[Hole In the Wall] Savannah Smiles at Kenyan Cuisine

Savannah Smiles

More proof Anaheim is the county’s best city for foreign food: OC’s first Kenyan restaurant. It’s in a strip mall that’s turning into a Little East Africa (with an Ethiopian joint and African clothing store among its neighbors) and operates like a good, new ethnic dive should: Busy older men chat in Swahili while young couples flirt in English with nary an accent, attracting the expatriate community from as far away as Corona. It’s owned by kind men who provide crayons to children who watch Dora the Explorer, but the men will switch the TV to the Lakers game the moment they can. The décor is predictable but beautiful, with colorful animal tapestries as table coverings, plus a massive, magnificent tapestry of savannah animals drinking in the shadow of a cloud-topped Mount Kenya.

Kenyan Cuisine’s owners know their culinary heritage is downright extraterrestrial in Orange County, a place that has a minuscule African-American population, let alone an African one; to help, they’ve taken the extraordinary step of providing a glossary to explain every item on the menu. So don’t be intimidated when the accompanying sides for the delicately sautéed chicken are your choice of chapati, ugali or wali and sukumi wiki or mboga; they’re just flat bread, cornmeal mush, white rice, collard greens and pickled cabbage, respectively. It’s a limited menu—12 main dishes and three appetizers—but here be hearty meals that taste primordially familiar, a back-and-forth between meats and veggies. The irio na karanga is just a simple mash of corn, potatoes and peas served alongside your choice of meat, but the large servings and gentle flavors will remind you of a picnic. The mandazi fried bread is perfect for creating impromptu paninis. Happiness truly is eating a plate of fried goat chunks—crunchy yet soft like the best carnitas—while Kobe shows Carmelo who’s boss.

Perhaps the most complex meal is the samosas, some of the best in Orange County. A legacy of Indian migration to Kenya, these aren’t fried nightmares, but instead contain ground beef spiced with cinnamon and chile powder to create something so delicious my friend called them Kenyan tacos—and if you think this uncouth, then explain why every table seems to feature a bottle of orange Jarritos and why the kachumbari is described on the menu as “East African salsa” and is really nothing more than extra-yummy pico de gallo?

And, yes, an Obama-themed dish is available. Fried tilapia. Like the president’s November victory, it’s delicious.

Kenyan Cuisine, 2626 W. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 229-0409.

garellano@ocweekly.com

 
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