Welcome to Dining On A Dime, a feature in which Lucas Kwan Peterson surveys LA's cheap eats—often obscure, ethnic, unsung restaurants—proving that dining on a dime is alive and, well, quite tasty in this here city. Where do you want us to go next? Do share.
As I was driving through the Manchester Square neighborhood in South Los Angeles, on my way to have Nigerian cuisine at Nkechi African Cafe in Inglewood, I wondered: why are LA's African eateries so disproportionately Ethiopian? We're drowning in injera and wat, but you'd be hard pressed to find a Congolese place to grab lunch, or Botswanan joint to grab a cup of coffee. As it is, Nigeria, despite being the most populous country in Africa and seventh most populous country in the world, is represented only by a few out-of-the-way restaurants in here in LA. Nkechi is one that's worth the trip.
The restaurant's non-descript, sun-bleached exterior blends in with many of the other unassuming businesses along that stretch of Manchester, which seems to be dominated by places that sell human hair for weaves and wigs (Indian hair seems to be the most highly coveted, btw). Upon entering Nkechi, however, a roomy and welcoming interior awaits along with a helpful hostess who was able to answer my many questions.
A few questions will prove necessary, as a trip to Nkechi (Nkechi, short for Nkechinyere, is the name of the woman who owns the restaurant) requires learning a bit of terminology. Fufu essentially serves the purpose of wat in Ethiopian cuisine -- it provides a base on which to enjoy many of the soups and stews. It is no mass of spongy, sour bread, however. Fufu is yam, pounded until barely recognizable and then shaped into a smooth ball, about the size of a cat's head. The texture falls somewhere between mochi and the outside of a Chinese char siu bao, and the taste is pleasantly bland, resembling mashed potatoes.
The fufu accompanied the egusi soup -- a rich, yellow soup flavored by melon seeds. The ground seeds add color as well as a slightly grainy texture. Mixed with bitterleaf and a seafood stock, the resulting egusi has an intense and smoky, almost dank flavor. The soup itself would be almost overwhelming were it not for the neutral fufu accompanying it. Together, however, the balance is nearly perfect, like listening to a Mozart sonata in an obscene muscle car. At $14.00, egusi soup is enough for two people and comes with two balls of fufu, as well as choice of meat -- I recommend the goat or chicken; the beef was slightly overdone.
Jollof rice is an enormous plate of fluffy rice that tastes of tomatoes, onions, and thyme, and comes with choice of meat. It's filling, mildly spiced, deeply satisfying and sure to placate those who were not won over by the unique flavor of the egusi (there was one such person in my party). Jollof rice is $14 and is, like the soup, a very large portion enough for two people. It comes with dodo, hot and salty fried plantain. On Fridays, the truly adventurous can order isi-ewu, spiced goat's head stew.
— Lucas Kwan Peterson
Nkechi African Cafe is located at 2717 W Manchester Blvd in Inglewood. The restaurant is open Monday - Saturday, 12:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
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