At Akadi 2.0, Fatou Ouattara Is Cooking Her Way
f you ever want to blow a restaurant hound’s mind, take them to Akadi—Akadi 2.0, that is. The restaurant reopened in May in a sleek, industrial-chic spot near Ladd’s Addition complete with airy high ceilings and hanging plants. There’s a newly built bar stocked with an impressive list of South African wines, like the Braai cabernet sauvignon designed to go with grilled meat, or the aptly named peachy sweet white from Jam Jar. Sit at charming dimly lit two-person booths while music from Malian singer-songwriter Salif Keita pumps over the speakers. Already, Akadi is poised to make plenty of the city’s “best of” restaurant lists: best wings, best stews, best jollof rice, best vibes.
The restaurant was already beloved at its old location that opened in 2017 on NE Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Featured in the Pan-African episode of the Portland season of Top Chef, it drew loyal crowds for pandemic takeout. At the end of 2020, chef Fatou Ouattara and husband George Faux closed Akadi, promising to bring it back better than ever, with a bigger kitchen where they could prepare dishes from all over West Africa.
Ouattara spent about a year traveling and learning more than 50 recipes from their sources, not just in cities but in small villages. She learned from her grandmother in Burkina Faso, from neighbors in the village where she grew up in Ivory Coast, and from friends in Ghana. Now, at Akadi 2.0, the flavors are even bolder, with a new mindset to match.
“At the old Akadi, I was still trying to adjust to what people in Oregon will accept,” Ouattara says. “And I started losing myself.” As the owner of Portland’s premier West African sit-down restaurant, Ouattara was initially worried that local palates wouldn’t appreciate the flavors she grew up with. In Akadi’s past iteration, she took the salty, pungent smoked fish out of the okra and spinach stews, decided not to serve her bitter African eggplant stew, and avoided using peanuts in several dishes—except her fan-favorite peanut stew, of course—to accommodate allergies.
Now, Ouattara says, she’s serving things the way she likes to eat them, including one of her favorites: spinach stew.
“I understand a lot of people don’t like fish.... Then this dish ain’t for you,” Ouattara wrote in an Instagram post. “It is no longer authentic when y’all keep changing things so this meal will be cooked with fish as it was originally.”
Though you can choose your protein, the bitterness of the spinach and the salty, smoky fish pairs well with the natural sweetness of the fresh seafood—particularly the hard-to-find blue crabs, which Ouattara sources live from Portland’s Asian seafood markets. Streaks of fiery-orange-red palm oil float on top, adding buttery, nutty flavor and silkiness. You can order it with white rice, but why bother when you could use your fingers to scoop up Ouattara’s fufu, made from real cassava—she wouldn’t dare use a dried mix—with a delightful, marshmallowy tackiness, fluff, and chew?
Another newcomer to the menu: suya wings, which already rocket toward the top of the list of unmissable wings in town. Though suya, a Nigerian spice blend with crushed peanuts and toasty ginger, cayenne, and paprika, is often used by street vendors on grilled beef, Ouattara uses it as both a wet rub and garnish on crackly, juice-dribbling fried whole chicken wings. Slather them liberally with the accompanying Dijon mustard sauce, with whispers of curry, and Akadi’s signature sweet-smoky tomato-garlic-ginger sauce. Pair with Star Beer, a Nigerian light, malty classic newly available in the States, for an endlessly quaffable, lip-smacking combo.
Several mainstays of Akadi’s old menu are back, just as memorable and craveable as ever. My go-to since the old Akadi days has always been the attieke, an Ivorian dish of grated fermented couscous that has the tangy, yeasty qualities of a bold sourdough and the fluffiness of good rice. Try it with a whole yellow croaker—the grilled version is a bit more moist than the fried one—topped with a jammy, vinegary tomato-onion relish. The jollof rice meal, paired with caramelized, crisp-edged sweet plantains and your choice of protein, packs tons of smoky-sweet tomato flavor, with each al dente grain distinct from the next. The goat pepper soup (ask for it spicy) is an instant cold-weather classic with bone-in meaty morsels, and the vegan peanut stew, my favorite from the extensive menu of vegan options, is velvety, rich, and warmly spiced.
There are a few stumbles. Both the eggplant and the cassava leaf stews leaned salty on one visit. On a couple of occasions, several menu items were unavailable or sold out, including tofu for our vegan companion, which we didn’t realize until it was time to order. Get there early for the best chances at snagging your favorite dish, though many imported ingredients, including cassava leaves and attieke, are subject to supply chain issues. Several wines were out of stock, but the bartender more than made up for the inconvenience by providing everyone at the table with samples of alternates. Even when we ended up with our second- or third-choice dishes, we were happy with what came to the table, finding new favorites and ready to come back for more.
Warning: do not leave without the puff puff (Portland’s next great doughnut) that keeps things straightforward with powdered sugar–topped fried balls of dough. The tropical, lightly tangy soursop cheesecake made in collaboration with Muse Cheesecakes is also worth saving room for. After dinner, live jazz, kizomba dancing, or Afrobeats bands keep diners entertained. Order from the cocktail menu, which showcases fruits beloved in West Africa, including soursop and guava, and a menu of late-night bites. It all makes Akadi not only a bar and dance club, but also a monument to West African pride. It’s much more than a restaurant, though it doesn’t need to be. Even on its own, Akadi is one of Portland’s best.