The corner of Wilson and Sheridan is not a sunny one. Grey, drab buildings sit looking distressed and sad. But, in the middle of this bleakness is a bright new spot named Iyanze, opened in April of 2009 by Emmanuel Abidemi and his mother, whose nickname gives the new eatery its name. The huge warehouse-style space is decorated boldly with walls washed in lemony yellows, rich reds and chocolate browns. The air is heavy with steam carrying the delectable smells of West African cuisine.
This isn't Abidemi's first foray into the restaurant business. He already opened the highly successful Bolat in Lakeview, which is currently closed for renovations. Where Bolat is meant for relaxed, romantic higher-end dining, Iyanze is just the opposite. Abidemi wanted a restaurant that served good food quick and cheap, and the concept for Iyanze was born. He chose the Uptown neighborhood for its foot traffic and student population. The food is fast and frugal – the lunch time special boasts a huge plate of food for just $4.99 and most servings of dishes are under $3. Abidemi says it's especially popular with the students.
Abidemi is interested in serving West African food that is as traditional as possible (his mother travels to Africa frequently and returns with supplies), but he also wanted the food to be accessible to those who've never tried it. With names like FuFu and Egusi and DoDo, it might seem unapproachable. But just ask, and those behind the counter are more than happy to let you try anything. That being said, the spice here isn't for the faint of heart. But, take something like the absolutely delicious bean casserole and pair it with a plantain. You'll barely notice the spice and your mouth will ignore it just to keep tasting such tantalizing flavors.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Christy Bonstell
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