Kigali’s Best Meals


I don’t want to be too hard on my beloved little Kigali but I do have to be honest – good food in this city can be hard to come by. Then when you do finally find a good restaurant and a favourite meal the place closes, changes management or the chef leaves. For the foodies among us, Kigali can be a frustrating place to live but, fear not! For I have a list of meals all around the city that will rarely disappoint.

Bourbon – Hotpot Bourbon Special

Pretty sure this isn’t on their menu anymore.

I feel like Bourbon is on a bit of a comeback of late. I used to really despise this place… but the service (at least at the UTC and MTN branches) has improved a lot and I also recently discovered the wonderfully spicy and creamy and delicious Hotpot Bourbon Special (Rwf 5,400). This surprise of a dish consists of bits of chicken in a spicy sauce which can be served with rice or chips. The dish is pretty huge but I like it so much that I tend to devour the entire thing and feel super gross for the rest of the day. I never seem to learn my lesson but this would make a good choice for something to share for lunch and both people will be pretty full. My only complaint is that the dish is so spicy that it needs a bit of cream or yoghurt to calm it down a bit… which is a good thing! Except that Bourbon doesn’t have any cream or yoghurt. So yes, I’m the dork who pops into Nakumatt to buy creme fraiche or yoghurt to compliment my spicy, delicious, hotpot meal.

Camelia Tea House – Lunch Buffet

There are anywhere from one billion to one zillion lunch buffets to choose from in Kigali so narrowing it down to my favourite might seem like a difficult choice. Well given that 90% of the billion to zillion lunch buffets out there are comprised of starch with a bit of starch on the side, it’s a miraculous and wonderful experience when I stumble onto a place that has a few things that aren’t boiled or fried or beige. My previous favourite, Karibu, offers up a good selection of veggies but the rest of the stuff on offer isn’t so inspiring. Camellia Tea House, for the same price (Rwf 2,500), gives me all of the same vegetable goodness as Karibu but with a lot more choice from the rest of the dishes. Spaghetti bolognaise, a delicious spiced rice, beet salad, a couple different pea dishes, the usual mountains of starch, a choice of chicken, beef or fish and that delicious peanut sauce to smother it all in! Plus their pill pill is the real deal.

Green Corner – Giant Fish

Like brochettes spots, everyone who’s done a bit of adventurous food exploration in Kigali will have found their favourite fish place. For me, choosing my top spot is a toss up between Green Corner and Panorama Ten to Two with the former winning out slightly due to quicker service (around an hour compared to Ten to Two’s eternity) and the fact that they don’t attempt to screw me over on the bill quite as often as Ten to Two does. For around Rwf 10,000 you get a giant tilapia served on a platter to be shared with two or three hungry friends. No utensils, no napkins… just messy, fish-flesh-ripping fun! Wash it all down with a warm beer and you’ve got a great night out.

Lalibela – Meat Platter

One of my favourite moments when I first arrived to Kigali was at dinner at Lalibela with a couple of friends. We shared the meat platter (Rwf 7,000 plus 1,000 more for extra injira) between the three of us and were nicely stuffed after the meal. Over to our right, two girls had ordered one meat platter EACH and were struggling to fit the giant plates onto their table. It was funny because it didn’t happen to me. Usually the staff at Lalibela are good about helping people with their orders… not sure what went wrong. Maybe the girls looked really hungry. Anyway, it brought me great joy to see this, for some reason.

I have no idea what’s actually on the meat platter. It’s a piece of injira served on a giant silver platter with various red-shaded sauces on it with various kinds of meat in them. In the middle lives a boiled egg in a delicious dark red sauce. There’s a chicken blob, a goat rib blob (I think), some green stuff, some white cheese, a cabbage thing, other sauces ranging in colour from beige to red. I like some of the blobs more than others but, overall, the meat platter is delicious and one of the best bargains in the city. That you get to hang out with the nice people at Lalibela makes it even better! Great service and a good atmosphere make this one of Kigali’s rare, stress-free meals out.

L’il Vegas – Burger

Closed. Sadness.

Best burger in Kigali. There, I said it. It’s out there in the open. All you Mr. Chips fans can berate me… go ahead! But I stand by my choice. A single L’il Vegas burger with tomato, onion and lettuce costs Rwf 2,000 and then an additional Rwf 500 per extra. The only extra that matters to me is the pickles. They’re the real deal and a burger without a decent pickle is an insult to burgers everywhere… that’s what I always say. L’il Vegas is sort of a surprise gem. Hidden behind a couple of rows of gambling machines, it’s not a place I’d have expected much from. But the management really do a great job here and the service and consistent quality are evidence of that. If you’re looking for a burger with a bonus, try one of their giant cocktails.

New Cactus – Le Boefe Arlequin

Sorry about that crappy photo… it does not do justice to this wonderful dish. A friend of mine – here for several years, an eater of many a meal in Kigali and a trusted source of all information – claimed this New Cactus offering to be the best meal in the city. So I, being a lover of a fine filet steak, had to try it. I’m going to second him on this bold statement. It’s good. Really good. It’s a big piece of melt-in-your-mouth filet steak with some veggies and potatoes of your choice. I always choose the giant glob of mashed potatoes to suck up the juices oozing out of my medium rare steak. The pepper sauce is delicious… although I have to admit that I have yet to find a pepper sauce I don’t like. At Rwf 6,400 for a huge helping where you could have leftovers, it’s also one of the better (and tasty) deals in Kigali.

Ogopogo – Beef Lasagne

Closed.

I’m a pretty laid back person but Ogopogo turns me into Cranky Pants McGee. Seriously. I always leave that place feeling like a massive asshole just for attempting to procure something close to basic service. The bills that are added up wrong is one annoying thing. The bills that are added up correctly but with incorrect, inflated prices is another. The waitress who has become my Kigali nemesis that my table always seems to get no matter where we sit. The fact that they never seem to have white wine despite the fact that they are literally attached to a late-night wine store. The mystery of having three waiters lingering in the doorway staring into space but without any of them ever looking in your direction. I always leave this place feeling like crap after having complained about multiple things… but I also always leave with leftovers from a delicious and huge order of lasagne (Rwf 5,400). So I must like it if I keep coming back to this service black hole. Walking in the doors of Ogopogo pains me but the lasagne makes it all (temporarily) ok.

Pascha – Beyti

I don’t know what this Beyti thing is, but it’s delicious. Just look at that photo up there! Seriously. I love it. Pascha offers up mysterious lamb suasage-y thing wrapped in a mysterious bread and doused in a mysterious red sauce. Plus anything with a giant glob of yoghurt in the middle of the place is ok with me. And it’s good yoghurt too. I was served this once with the yummy red rice in the photo and once with plain white rice. That was annoying but not annoying enough to sour me on this lovely dish. At Rwf 8,000 it’s expensive but I think it’s worth it.

Republika – Fish Brochettes

I don’t know how I can go to Republika so often and yet have no photos of the food or the place. It probably has a lot to do with not trusting myself with my camera after consuming their giant half carafes, which probably have a lot to do with it being one of my favourite places… a vicious circle of no photos and regret.

But lets look past my failures for a moment and towards fish brochettes. Republika’s are some of the best in town and they seal the deal with a choice of delicious sides – mashed potatoes with kachanbari (salsa) is my combo of choice but they’ve got plenty of other Rwandan-esque things on offer as well. Throw in some free bruschetta while you wait, giant wine and a nice view and you’ve got yourself set up for a really good night out.

Sakae – Sushi

Yes. I know. Kigali is landlocked in an extreme way and the idea of raw fish might not appeal to most. It kind of gives me the heebie-jeebies a bit too. But sometimes I just need sushi, you know? Although I have to admit that I don’t know a damned thing about sushi so take everything I say here with a large dose of caution. I know, Rwf 10,000 is steep but Sakae serves up eight fairly substantial, three-bite pieces to work through. Plus there are some cheaper options on the menu. My favourite is quite boring with salmon, crab and avocado (Rwf 8,500) but there are some creative things happening on their menu to try. Zen also does sushi but in my non-sushi-expert opinion, it’s not as good. Plus they ran out of wasabi one time I was there. Not cool, Zen. Not cool.

Shokola Lite – Kofta

They changed the recipe and I don’t like this as much.

This has been one of my go-to dishes in Kigali since the old days at Shokola in Kiyovu (oh, how I miss you…) It’s something a little different that can’t be found on any other menu in the city and, lucky for me, it’s tasty. Usually. Like any dish in Kigali, sometimes things go wrong and you end up with some monster version of something you formerly loved. This happens with the kofta (Rwf 3,500) from time to time, with it either being served on a dry pita or with meat that’s way more spicy than normal. But most of the time they get it right and it’s something I always look forward to ordering. I don’t think I ever get anything else at Shokola Lite, actually. If you’re a lover of saucy things like me, ask for a bit of extra yoghurt on the side. They don’t seem to serve this dish with limes on the side like they used to, but if you ask for some they’re happy to bring them. A bit of extra yoghurt and limey goodness goes a long way.

Sundowner – Nyama Choma

So the last time I ate nyama choma at Sundowner I was sick for days. Because I love it so much, I’m going to choose to think that this was because of the sheer quantity of goaty flesh I consumed in one sitting, rather than something more sinister – but you have been warned. I’ll admit that Sundowner is the only place in Kigali that I’ve actually tried nyama choma. Executive Car Wash down the road gets good reviews but I’d really have a hard time cheating on my beloved Sundowner. It’s a bit of a love-hate relationship with that place (how much Ace of Base is one person expected to take?) but if you focus on the roasted goat then you should leave happy.

My strategy with ordering nyama choma is just to tell the wait staff how many people are eating, whether we want chips, bananas, or potatoes or some combination of the three, and then let them do their thing. I always pre-order here but the meal still usually takes about an hour to materialize… so I’m not so sure if there’s a point to it. Nyama choma at Sundowner makes a great group outing and if you book ahead they’ll reserve a spot for you and make sure you’re well looked after.

Zen – Lettuce Wraps (with Chicken)

I went for the fish packets but I was most impressed by the lettuce wraps with chicken (Rwf 3,400). I think it’s because I like to play with my food. There’s something fun about attempting to rolled minced chicken into a little sausage of lettuce, popping it into your mouth before the whole thing unravels into your lap. Hmm. Anyway, the chicken was nicely spiced and the combo of sauce with fresh, somewhat crispy lettuce leaf was really nice! Starters at Zen tend to be pretty small for what you pay, but this one is an exception which a huge bowl of chicken-y goodness that’s enough to have as a main.

About Kirsty

A Canadian who left in 2001 to wander around the world in search of sun, beautiful views and goat brochettes. Found Kigali in July 2010 and it seems like the perfect fit. I expect to be here until I get kicked out for defiantly walking on the grass while wearing flip flops.