Newark’s Newest African Americans

By Justin Williams

When recent immigration to Newark is discussed, it’s usually centered on the Portuguese and Brazilians in the Ironbound and to a lesser extent, the North Ward’s Puerto Rican and Dominican communities. Flying under the radar has been the growth of Newark’s African born population, which has increased by over 75% since 2000, especially in the Central (Springfield/Belmont), South (Lower Clinton Hill) and West Wards (Westside). Like any other migration, the city’s most recent arrivals have brought new businesses that create spaces for us to engage with the world without leaving home. Here are some of my favorite places in Newark for a taste of Africa:

Swahili Village (Kenyan)
2 Center St, Newark, NJ 07102

The vast majority of Newark’s African population hails from the Western regions of the continent, but Downtown Newark’s newest sit-down restaurant brings us contemporary takes on East African cuisine. Chef Kevin Onyona chose One Theater Square for the newest location of his Kenyan restaurant, which is a bit more upscale than Newark’s other African restaurants made for working-class immigrants. I tried an array of dishes here, and none missed. I recommend dishes that reflect Kenya’s historical connections to the spice routes of the Indian ocean and an ice cold Tusker, the nation’s go-to lager. Just be prepared to spend a bit more for entrees, so this might be a place best saved for happy hours, date nights or special occasions. Swahili Village is open until 2–3AM nightly, so it’s also a good place to keep in mind if you’re downtown and looking for a late night drink.

Burkindi (Burkina Faso)
492 Clinton Ave, Newark, NJ 07108

Because Burkina Faso is a majority Muslim country, Burkinabe cuisine is a great choice for halal options. I enjoyed the dibi with riz gras, which consists of pieces of spiced lamb with a large side of mild, oily, small grain rice with a hard boiled egg.

Mama Afrika (Nigeria)
232 W S Orange Ave, Newark, NJ 07103

Since it’s open until 10 PM, six days a week, this is my go-to place for delivery for Nigeria’s slightly spicy take on jollof rice with fried fish. The takeout portions for the rice are huge, so you can certainly split it with another person if you add an extra side order of meat.

Ghanaianway Grocery and Restaurant (Ghana)
57 Victoria St, Newark, NJ 07114

If you’re searching for a steady supply of West African staples and imported goods that give recent arrivals a piece of home, check out this grocery store, which isn’t too far from Weequahic Park.

Ancient African Formula (Sierra Leone)
109 Halsey St, Newark, NJ 07102

Looking for authentic handmade West African soaps, shampoos, clothing and woodwork? Halsey Street’s Ancient African Formula is an amazing spot featuring incredibly friendly service from owner Aminata Dukuray. Check out the cocoa and shea butter body wash, your skin will thank me.

Photo via the Profeta Urban Investment Foundation

Bonus: If you want to hear the newest Afrobeats hits and smoke hookah in a BYOB setting, check out Afrobeat Wednesdays at Taylour Peighton.

Justin Williams is a Newark resident, comedian and producer of the Brick City Comedy Revue. He also teaches African history at the City College of New York.