The restaurant’s name – which comes from Bukom Square, the lively and vibrant city center of Accra, Ghana – is an apt one given its location on bustling 18th Street in Adams Morgan. While the restaurant industry is known for its low survival rates, Bukom Cafe is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, heading into a new decade as a staple in Adams Morgan’s bustling neighborhood.
Bukom Cafe’s storefront is simple but colorful with bright yellow signage hanging over the building and printed decals of the Ghanaian flag stuck to the windows. Its interior consists of two floors with plenty of seating at tables and a bar. The decorations vary from lovely patterned baskets hanging on the wall to a painting of a man soulfully playing the trumpet against the background of the cosmos.
Walking inside, you’ll be greeted with a variety of background tunes including Afrobeats, Spanish music and reggae. Unfortunately, I was not able to visit during one of the restaurant’s regular live performances that feature reggae, funk and soca – a music genre from Trinidad, highly influenced by African and east Asian rhythms – but artists are known to elicit dancing from the patrons after 10 p.m.
With a full bar, Bukom Cafe’s cocktail menu boasts an array of intriguing options, a star of which is the mango lane ($8.18) which incorporates mango juice, rum, tequila, triple sec and grenadine. Guests can also choose from a selection of red and white wine and several African beers.
The drinks menu also includes Malta, a nonalcoholic, carbonated malt drink from the Caribbean that tastes similar to beer and is made from barley and hops. You can additionally opt for one of the specialty drinks like the Africa connection ($10) – a mix of Hennessy, Grand Marnier and fresh mango juice.
Looking for a comfort food, I knew I wanted to try one of the stews despite being tempted by the wings and rice option ($11.82). I decided to sample the nkatenkwan ($17), a West African stew made with ground peanuts as a base of tender chicken.
The dish comes with your choice of fufu, pounded yam or white rice. I opted for the fufu, a starchy, dough-like food staple of West African cooking that is typically made from mashed cassava, green plantains or yams. With a soft texture and not much flavor, fufu is traditionally swallowed without chewing and pairs well with bold stews like my own.
The dish came in a large bowl with a generous piece of fufu surrounded by the stew with substantially sized pieces of chicken still on the bone throughout the dish. As soon as the server brought the food, I was struck with the pleasant smell of peanuts emanating from the slightly reddish, tomato-based stew.
I pinched off a piece of fufu and dipped it into the warm, comforting fusion of ingredients and aromatics that created a bold and well-rounded flavor. The ground peanuts made the broth deliciously creamy, quite similar to the texture of a coconut milk-based curry. The spice of the dish was delayed and developed in the back of my mouth – making me think that either habaneros or Scotch bonnet peppers, which are regularly used in Caribbean cuisines – were mixed into the dish.
Be sure to come with an appetite – the portion of chicken was considerable, and fufu is known to be very filling. I left not only content but with leftovers for later.
The stew was a tasty and cozy meal that left me feeling satisfied and excited to return with friends. Head to Bukom Cafe to savor one of the District’s most well-known West African restaurants and de-stress from the fear of finals with some relaxing reggae music while you’re at it.