2021 Best New Restaurants // No. 6 Chez Ali
Chez Ali’s brings a compact selection of Afro-Caribbean favorites to the City Foundry STL’s food hall. Chef-owner Alioun “Ali” Thiam’s spicy, sweet and citrusy yassa chicken, braised with onion, lemon and mild spices in a Dijon mustard sauce, is totally addictive; it’s a testament to why the dish is a classic of West African cuisine.
It took us a couple of attempts to finally try the yassa; on one visit the restaurant was sold out, forcing them to close early; on another, the electronic payment system was down, and the food hall’s lack of ATMs meant I was out of luck again. But damn, was it ever worth the effort. Along with the yassa, the chicken sampler plate includes jerk chicken (with hints of allspice, ginger and Scotch bonnet pepper) with house-made hot sauce on the side as well as curry chicken. While all three dishes are powerhouses of warm spice, heat and soft-yet-toothsome chew, the sampler plate is the edible version of a greatest hits album packed with back-to-back hits. It’s all served on a bed of white rice or red beans and rice with a side of steamed cabbage. While steamed cabbage may not sound exciting on paper, it’s anything but filler, its clean simplicity a great foil for the platter’s more aggressively flavored components.
Other stand-out menu items include the beef maffai, seared beef stew thickened with ground peanuts and simmered with onion, garlic, peppers, cabbage and carrots until tender. And we definitely recommend adding a side of plantains: caramelized and sticky-sweet, they shine both on their own and as part of a bite with more savory dishes. Fish is available at Chez Ali also in the form of thieboudienne, another classic Senegalese dish that Thiam makes to order.
Chez Ali’s menu changes daily, so while all items may not be available on every visit, whatever is in front of you will be delicious. Just take a word from the wise and go on the earlier side to avoid sell-outs – and be sure you’ve got a little cash on hand.
Chez Ali, 3700 Forest Park Ave. (inside City Foundry STL), St. Louis, cityfoundrystl.com/directory/chez-ali