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. With a melting pot of cultures, Dakar’s restaurant scene is as diverse as the city itself. From seaside shacks to fine dining, Dakar has something for every taste and budget. Here are the best restaurants in Dakar, Senegal.
Restaurant, African, European, $$$
The Lagon 1 is the closest Dakar comes to having a pier. Stretching out into the sea on a stilted boardwalk, waves lapping onto the adjacent beach, it’s hard to imagine a finer setting for a restaurant on the peninsula. Part of the Lagon Hotel (aptly named Lagon 2) on the southern edge of Dakar, the restaurant’s interior is as eye-catching as the exterior, with its futuristic fishing cabin décor. As you might expect, the catch ‘from the fisherman’s net’ is excellent, while Lagon 1 also offers one of the more extensive dessert menus in the city.
‘The best steak in Dakar’ – La Parrilla doesn’t mess about. Importing its meats from South America and cooking on traditional wood fires, la Parrilla does not compromise on quality or authenticity, whipping up succulent cuts of Bife de Lomo (fillet steak), Bife de Chorizo and beef heart. A calm, airy restaurant in downtown Plateau, la Parrilla could have been plucked direct from the streets of Buenos Aires. Paintings of tango dancers jockey with cow hides for space on the walls. Homemade empanadas and grilled provolone dominate the starters, while dulce leche and Malbec own their part of the menu. But, with la Parrilla translating as ‘the Grill’, there’s one menu item that stands above the rest.
Noflaye is the one of the best-value restaurants in the often over-priced Almadies – especially given its location. One of the last spots on the Petite Corniche strip, Noflaye’s double-tiered seating area looks out over the ocean uninterrupted. The sand floor, wooden seats and rustic villa-style tables give Noflaye a relaxed, beachside vibe that is mirrored by the jovial, attentive staff. The menu is also great. From a range of stuffed galettes to freshly-caught fish, Noflaye’s menu is simple, decent and practically all under 10 euros. The stand-out is the brochette de lotte (monkfish skewers), which comes with two sides of your choice for 4,500 CFA (US$8).
Unsurprisingly for one of Dakar’s most luxurious hotels, Terrou-Bi’s La Terrasse bar can boast a menu as extensive as its panoramic views. Situated alongside the hotel’s private beach and swimming pool, the terrace extends out into the Atlantic Ocean offering up views of the endless blue waters, and the kitchen whips up a wide variety of international and local dishes at reasonable prices. With wide sofa seats, attentive service and subtle tropical décor, the Terrasse nails the laid-back lounge vibe. If you like buckets of chilled rosé and white table cloths to accompany your meal, La Terrasse is the place for you.
Conveniently close to Ngor Beach in the north of the city, Bayékou’s roof terrace is the place to be on a Friday night. Blending cosy alcoves and West African décor with well-mixed cocktails, eclectic beats and a relaxed vibe, Bayekou’s draw is also culinary. The Italian chef whips up some exquisite Italian and locally-inspired dishes for both lunch and dinner, with the ceviche – either of sea bream, octopus or crayfish – an absolute dream. On the Italian side, think beef tartare, seafood linguine and homemade ravioli.
Simple, effective, delicious. La Churrascaria roughly translates as Brazilian BBQ and that’s exactly what it delivers. A flat 10,000 CFA (US$17.50) per head, the first course is a ‘salad’ buffet, jam-packed with vegetables, croquettes, meats and cheeses. It’s easy to go overboard, but it’s worth holding out for the swords of barbequed meats. Giant skewers of pork, beef, lamb and chicken are whisked away from the open-clay BBQ and expertly sliced on to your plate. Each skewer cooked from rare to medium, so no matter your preference, they’ll have you covered. Go hungry as they don’t stop coming round until you tell them to.
Even before you walk into La Calebasse in Mamelles, you are confronted by carved bouncers. As you take the stairs to the covered rooftop restaurant, the walls and interim floors are almost a gallery – rich with photography, paintings and carvings from the continent – with two giant peanut sculptures (Senegal’s most famous crop) taking centre stage in the restaurant itself. Live African music and dance often accompany a weekend meal, which as you may have guessed, takes its inspiration from… yes, exactly. Think freshly-caught fish and local Senegalese dishes, such as yassa and mafe.
The Petite Corniche is filled with coastal restaurants, but Estendera stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to serenity. Many of the Corniche restaurants make a big song and dance about their décor and branding and forget to pay attention to the kitchen. Estendera is the opposite. It produces excellent Italian and local dishes – think large plates of Milanese, avocado ceviche and seafood risotto – all delivered on its sandy terrace overlooking Vivier beach. The perfect place for an aperol spritz at sunset or unwinding for a long Sunday lunch in the sun.
OK, so Xorbi is not going to win any Michelin stars, but for atmosphere, value and size of portions, it has to be on this list. A sprawling enclosed courtyard, filled with palm trees and fairy lights in the heart of Fann Hock, Xorbi can easily be missed from its indiscernible exterior, but the inside is anything but. A rowdy bar-restaurant jam-packed with a clientele from across the African continent, Xorbi is one of the best-value places to drink and eat in large quantities. Dibi (Senegalese BBQ) can be ordered by the kilo and beers are served in hefty 660ml bottles. If there is football on, you can rest assured that Xorbi will be playing it on its two large projector screens.
Although only 400 metres from the Dakar mainland, Ngor Island feels a world apart. Narrow cobbled backstreets weave between rustic homes and small inlets. Tiny beaches dotted with parasols. It’s one of the best places to while away a day in Dakar, and Sunu Makane, known as Chez Seck, makes the perfect base camp. This charming little restaurant sits enviously on the corner of the island, with crystal blue waters lapping up on two sides. On the tables, you’ll be served simple local fare done well. Grilled fish and seafood are the order of the day – full plates ranging from 3,000–5,000 CFA (around US$5–9) – with a magnificent panorama of Ngor Bay. It even has its own boat, which goes more frequently than the local pirogues to ferry you to and from the mainland.
A 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. With friendly service, no-frills surroundings and locally-renowned food in generous portions, Chez Loutcha is a must-visit.
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 is sophisticated and European with a twist of Asian fusion and is a nod to Senegal’s colonial past, while the live music and entertainment offer a welcome reminder that you are in the heart of West Africa.
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. Le Patio serves a wide range of sophisticated dishes and the bar offers an extensive 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.
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 promises. The restaurant 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 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.