to go to the Tamarind in Mombasa, which sits on a small cliff overlooking the ocean (or even spend a night on the Tamarind dhow enjoying your meal as you sail down the Mtwapa creek) but if you can't get there then make sure you make it to the Nairobi branch. It's great!

There are a number of other fine restaurants you could try many of them located at the finer hotels but these are my favourites.

NYAMA CHOMA (Roast Meat)
Nyama choma (NC) is Kenya's answer to BBQ. This could truly be called the national cuisine. There are hundreds of places to try this out ranging from special NC nights at fancy hotels to any number of little dives and shacks across the country. You go in order meat (normally goat or beef by the kilo) and wait for it to be served with a number of local side dishes; sukuma wiki (sauteed greens), ugali (maize-flour cooked into a stiff and sticky porridge), irio (mashed pumkins, potatoes, and corn), and kachumbari (a local salsa of onions, tomatoes, lime, and chilli).

I like to go to a place in the Kariakor Market which my dad first took me to (he's been going there for 40 years!) but I wouldn't be able to explain to you how to get there. Your best bet is to ask somebody local and get them to go with you - if you offer to buy them lunch they're bound to take you somewhere good! :-)

MISC
The Carnivore
Without a doubt Kenya's most famous restaurant. Located on the outskirts of town this is essentially (although don't try telling Kenyan's this) an African take of a Brazilian churasciria complete with a local cocktail based on caiphirinias- 'The Dawa' (medicine in kiswahili). Popular with tourist and locals alike it's an all you can eat affair with meat taking centre stage (I think they have some veggie options but then again maybe not!). If you want to check this out I suggest either going at lunch-time or, if you're up for making a night of it, a Saturday night after which you can head into the adjacent disco and try to dance off the calories!

The Village Market Food Court
Located in Gigiri and a great place to grab a bite to eat. This is where my friends and I go on a Sunday afternoon to sit in the sun, eat, and drink.

Karen Blixen Coffee Gardens
Located in the old neighbourhood of Karen (named after the late author Karen Blixen aka Isak Dinesen of "Out of Africa' fame) this is a lovely little place to grab afternoon tea or a simple lunch.

The Rusty Nail
Another Karen stalwart this is popular with many of the locals in the area (mostly of European descent) and while I haven't eaten there the bar is a great place to throw down a few and the food is meant to be good too.

Gypsy
A very popular bar/restaurant in Westlands which served surprisingly good food. The fish piri-piri here is a particular favourite of mine (grilled fish in a hot sauce). A good place for a working lunch in Westlands but also for dinner before drinking the night away downstairs.

Casablanca
A popular nightspot in Hurlingham (though I can't remember the address) that does fabulous cocktails (or at least used too)

Mercury Lounge
Located in ABC Plaza in Lavington this is probably the best cocktail bar in Nairobi and serves excellent tapas style small plates. It's expensive by local standards but packed with a young and hip crowd of locals and ex-pats.

The Outside Inn
Located in Karen this pub is a great place for Sunday brunch over a few beers especially if there's a rugby/soccer game being shown on TV.

I'm sure I could think of more given time but I'm sure this will keep you busy and full!!

A

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  1. Hi..Siam Thai is actually located in Unga House Westlands on the first floor....someone had come to us after reading this blog saying they went to rank xerox and couldnt find us!!!

    1 Reply
    1. re: appleberry001

      lsn't the place that was in the Xerox place gone now? Or is it Siam that has the special spicy prawns? l remember it was there back in the early 90's and that dish wasn't on the menu, but we could request it. lf this is your restaurant, l'm coming back for a visit in September, and you can definitely expect me to stop by!

    2. Hi A -

      Just came back from a trip to Kenya a couple weeks ago. Wanted to say "ditto" on your recommendation for Chinese at Jiang Hsu in Westlands. Had a full Chinese banquet-style dinner there with my dragon boat team (hosted by the Chinese Consulate) and it was as authentic and yummy as any Chinese restaurant I have been to here in the states . . .

      --- M.

      1. Great list.

        Just only have one issue, I've been to Siam Thai a while back. The cuisine was far from Thai. Biggest faux-pax was their Pad Thai, it was made with hokkien noodles and tasted nothing like a Pad Thai. My reference Pad Thai is the one from Thip Samai in Bangkok.

        The Stanley hotel has a Thai restaurant, I have not been there yet. But will post here after I do.

        1 Reply
        1. re: pikapakua

          tai chi its called, thai restaruant at the stanley. while overly formal and over priced, decent thai food---well balanced curries with jasmine rice and good satay a real cut above siam thai in westlands.

        2. Thanks for the exhaustive list Amar; as someone very familiar with Nairobi, I'll add that the name of the Ethiopian restaurant is Habesha. The food is excellent, and my friends from Ehiopia say it's very authentic. It's located in a somewhat rundown compound with other houses with other businesses in it (e.g. travel agent), and it all has a pleasingly non-slick atmosphere. The resto itself looks a little dusty and not fancy but the food is excellent and very reasonable.

          The other thing about most Nairobi Chinese eateries is that they're bigger on Indian-Chinese than more authentic Chinese dishes (wonder where all the highway construction staff go and eat). There's a new eatery called Zen Garden out beyond Spring Valley that promises dim sum and sushi, so let's see how that is (how Zen can you feel with a huge wall topped with razor wire; and a corporate logo that looks like a target) :)

          There are also several restos in converted bungalows (e.g. Another Thyme and Le Rustique) in Parklands, which have great brunch dishes, and other meals too, of the soup, salad, pasta, mains type. They double as art galleries so it's fun to visit. Also, River Cafe near Village Market does the same thing, with a river bank location so that's extra fun.

          Haandi is the oldest and quintessential India n resto: very old style classic Mughlai food, heavy on the ghee, butter, cream, nut pastes etc. Have lunch there and you'll sleep for a week (in a good way). I think they've branched into including Udupi, for South Indian food. I LOVE the mall food courts (not joking) because they have a nice variety of African, Asian, and Western (burgers etc.) stuff.

          And the lovely thing about eating all over KE and TZ is that vegetarians are widely catered to just about everywhere, whether it's in nice sit down restaurants, or in the safari parks, or in tiny rural truck stops (ugali, sukuma wiki, and githeri, add some pili pili and you can't beat these simple comfort foods).

          1. Hi all

            An update to the original 2 year old post, more for information’s sake:

            Open House
            Tucked away in a corner of Westlands, the place serves standard north Indian cuisine at half the price of Haandi and with much better quality. Signature dish is the special ginger chilli chicken that has deepfried ginger, garlic and chillis as a garnish
            Habesha
            Ethiopian food at its best and on various days during the week they have everything from spank poetry to open mike nite to entertain. Large fluffy Injera and a really nice and spicy dora wat

            Pango
            The former head chef of the Ibis grill has taken over a fine dining restaurant at the Fairview hotel with a white linen restaurant that has a cave wine cellar underneath, good wines for a change served at the correct temperature and extremely good steaks. Service varies, but the management takes complaints seriously and rectifies them immediately
            Tamambo
            A firm favourite for their delicious fork tender lamb tagine and fish Zanzibari (coconut based sauce), pricey but worth it for the occasional splurge. If you are a fan of good Caesar salads, avoid theirs at all costs, and the fajita wrap is more of a thick chapatti. A place where you can get a good Irish coffee and sinful desserts
            About Thyme
            A restaurant set in a house with the bulk of the tables set outside to make the most of Kenyan weather. One of the owners is a pastry chef who serves up a delicious tatin and the menu changes weekly
            Le Rustique
            A place that’s popular amongst the expat community, with a menu that also changes weekly. Famous for crepes (sweet and savoury) and large desserts. Not a particular favourite of mine, primarily because food quality has gone down while prices keep being hiked up
            Gypsy
            Still a firm favourite with good steaks, fresh fish and well cooked burgers. Stingy on the French fries and heavily overpriced on drinks, but definitely worth a visit
            Soho
            A bar/ restaurant that has a rep for the best fajita’s in town. Their bar bites are perfect when watching a game, and on certain days the owner will arrange for a whole suckling pig or goat. Can get pretty busy after hours tho
            Mercury Lounge
            Has just got a new manager who is keen to revamp the menu to meet consumer tastes. Not quite tapas, but good snacks and a very relaxing place to have an after work martini
            Spurs
            This is part of the South African restaurant chain, it is extremely child friendly and is one of the few places where you can get a decent steak that hasn’t been beaten to death. Large portions and good service.
            Café des arts
            Tucked away in the leafy suburbs of Gigiri, this is an ideal place to while away a Sunday afternoon drinking ice cold prosecco and then indulging in a large plate of linguini pesto. Desserts need improvement but ambience is fabulous
            Art Café
            Popular café/ bakery in Westgate. Burgers, sandwiches, pasta and a couple of hot dishes. Good food and a great place to people watch. Also a great place to pick up fresh bread
            Fogo Gaucho
            Brazilian churascaria that has great service, and enormous salad bar and some of the best meat in Nairobi. Extremely reasonable for all you can eat, and if you enjoy fresh grilled prawns by the platter, this is one place you will get your money’s worth
            Onami
            Newly opened Japanese restaurant at Westgate, standard Japanese menu, a bit pricey but very good ambience. They experiment with ‘fancy’ sushi including a fresh tuna roll covered in wasabi peas
            Moniko’s
            A casual sandwich place in hurlingham that’s extremely basic but serves up huge salads and freshly made sandwiches
            Moonflower
            Still a firm favourite for cozy dining at its best. A daily specials menu that changes to meet seasonal availability, a hot grill that serves fish, steak and lamb cooked to order with accompanying sides and a good vegetarian selection. They also have a fabulous jazz band in the evenings.

            More to come, regarding chowing in Kenya

            3 Replies
            1. re: waytob

              Hi, I have a few recommendations to add:

              Abyssinia - Muguga Gardens, Brookside (behind Safaricom House)
              New Ethiopian which I like more than Habesha, the food tastes fresher and the flavours are brighter. The setting is similar to the Hurlingham Habesha, with a big garden with lots of tables and many different separate seating areas, so good for big groups.

              Tamambo Tapas - Village Market
              Pretty much the same food as Tamambo in the Mall but cheaper. Same reliable quality, with lots of small plates and good Belgian-style frites with spicy mayonnaise.

              Nihonjin Club - Dennis Pritt Road, Hurlingham
              My favorite Japanese, though not for sushi. Good for gyoza, yakitori, ramen, katsudon, teriyaki. Very peaceful with low tables in the outside area.

              Phoenician - Karuna Road, Westlands
              A Lebanese-pizza-sushi restaurant that manages to do at least 2 out of 3 (Lebanese and sushi) quite well. The Lebanese food is a bit overpriced but quite tasty, and most of my friends seem to agree that the sushi is the best in Nairobi.

              Zen Garden - Lower Kabete Road
              A huge place with three separate areas for a cafe, bar and Asian restaurant. The breakfasts are good, and the Asian food, particularly the dim sum, can be patchy but generally not bad (for Nairobi...). The mushroom dumplings and salt-and-pepper prawns are particularly good.

              1. re: duma

                Agree with pretty much all of the above except for Zen, found it overpriced, the char siu was rubbish and all their thai curries taste exactly the same.

                Tamambo tapas is great for peopl watching, and on my recommended list too. There is a new tapas place on riverside drive (can't recall the name at the mo) thats really quaint and perfect for a saturday afternoon of basking in the sun with friends drinking wine

              2. re: waytob

                Great, thanks so much to those hounds posting from Nairobi. I haven't been to Kenya in years but hope (!!) to get back next spring and will likely spend several days in the city and look forward to a variety of restaurants.