Dining Picks

Portland’s Essential Pan-African Restaurants

From Ethiopian and Somali food to West African cuisine, all the way to the diaspora communities of Belize, Jamaica, and the United States, here are some jumping off points for experiencing Africa’s widespread culinary influence. 

By Katherine Chew Hamilton and Dalila Brent

Erica Montgomery of Erica's Soul Food serves a customer at her cart.

Though the influence of African food has been making waves around the world for centuries, Black chefs often don’t get the credit, or the profit, that they deserve. Now, though, food media including Stephen Satterfield’s Netflix show High on the Hog and the book of the same name by Jessica B. Harris that inspired it, chef Bryant Terry’s cookbook-meets-stories-and-art-book Black Food, and Michael Twitty’s The Cooking Gene, as well as the Portland-filmed season of Top Chef, all highlight the way the African diaspora—from West Africa, in particular—has influenced everything from Jamaica’s oxtails and goat stew to the South’s fish, greens, and red beans and rice. While you read up and watch shows about Black food, take the opportunity to support these pan-African restaurants—just a handful of many in Portland. 

East African 

Bete-Lukas 

Hidden just off Division is this second-floor space with tablecloths, silky cloth napkins, and wines, Oregonian or European, by the glass. But it’s not just about looks; the food delivers, too, especially weekend specials including chicken and spinach stewed with garlic and copious amounts of fresh ginger. Lamb dishes and veggie dishes deliver, too, and pescatarians can indulge in berbere-tinged fish goulash. 2504 SE 50th Ave #D —Katherine Chew Hamilton

Mira’s East African & Mediterranean Cuisine 

A spread of dishes from Mira’s East African & Mediterranean Cuisine, clockwise from left: sambosas, beef suqer, subayaad, and lamb curry

If you’re looking for a new cuisine to add to your weekly takeout rotation, look no further than this new Montavilla cart specializing in Somali food. Samira Mohamed makes lamb curry loaded with cauliflower, yellow and green beans, potatoes, and carrots; a flaky, buttery flatbread called subaayad for soaking up all that curry; a turmeric-loaded rice and meat dish called suqar; and crisp ground beef and potato sambosas from scratch. And it all has the portion size and fun-loving spirit of a backyard dinner party. 8220 NE Davis St —KCH

Queen of Sheba 

This Ethiopian restaurant is one of Portland’s oldest, and it’s particularly known for its chickpea cracker stew, a dish rarely seen anywhere else that’s sauce-soaked with a hint of crisp. It comes by default on the veggie combo for two, a $26 feast that fills up two entire takeout containers. Don’t skip the restaurant’s spiced tea, which combines usual suspects cinnamon and cardamom with a punch of refreshing hibiscus. 2413 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd —KCH

Sengatera Ethiopian Restaurant 

What makes this cheerful, no-frills spot’s veggie combo stand out from the crowd: big chunks of boiled beets, which add color and sweetness that provide a pleasant contrast from the rest of the vegetable dishes. The injera here is extra tangy and sour, but it balances well with the seasoning of the stews. 3833 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd —KCH 

Sisters Ethiopian Restaurant

When you walk into Sisters to pick up a takeout order, you’re immediately hit by the fragrance of herbs, spices, and aromatics, and greeted with a friendly welcome. The menu is short and to the point, and it’s a haul from downtown Portland, but absolutely worth a stop. These dishes pack a serious flavor punch, from the chunks of juicy beef and bitter, al dente collard greens topped with cheeky slices of fresh, fiery green pepper in the gomen besiga to the butter-drenched shiro (chickpea powder) to the veggie combo platter. 1720 SE 122nd Ave —KCH 

West African 

Black Star Grill 

A beef bowl and a vegetarian bowl from Black Star Grill

Ghanian food on the go is the name of the game here, where smokey, tomatoey jollof rice makes a base for some of the west side’s tastiest lunch bowls. Top it with grilled beef, fried shrimp, steamed vegetables, hard-boiled egg, and the must-order black-eyed pea stew and plantains. 1902 NW 24th Ave —KCH 

Kabba’s Kitchen 

Niambi ak ndiebe with fried whole fish, top, and lamb dibi, bottom, from Kabba’s Kitchen

We’re declaring Kabba’s Kitchen, on a quiet stretch just off Williams, one of the best carts in the city. Come for a mélange of Senegalese and Gambian dishes, including fried cassava, black-eyed peas, whole fried tilapia, and dibi, a grilled lamb dish with tangy mustard and sweet caramelized onions. (Oh yeah, and the included French fries are surprisingly good.) 4631 N Albina Ave —KCH 

Cuisines of the Diaspora 

Erica’s Soul Food 

Atlanta-born Erica Montgomery proudly reps the South at her cart, from the rarely seen (in Portland), wonderfully seasoned and tender boiled peanuts (the “caviar of the South,” as she calls it) to her shrimp and grits to her family’s recipes for salmon croquettes and meat loaf, accompanied by sweet corn bread muffins and sides including greens, squash, and black-eyed peas. Plus, her ATL-style wings blending buffalo sauce and lemon pepper are some of the best in the city. Don’t miss her family-recipe desserts, from pound cake to generously iced red velvet. 120 NE Russell St —KCH   

Jamaica House 

It’s a feat of strength to walk past this house-turned-restaurant in St. Johns without being lured in by the fragrance of jerk chicken and fish being grilled on the barbecue in the front yard. Adding to the extravagance: buttery, fall-off-the-bone oxtail stew, sweet and crisp fried plantains, and coconutty beans and rice. 8307 N Ivanhoe St —KCH 

Kee’s #Loaded Kitchen 

A Loaded Everything plate from Kee's

Cart owner Kiauna Nelson isn’t messing around when she says her plates are #loaded: every order of crackfish (fried catfish dusted with a mysteriously delicious seasoning), ribs, wings, brisket, or whatever main dish she happens to make that day comes in massive portions, and if you order the “everything” plate, you get some of each. Meals come by default with sides including her famous Mac ‘n’ Kees (made with Tillamook cheddar), greens, and cornbread. They’re topped off with a drink—often a massive lemonade amped up with passionfruit or strawberry—and homemade cake or banana pudding. 5020 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd —KCH

Love Belizean

Grilled chicken, rice, and salad from Love Belizean

Image: Dalila Brent

If a restaurant has a very small number of items on its menu, it’s probably safe to say they’re doing those items really, really well. And that’s exactly the case for Love Belizean, in downtown Portland within walking distance from PSU. The Belizean chicken, a tender, perfectly seasoned thigh with just the right amount of char and spice, is the star of the show. Get it à la carte or as an entrée served with coconut rice, beans, and salad. If you’re looking to take your heat level up a notch, choose from the one of 11 hot sauces. Play it safe with milder options like prickly pear, or go full throttle with choices like "no wimps allowed" or the ominously named "beware." The velvety-smooth yellow coconut curry soup is a must-try, whether you eat it with your meal or save it for later. 1503 SW Broadway Dalila Brent 

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