There is a #1 in the city as well, down in Harlem on West 116th Street amongst many other West African restaurants. This outpost is special though in the northern reaches of the Bronx in a neighborhood more known for its Caribbean inhabitants, a chance to stand out from the crowd.
Early by more than an hour to meet a friend, I walked in to scope out the place and got weird (but friendly) looks when I asked about specific Senegalese dishes. "How do you know thieboudienne?" asked a patron scarfing down a whole fish with his bare hands. The place seemed to have their game together on first glance, and I walked out excited about my upcoming meal, past a man tearing apart a greasy paper bag full of goat meat known as dibi.
I walked a block away and wandered into a Jamaican bar full of men ready to give me equally strange and friendly looks for showing up. The evening was perfect already and by the time I left I was bought one shot from the man next to me and one from the bar. Along with my two Jamaican beers, I almost stumbled out to dinner. Thankfully this city is full of such opportunities, to really feel like you are traveling and to receive the full hospitality of strangers in another land, even if you are only a couple blocks from a 2 train station.
The aforementioned thieboudienne (above) is Senegal's national dish, a bed of rice topped with fish and cooked vegetables. The rice and fish are the central focus of this dish, which actually translates from Wolof to "rice and fish." Here it is made to perfection, the meat of the fish, the sauce, the soft vegetables. As always, one very spicy pepper is plopped on top which can be minced and mixed or avoided altogether.
Served exactly as if you were in Senegal
After seeing other lone diners chowing on it, and tasting it myself, my biggest recommendation here is the dibi. When you order a portion, it comes inside a greasy paper bag (above) and is served with a side salad.
One thing that disagreed with me a bit while in Senegal was the constant aroma of freshly slaughtered goat, which made experiences in a dibiterie start off slightly uncomfortably for my foreign nose. Most places are takeout, and once that bag of cooked meat was handed over, the meal could be enjoyed back at home. Here in the Bronx, you can avoid the slaughtering bit and go right for the meat.
Mustard is cooked into the meat with onions and once everything is ready, it is chopped up into bite sized pieces (below), but still make sure to bite slowly to avoid the bones. It comes with an extra side of mustard and a small container of delicious hot sauce that especially resonated with my friend, who asked for another to take home.
As the train rumbles by outside, West African men continuously stream in and out to pick up their takeout. A few dine in the restaurant, but that seems to be secondary business here. The ones that do though will be happy to start a chat with you though, making sure you are keen on the food from their home country. A great place to make some new friends.