Spicy, meaty, good

Ecowas International Restaurant

Good for: introducing or homecoming to West African food
Notable dishes: jollof rice, kebabs, goat meat

Ecowas International Restaurant

610 W El Camino Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95833

(916) 550-2066

Many people think of Africa as a country rather than the 54 nationalities that it encompasses. We talk of “African food” or “African people,” when they’re as disparate as India is from Indiana.

So it’s understandable that Ecowas International would bill itself after a trade union rather than a single country. ECOWAS stands for Economic Community of West African States, and includes 15 states promoting economic integration (sort of like the European Union).

Really, though, Ecowas the restaurant serves the spicy, saucy food of Nigeria. As the only place of its kind here, they’ve had a slow start.

Beginning in May, Adeola Adedayo opened her first restaurant stateside after a career outside of food service. Her mother ran an eatery in Nigeria, though, and Adedayo learned the trade there.

Even narrowing things down to one country is difficult. As the most populous African country, and the one with the highest GDP on the continent, Nigeria encompasses more than 500 ethnic groups. It’s hard to imagine any cuisine representing the whole.

Luckily, Adeola’s nephew answers questions patiently, describing dishes for clueless patrons. He surely doesn’t see a lot of customers familiar with his aunt’s cooking. Only 20,000 Nigerians lived in the entire state, according to the 2013 U.S. Census.

So here’s what you should know: The food at Ecowas packs some heat, with a generous usage of chili peppers in the sauces and soups. It also tends to be quite meaty—including goat as one of the usual offerings.

The two appetizers make a good start. Meat pies ($3.99) look like extra-large empanadas. Soft, rather than flaky, crust encloses a fairly bland filling of ground beef, giving your taste buds an easy intro.

The second is suya ($6.99)—chicken or beef kebabs rolled in chili powder and ground peanuts, then grilled. Originally from northern Nigeria, they are a typical street food. The beef version has an interesting nuttiness without an overpowering spice.

Next, you choose entrees based on their starch: beans, yams, rice or plantains. All contain meat and/or fish, in varying proportions.

We tried jollof rice ($12.99), cooked with tomatoes, onions and quite a bit of chili. The menu lists the spice level as 2/5, which seems similar to canned chipotles. The generous portion comes crowned with slices of crisp-fried plantain to temper the heat and your choice of meat: beef, chicken, goat or fish.

Another option is the beans and casserole ($11.99), made with black-eyed peas and meat stewed in a tomato-based sauce. We chose goat and got some tender ribs and larger bony pieces with plenty of meat. Despite the listing of crayfish in the beans, they tasted little of seafood.

A stronger fish flavor came through in the yam porridge ($14.99), a stew of boiled yams with crayfish, tomatoes, onions and chilis. The ubiquitous tomato-sauced meat comes on the side, this time very tender goat riblets.

Similarly, a plantain meal ($11.99) pairs boiled or fried plantains with tomato-sauced meat. It’s all quite flavorful—just a bit repetitive.

Ecowas feels like a family restaurant. It’s hearty and warm, but not especially diverse in its offerings. That’s not to say it isn’t worth exploring. If you’ve never tried West African food—and particularly if you have—Ecowas is as welcoming as a long-lost relative.