Once a seriously neglected industrial area of Johannesburg’s downtown, the Maboneng Precinct has been on the up and up for the last five years or so and is now one of the hottest spots in the city for arts, food and nightlife. Locals and tourists alike flock to the artisanal markets and restaurants, which range from Greek bistros to frozen yogurt shops. But it’s the African-inspired restaurants in particular that stand out. Outrageously delicious and authentic, they melt your tastebuds with everything from mouth-watering Ethiopian cuisine to African-inspired sushi. Here is a selection of places that the editors of AFKTravel think you should try in Maboneng.
This charming little restaurant tucked between hip stores and restaurants is easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention due to its small size. And the world on the street is that it’s authentic as it gets outside of Ethiopia. From my experience, they certainly aren’t toning down the spices to suit a particular palette – it’s easily better than what I’ve sampled in the United States. While there are no more than 10 dishes to choose from, they are all excellent. The vegetarian platter, Yebore beef stew and beef tibs are all worth ordering and lean towards the spicy side. The injera is also yummy, with just the right amount of texture and flavor — it won’t fill you up like some you might have at other restaurants. Decor is somewhat minimal, with pinkish-red clay walls, and large black and white paintings of famous Ethiopians around the room. There are only about 6-7 tables inside, so it’s best to call in advance to make a reservation. Little Addis also only takes cash, but there is a convenient ATM just around the corner.
While Johannesburg is hundreds of kilometers from the ocean, Blackanese still manages to serve up some mean sushi with an African twist. The decor inside is adorned with red brick, comes off rather dark and moody, with rustic wood tables and chairs throughout. There’s also several signs throughout the restaurant that incorporate the Africa-meets-Japan vibe. One of the most interesting fusion items on the menu is the biltong roll, which comes with a hefty portion of the dried meat mixed with cream cheese — think of it as a Philly roll with beef jerky. Blackanese also serves up a fish and prawn braai on weekends, which are definitely are loaded with more traditional African spices than the sushi itself. The best time of the week to go is on Tuesdays, when the restaurant offers all you can eat sushi for just R120.
This boisterous restaurant comes alive at night and is one of the largest restaurants in Maboneng. Besides having delicious South African cuisine and a large wine selection, it’s also the perfect place to dance your butt off for a bit. Pata Pata feels like a traditional pub, but with a lively African flavor throughout. If you come on a Friday or Saturday night, it’s usually slam-packed with a crowd on the dance floor and dizzying beats of African music playing. The food here is also somewhat pub style, and features items like the Pata Pata burger with chakalaka, and juicy prego rolls. You can also order other traditional South African fare like boerewors, mielie pap, samp and beans, morogo and more. The desserts like the red velvet cake and lemon cheesecake are divine as well. And if African food isn’t your thing, there are several burgers, steaks and salad on the menu, too.
Market On Main
The Market on Main is by far the most popular attraction in Maboneng, and the Sunday food market serves up a smorgasbord of delicious treats. If you’re short for time in the area, this is where you need to go. You can usually find fantastic Ethiopian nibbles and coffee, locally brewed craft beer, spicy bunny chow, and more. The area gets rather packed, and you’ll often see people in the courtyard with their hands full, gobbling down delicious eats. If you aren’t up for African-inspired treats here, there’s plenty more to choose from including Thai, cupcakes and an endless amount of gourmet sandwiches. The market is certainly not just about food — the galleries here showcase some of the best art worth seeing in Joburg. There’s also a trendy bookstore inside, along with multiple antique and gift shops worth browsing.
A few other spots…
Other fantastic locales serving up African dishes in Maboneng to delight your taste buds include Sha’p Braai, which serves deliciously spiced grilled meats — there are now two locations. If you’re looking for a taste of the entire continent, be sure to check out the House of Baobab, which offers everything from Senagalese yasas, to Ugandan chapati, to Moroccan curries. And if you didn’t get your fill of Ethiopian cuisine at Little Addis, you can try out Mr. James’ place on the corner of Maritzburg and Commissioner.