ROGERS PARK — An African restaurant has opened on Howard Street, offering traditional eastern Nigerian cuisine made from fresh ingredients.
Nayo African Cuisine is open at 1418 W. Howard St. Athena Board Game Cafe left the space in April, and the owner said she plans to reopen the cafe somewhere else in Rogers Park. The board game cafe said it plans to reopen elsewhere in Rogers Park.
Nayo African Cuisine’s menu features a variety of eastern Nigerian soups, salads and plates that owner Anayo Nwajiaku enjoyed eating growing up.
“I wanted to open the restaurant because cooking is what I love to do,” said Nwajiaku, who’s lived in Rogers Park for about seven years.
Before opening his own restaurant, Nwajiaku worked at J.B. Alberto’s, 1326 W. Morse Ave., and cooked at a variety of other restaurants throughout the city.
Nwajiaku’s specialty dish is okra and ugba soup, which is cooked with scotch bonnet peppers and an assortment of meat and fish. He also recommends his Okazi/Ukazi soup, made with ground dry pepper and an assortment of meat and fish. He said it’s traditionally known to help with morning sickness and other pains pregnant people experience.
“Most people might not like the way it tastes, but it’s a really healthy soup, especially for ladies, and it’s known to help with fertility problems,” Nwajiaku said.
He also enjoys making a dish commonly known as “African Salad,” or “Abacha and Ugba” that’s made with shredded cassava, scotch bonnet pepper, oil bean seeds, spinach, cucumber, cow skin and fried fish.
Nwajiaku said he “doesn’t play with” classic Nigerian recipes, like his roasted plantains that come with white rice and beans. Another classic, “unripe plantain porridge” that’s made with dry fish, bell pepper, onion and spinach, can always be trusted to make customers feel full, he said.
“Most of my food and sauces, I make from scratch with fresh ingredients,” Nwajiaku said. “I don’t buy frozen okra, I get everything fresh. If I don’t like eating what I make, I can’t sell it.”
Nayo African Cuisine is open 9 a.m.-midnight every day.
Listen to the Block Club Chicago podcast: