Like fire and water, yin and yang, or an art girl and her finance boyfriend — every meal at Mama D’s African Cuisine is a master class in the art of balance. Run by the eponymous Mama’s daughter, Claudia Wanki (Mama D operates the original outpost in Washington D.C.), this non-pretentious Boyle Heights restaurant serves excellent Cameroonian dishes like ndole, jollof rice, and a Classic African Lunch. They’re intense, vibrant dishes, packed with salty flavors and lots of oil, that deliver a punch straight to the taste buds.
But unlike the time we got baby bangs, that punch is deliberate. While any one dish might be too rich on its own, when paired with any of the starches, like tuberous gari, a tart and sour yam fufu, or plain white rice, it all comes together to create a perfectly balanced meal— the kind that warrants many return visits, just in order to try everything. It’s an expert design of flavor, deserving of being studied at MIT, or dissected by Roman Mars in an episode of 99% Invisible.
But, of course, you’ll have to start somewhere. Begin with the ndole. A brilliant, dark-green stew, it’s a mix of bitter spinach, stewed nuts, and shrimp, that’s both smooth and creamy, like casserole, or nutritious peanut butter. Served with a side of yam fufu, a soft, neutral-tasting cloud of starch that absorbs the dish’s salty and oily flavors, the two complement each other like Andy Richter and Conan O’Brien, David Letterman and Paul Schaffer, or any other late night host and their little sidekick.
Or perhaps you’ll want the Classic African Lunch, a beautiful, bright-red tomato stew paired with rice. Savory, thick, and filled with your choice of beef, broiled chicken, shrimp, chicken, or fried fish — it’s a quintessential West African Christmas meal that tastes like a present to yourself, minus all of the pesky paper cuts and online gift wrapping tutorials.
But no matter what you order — or how you decide to eat it — a meal here is like getting hit with an extra-big dose of comfort, something we could all use a little more of, these days. Long days at work, (multiple) outstanding parking tickets, or the fact that you had a completely lackluster session with your therapist and still had to pay for it — they’re no match for the kind of world-class, soul-healing meals being made at Mama D’s. You can either eat on the small, limited patio out front, or call (213) 610-5322 to place an order to go. The latter, of course, is perfect for a meal at home, where you’ll inevitably binge the entire first season of Beastars, with not a single break. Hypothetically.
African Meat Pies
Hand-held! Doughy! Slightly sweet! And filled with spiced ground beef — this mega-doughy meat pie is the perfect snack either for an appetizer or the car ride home.
There are a few ways to order this slightly spicy, Cameroonian comfort dish (you have your choice of beef, smoked turkey, fish, or shrimp), but we prefer it with shrimp. The creamy stew is made from spinach and bitter leaves, then flavored with peanuts, garlic and crayfish. It also comes with a large serving of yam fufu, a sticky, doughy brick made of pounded yams that’s the perfect complement to the ndole’s rich flavors. Like we said earlier, master class.
Very similar to Hawaiian laulau, this traditional dish is full of deep, earthy notes. It’s made from wild Eru leaves (which are native to Cameroon) and mixed with spinach, crayfish, and lots of palm oil. On its own, it can be a little overwhelming, so make sure to eat it with an ample bite of the accompanying gari - a tangy West African starch made from cassava roots that tastes a bit like someone ran a sourdough starter through a rice cooker.
Classic African Lunch
A beautiful, bright-red tomato stew paired with white rice. The stew is nice and thick - think like tomato paste, but filled with beef, broiled chicken, shrimp, chicken, or fried fish. The ideal meal for when you’ve been staring at a screen for way too long and need something to nurse your weak, caffeine-addled, Twitter-addicted body back to health.
A.k.a. The Strongest Cup Of Joe in the World. Seriously, this stuff is potent. Warm, buttery, and full-bodied (food talk for ‘delicious’), maybe don’t drink this after 4pm. You’ve been warned.