By all means, do try the Rwandan staple foods: rice, umutoke (plantains), fried potatoes, ugali (corn flour-mash), cassava root, sweet potatoes and basically any other form of starch you can think of. With a dash of salt, some Akabanga (piri piri sauce) and perhaps some mayo to dip, you have got yourself quite the meal. For those days when the need for protein becomes too strong, there are also numerous local restaurants that serve brochettes (meat on a stick) alongside the carbo-load, but sadly we will not be able to list them all. (Don’t worry, you’ll find your own local.)
What we will do, however, is go through some of the Kigali restaurants, of which there are surprisingly many considering that the tradition of dining out is a fairly new one. Only ten years back in time, eating outside the home was an embarrassingly clear indicator that you either were unable to find a wife to cook for you or that the one you found was lacking in the kitchen. Luckily, with the growing influx of expats to the city, the restaurant scene has become increasingly exotic. Let’s list places by area, shall we?
Sun and Moon/White Horse (Italian)
This Italian restaurant used to be owned by the same people that now run Sol e Luna (pretty creative with their names, we know), but recently went through a series of owners and names, eventually landing on ‘White Horse’. Since the menus still read ‘Sun and Moon’, however, we refuse to refer to it by any other name, and neither should you. So there. They serve good thin-crust Italian pizzas with a myriad of topping choices, and for those adventurous souls out there, you have the calzone (which more correctly should be called ‘pizza with a barely attached lid’). For lunch they have a buffet with an ‘eggplant parm’ that’s worth trying out, and if you’ve had it with Mützig and Primus, you really need to stop by their bar. Depending on how the planets are aligned, they offer various imported beers (Leffe, Hoegarden and Stella Artois to name a few.)
New Cactus (Italian)
After our initial disappointment over the fact that they don’t serve Mexican food here (maybe the Old Cactus did…?), we have come to love this restaurant. Probably offering some of the best views in Kigali, this is absolutely an enjoyable dining experience. May we also suggest coming here for a glass of rosé wine (only 2100 RWF) in the garden? They close the kitchen between 3pm and 6pm, however, so do keep an eye on the time before you venture up the hill.
Royal Garden (Indian, Chinese)
If you want good Indian food, keep walking a few blocks further down to Khana Kazana. If you want a magical travel into a tacky wedding reception, continue down the stairs and have a seat. The waiters are extremely attentive though (possibly due to the lack of costumers) which at some points is a nice change in this city, but at other times just freaks you out.
Chez Robert (French)
At first glance, you would not think this is such an upscale place, but the prices tell another story. The food is good, the locale charming, and they have a really decent Rwandan lunch buffet (though for 7000 RWF per person you shouldn’t expect anything less, now, should you?)
Great views and tasteful décor— actually, this is kind of a ‘muzungu-must’ when you have visitors or a new in the city. The menu is well put together, but the quality of the food stands in stark contrast with the high prices. They have Happy Hour from 5 to 7, but as we mention in the nightlife section, they just changed the offer from ‘buy one, get one’ to ‘buy two, get one’— clearly a lot less happy.
For a cheap, but tasty dining alternative try the vegetable chili with corn bread and perhaps the guacamole with homemade Rwandan-style tortillas.
On Saturdays they have movie night, but once again we feel obliged to warn you about Heaven’s tendencies to unexpectedly change the terms of their offers. What started out to be a free movie if you bought a 3000 RWF (delicious) appetizers buffet, has now evolved into a 2500 RWF entrance fee, with the only eating option being a 7000 RWF full-on dinner buffet. Who knows where it all will end?
If you find yourself with 7.000 RWF to spear, you probably should try out their Sunday brunch buffet though. They have French toast and pancakes with maple syrup.
Khana Khazana (Indian)
‘We love Khana, yes we do. We think you should try it too.’
Probably one of the nicest, friendliest places to dine out in Kigali, Khana makes you feel at home, even if you’re not Indian. The owner (bless his heart) is so welcoming, and if you know your Indian food, feel free to order off the menu!
Most dishes range from 4-5000 RWF, but try the Starter Subzi Taka Tin (we refer to them as “veggie balls”) as a Main if you’re low on money. They’re amazingly scrum-diddeli-umptios!)
And oh, go there for a birthday— anyone’s birthday really— that’s all we’ll say about that (wink, wink).
There are two camps in Kigali: those who prefer Khana and those who prefer Saffran. We leave it up to each of you to choose your side, but the way we see it, it really boils down to whether you like creamy (Khana) or dry (Saffran). They have more vegetables in their curries at Saffran, which might make it healthier. But their veggie balls have nothing on Khana’s. There, we said it.
We have never eaten here, partially because the price range is a bit out of our league and partially because we never actually noticed the restaurant. We’re on it, though, don’t worry, just have some sugah dadi pockets to rattle first.
This is a pretty expensive place (ranging from 6-10.000 RWF), but unlike Heaven, the prices make sense when the food comes out. They have amazing steaks, and excellent fish. Their tomato soup is good too. And hey, when you order drinks you get tons of mini-bruschetta with tomato salsa! (Flash them a smile, and you might get a second round) At Republika, you’ll always find one of the owners keeping an eye on things at the bar, a clear indication of high quality service. The music is great, and the warm atmosphere envelops you in a state of leisure.
Sundowner (Rwandan, Italian)
This spot is highly underrated, especially by expats. With small tables dispersed around the cobbled ground, this restaurant is quite cute. You’ll find expats here in the weekends, though, as it’s a cheap place to fill up the tank before going out. They actually have decent food here as well, and for a reasonable evening out this is an ideal place to go.
Supposedly the best Chinese place in Kigali. And yeah, we see that; the food is good and the service is close to flawless compared to most other places. The prices match the quality, however, and you’ll have a hard time getting out of there for under 10.000 RWF (Just one spring roll is 1000 RWF.) Definitely worth trying, though, especially if you like sitting in tall chairs lined with red silk.
We know… “Yuppie! Finally a place we can get hot dogs and ice cream and plastic toys all in one”… Alas, no. Mickey Mouse restaurant is not a place for kids. It is, in fact, a rather nice restaurant, serving steak and roasted potatoes and such. Due to our long-time distraction by the name, however, we have not yet had a chance to try it out. We’ll get back to you as soon as our stipends are deposited.
Located down the same street as Mickey Mouse, subsequently leading us astray. We’ll try this one too, and report back. We heard it’s good, though. And hey, the name is pretty clever.
The only Ethiopian restaurant in Kigali. There are always people here (with good reason), and in the weekends they even put out tables in the torch-lit garden – it’s quite romantic indeed. The food is good and reasonable, and we highly recommend the Vegetable Platter for 5000 RWF. Don’t let the waiter talk you into buying one platter each, though, they are extremely filling, especially if you eat all the injira (Ethiopian spongy bread). We have yet to finish one between three (healthy-eating) girls…
Arguably the best Italian food in town (and definitely the best lasagna in the country. Try it. It’s the biggest piece of lasagna you’ll ever see…unless you’re from the Mid West.) The welcoming, dim-lit locale is usually buzzing with people, and in the weekends you might want to make reservations if you’re planning a dinner for more than two. At times, we have been kept waiting for a good hour for our food, but if you don’t mind killing time with a carafe of wine this isn’t the end of the world. Come to think of it, Papyrus is a good place to down a carafe any time of the week. (Saving tip: 1/2 carafe gives you 4 glasses of wine, and is only 6000 RWF, while just one glass will set you back 2500 RWF!)
Executive Car Wash (Rwandan)
If you’re starving, do not come here— you will perish of hunger before the food comes out (even the simplest dishes take forever.) If you’re sitting down to a football match, however, or enjoying a cold beer on a lazy afternoon, do feel free to order. They have good Rwandan food (ugali/posho, brochettes, boiled meat, plantains) for even better prices. Try the plate of tender boiled meat, but we ware of the fatty pieces.
Great Wall (Chinese)
This is the place to go if you’re in the mood for Chinese but don’t have too many francs to your name. Between two people you can share a plate of rice and perhaps one of the hot plate dishes (the diced chicken is our favorite), and easily get out for under 5000 RWF including drinks and a spring roll starter. Besides, who cares about that shabby red staircase when the waitresses are so nice, the service so fast, and the view over the Nyarutarama hill so breathtaking?
For you malicious teasers out there, this is how you upset an expat in Kigali during Sunday brunch time: name a restaurant ‘Mimosa’, and then don’t put the drink on the menu. Seriously, this just gave us a bad taste in the mouth (sadly not the one of champagne and orange juice), but evidently the food is supposed to be good there. In the name of food reviewing, we will of course brave a second visit.
Nyarutarama being the posh area that it is, we admittedly have not been to too many of the restaurants located here. The dishes at ‘Select’, for instance, are around $50 USD (yes, we’re changing currency for this one), but no doubt the food is amazing.
Indian Chef (Indian)
Someone told us this was the best Indian restaurant in Kigali, but we have been too busy at Khana to find time to stop by. We’ll get back to you as soon as we do.
A recent addition to the Kigali restaurant scene, and one we have not yet been able to try out. We have heard many good things, however, and will make our way there as soon as we find dates to take us… (we can hear your unconvinced snickering, you know…)
The Manor (Indian, Italian)
As of today, they have two restaurants connected to The Manor Hotel, both overlooking the golf course and the lake (stunning!). On the terrace restaurant they serve tasty food, but the dishes are slightly skimpy for the price you pay. For a nice little meal, order the dip and bread platter (with hummus and baba ganoush). We have not yet tried out the Italian restaurant, but they have twinkling blue lights in the ceiling, so we are obviously expecting great things.
Sol e Luna (Italian)
Good pizzas, pastas and eggplant parm. Also, some of the best fish brochettes we’ve had in Kigali. The wait for the food can be long (don’t even bother ordering on Mondays unless you get your order in before the Quiz starts), but generally good service. For a romantic, Italian evening take your date to the top deck overlooking the Kicukiro and Remera hills. Add a sunset and some red wine (only 7000 RWF for ½ carafe), and your evening is bound to end well.
At the moment, they are renovating parts of the restaurant (and a connecting dance floor!), but you can still sit down to eat reasonable— and good-quality— brochettes in warm and welcoming surroundings. The clientele is decisively Rwandan, but on the upscale side.