Immigrating from Kenya, June Owino came to San Diego a hopeful accountant who liked to cook. Happenstance brought Owino in front of the stove then out into the streets of the Farmer’s Market as Flavor’s of East Africa. The city embrace his stewed veggies and wafting spices—his booth remains one of the most popular of the San Diego Farmer’s Market scene—and so in 2011 a permanent store front opened in University Heights.
If you’re making your first visit to Flavor’s of East Africa, a sambusa is a must—these are the staple of Owino’s repertoire. The triangle folded pastries, stuffed lentils, potatoes or spinach, make a great handheld treat at the farmer’s market—but when I hit the restaurant I like to order food I can dig into with a knife and fork.
The thick cut Marsala Fries stand at the top of my appetizer recommendations. Slathered in tangy tomato, the fries arrive to the table still crispy as the robust sauce soaks into the skin.
The Sukuma Wiki is my favorite dish on the entire Flavors of East Africa menu. Lightly sautéed cabbage and collard greens are spiked with fresh herbs and garlic. These crisp greens pair perfectly with the Dengu—lentils stewed garlic, onions, curry and coconut creme. The scoop of carrot flecked wali (a fragrant rice) far exceed the dry flatbread—the only disappointing item I’ve found from this kitchen. Despite the brown pockmarking, these taste like raw tortillas.
The other large vegan offering is the Biringanya. Chopped eggplant stewed in a creamy tomato sauce with “African spices.” It was a touch mild for me on it’s own but makes an excellent counter part to the Sukuma Wiki for those willing to share (me, always).
On my last visit, the waitress had a bit trouble with the concept of vegan (“I couldn’t live without peanut butter” she stated after we said no milk eggs or butter…). But I eventually got assurance that ALL the vegetarian menu items are vegan, so eat away!
Flavors of East Africa
2322 El Cajon Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92104