Welcome to my first restaurant review which is more of a restaurant impression. If you're vegan and want to eat out, finding restaurants may be really hard because not all of them have vegan options. Juice bars and vegan cafés are fun but, if you enjoy savory, ethnic foods, sometimes they just don't cut it. So I am here to help you find hidden vegan options that are filling, flavorful and don't require you to find a speciality restaurant. My restaurant reviews are more of "restaurant impressions" meaning this is my opinion and my personal interaction with the foods, not the final say on any restaurant. I am not a professional reviewer, I'm not sponsored or paid to write about places and I pay for all my meals. Now without further or do here is Safari.
On West 116th street, on the strip known as Petit Sénégal, is the small but mighty Safari. The only Somali restaurant in New York City and the only place (other than someones home) to get authentic Somali food (in NYC). Owner Shakib Farah and his wife, Mona are the heart of Safari and can be seen everyday, smiling and welcoming guest then turning around cheffing it up in the kitchen.
This is a chill restaurant with cool vibes. It is not your trendy café in midtown, it's a low key tiny place that's intimate. You walk in and immdiately hear Somali music thats either folk or more pop. However, it is not distracting, blasting or confusing. It sets the mood, if I should say so myself. There's an entire wall with an ancient Somali alphabet, a poster with a Somali woman on it, it is very authentic to the Somali culture and has not been turned into a "modern" eatery. There is also no plugs or wifi, so don't enter thinking you will be distracted by charging your phone or mindlessly scrolling on Instagram. Bring a friend and have a real conversation with them, eat good food and meet greet people.
African food traditionally has a lot of meat in it and is not vegan friendly but, Safari has found the solution. Changing up the recipe to have vegan friendly and vegetarian options instead of meat. They also denote vegan foods with a (v) on their menu. I was able to have a 3 course meal of authentic Somali foods and all are vegan! Here we go:
Shaaz Tea - $3
This is not your typical tea, it's spicy, flavorful and fulfilling. As a Lipton bag user, I never had high hopes for tea to be so fulilling, but this traditional Somali tea will take your breath away. In Somalia, tea is served with every meal. Tip: Make sure to ask for it without milk.
Sambuza - $8 for 2
This appetizer might just become your meal. It is a deep fried dough filled with spinach, sweet potato, carrots, chickpeas, onions and a special mix of spices topped with fresh parsley. Sambuza's are the perfect starter, they give you the comfort of bread like food but have the added flavor or it's filling and spices. Nothing I have ever eaten taste like this at all, in the best way ever. I originally bought 2, then ended up eat 4, so it's safe to say I like these. The bizbiz sauce on the side however, is made from a yogurt base so avoid it.
Valentine's Special- $13-$15
The main dish. This is bomb. Period. Like in most African/Caribbean meals there is always some sauce based dish that is usually eaten with rice. This is that sauce dish but it's served with Somali crepes that are toasted to perfection! The side salad is spinach leaves, fresh red onion and craisins. However, make sure to ask for no bizbiz (made with a yogurt base) and sans the mozarella on the salad. Other than that this is delicious, the sauce is packed with vegetables that complement the crepes perfectly. Even without putting the sauce on the crepe, I enjoyed eating the crepe alone. It reminds me of sauce sòs (if you're Haitian) or like a really thick vegetable stew but, the flavors are middle eastern esquè. The salad is perfect, with the light vinegrete dressing. It's just amazing.
Malab Iyo Sabaaya - $6
The perfect way to end the meal on a slightly sweet tooth. This was probably my least favorite thing out of this meal. This desert is as basic as they come. I was expecting this to be really sweat and decadent but, it wasn't at all. Which I liked but, I probably wouldn't get it again. It's a traditional Chapatti bread, with honey and a sugar/cinnamon finish. It's not too sweet, so if you have a sweet tooth this probably won't fulfill it. But if you like simple sweets that are filling, then definitely buy this. Nonetheless, it is a dessert like I never tasted before and will surprise anyone who gets it.
Safari is like going home on Sunday evenings and eating a family dinner. From the seating arrangements, to the staff, to the food, it just feels very home-like and very real. All the food is amazing and they also have meat options, so you don't have to force your company to eat vegan (although I enjoy that.) When you enter, everyone is happy to see you, fresh water is being served and replenished constantly and afterwards you can drink the Shaaz tea and just relax without being rushed out. This is definitely a restaurant to go to if you live in NYC!