DCReview

photo credit: Nina Palazzolo

Spicy Water African Grill image
8.7

Best New Restaurants

2023

Spicy Water African Grill

PhoneDirections

Ivorian

U Street

$$$$Perfect For:Serious Take-Out OperationLunchLate Night Eats
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You'll hear the fish being fried before you see it at Spicy Water African Grill. The U Street restaurant brings Ivorian cuisine to life, in all its glory. 

Spicy Water African Grill image

photo credit: Nina Palazzolo

When you walk up the front steps of the mint-green row house, you’re greeted by the smell of cayenne pepper, garlic, and onion wafting from the open kitchen. You’ll feel like a kid again, reminded of the days when the sounds and smell of dinner being whipped up in the kitchen meant that something amazing was coming.

At Spicy Water, that amazing something takes the form of peppery kebab sandwiches with your choice of chicken or beef, smoky charcoal-grilled chicken platters, and crispy fried red snapper tossed with fresh onions and peppers. Popular sides include attiéké, an Ivorian classic made with ground cassava, and sweet plantains that go with just about everything. 

Inside, you'll spot dedicated fans who've been with the restaurant since its pop-up days at Eastern Market. Neighbors and workers pop in for a quick lunch, sneaking out the door without much chat. The unspoken rule here is good food speaks for itself. In other words, save the small talk for another day.

If you’re not in a rush, head to the upstairs dining room where a hodgepodge of wooden tables and chairs are occupied by mild-mannered uncles watching a 2022 Olympic basketball match between the USA and France on loop (same game every single time we've visited).

It’s here, while cracking into sharply spiced crispy snapper tails and tearing into flaky pieces of chicken, that you’ll finally understand why your mama used to scold you for making it look like you weren’t being fed at home. Shoveling generous handfuls of fries drizzled with peppery tomato stew is worth every disapproving look. 

Whether you’re eating solo, hunched over a plate of cassava leaf stew, or coming in after a mildly disappointing night out on U Street with your “we’re outside” friends, Spicy Water African Grill is here to remind you that good food has that magical way of making just about everything better.

Food Rundown

Spicy Water African Grill image

photo credit: Nina Palazzolo

Grilled Chicken with Fries

The real magic of this dish happens with the grilled chicken's skin, it’s where all the incredible flavor (pepper, garlic, onion) sit and when paired with thick steak-cut fries, sweet plantains, and Ivorian ketchup you might find yourself getting emotional with every bite.

Spicy Water African Grill image

photo credit: Nina Palazzolo

Beef Kebab Sandwich

Thick and toasted slices of French-style baguettes are generously filled with peppered beef, off the grill, and freshly tossed onions, tomatoes, and cucumbers. It’s a filling on-the-go sandwich, perfect for lunch—or 2am snack if you find yourself drifting in at closing on the weekends.

Spicy Water African Grill image

photo credit: Nina Palazzolo

Fried Snapper

Make sure you have a good 30-45 minutes when you order this because each one is cooked to order. But as soon as you see that crispy, golden outer layer, you’ll regret nothing. Served on a bed of pickled onions and a peppery tomato stew, the trio of flavors are nothing short of glorious.

Spicy Water African Grill image

photo credit: Nina Palazzolo

Ginger Juice

For a palate cleanser and a refreshing break from all the meat and fish, try the restaurant’s housemade ginger juice. It’s sweet and savory, with a peppery kick from all that ginger.

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FOOD RUNDOWN