A West African restaurant will open on Melrose between Gardner and Vista Streets starting August 1. Ubuntu serves plant-based fare and is the second restaurant from the James Beard Award semifinalist chef Shenarri “Greens” Freeman — her first in Los Angeles — in the short-lived Avant Garden Bistro space.
At Ubuntu, Freeman will partially pull from her roots and experience from the New York restaurant Cadence. While Cadence’s menu is fully soul food, Ubuntu’s menu is Freeman’s exploration of West African cuisine, which she says is less celebrated and acknowledged.
“Ubuntu’s been something that’s been sitting with me for a long time,” says Freeman. “It goes back to culinary school when we were learning about French, Italian, and some Asian techniques. But we skipped over the entire continent of Africa. A lightbulb went off in my head that said ‘Why aren’t we learning about this?’ Why is my culture not being celebrated, studied, and highlighted in these courses?”
From there, Freeman graduated, worked in various kitchens, and ultimately caught the attention of Ravi DeRossi, founder of Overthrow Hospitality (of New York’s spot Soda Club) and co-founder of Death & Co. New York Times’s reviewer Pete Wells gushed over Cadence’s menu in 2021. Tack on a 2022 James Beard semi-finalist nomination, a Forbes 30 under 30 nod, and Freeman’s profile quickly rose. And though she’s no longer vegan, she still respects the practice while exploring the origins of food.
“Throughout this project, I found so many similarities between different foodways,” says Freeman. “For instance, we have a dish called puff puff, which is a Nigerian fried bread. But where I grew up in Virginia, [puff puff] tastes just like funnel cake. When you go to New Orleans, it’s just like a beignet with a different shape and a few different ingredients.”
The opening menu includes small plates with a Nigerian-esque curried jollof arancini, charred okra salad, and hearts of palm bisque. For large plates, opt for the Senegalese-inspired jackfruit yassa, or the seitan suya, a Northern Nigerian dish that originates in the Hausa region that is traditionally smoky spiced meats on a skewer.
Freeman and DeRossi designed the bright space together. The full patio will not be in use until Freeman settles in. The two brought on Black Mixcellence: A Comprehensive Guide To Black Mixology author Colin Asare-Appiah to shape the cocktail menu. Asare-Appiah’s drinks are bright with big flavors and include the alewa with tequila, orange liqueur, Malibu Rum, fresh lime, and beetroot juice. There’s also the chi chi passion fizz with vodka, passion fruit, pineapple, lime, and a splash of sparkling wine.
Diners will have to wait a little under one week for the latest addition to LA’s vegan African restaurant community, which joins operators like Aduke Cuisine & Lounge, the rotating menu at Nkwagala Concept, and plenty of LA’s vegan or vegan-friendly Ethiopian options like Rahel Vegan.
Freeman eventually hopes to explore the African continent more and introduce more dishes from other regions. “I’m excited to take a traditional African dish across different cultures, add my own spin on it, and see everyone’s response,” says Freeman. “I have a really great team that I’m excited to rock and roll with.”
Ubuntu is open Tuesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. at 7469 Melrose Avenue. For reservations visit www.ubuntula.com or call (323) 433-4141.