Dinner at Eatwell African Restaurant & Lounge. | Mike Prince/Eatwell African Restaurant & Lounge
Two cousins-turned-restaurant-owners are transporting their family recipes to Philly, where they believe “representation” is essential
In a part of the city that’s known more for touristy hotspots (from the Liberty Bell to numerous cheesesteak shops) and Jose Garces/Ellen Yin restaurateur domination (Amada, The Old Bar, Fork, High Street), a new Nigerian restaurant is shaking up Old City.
On Sunday, Eatwell African Restaurant & Lounge, a spacious 65-seat venue located at 106 Chestnut Street, opened its doors. The BYOB strives to integrate African soul food and longtime family recipes from Northern Nigeria. For cousins/owners chef Aisha Wahab and partner Stephen Oyelakin, coming to Philly meant expanding their business and the culinary palate of residents in the area.
“We have a lot of tourists around here, but there’s also little to no representation for African food in Old City,” Oyelakin says on why the pair was interested in their restaurant’s location. “We want the community to enjoy and get to know our food, but also learn about where we come from.”
Both Nigerian immigrants, Oyelakin and Wahab came to the United States to pursue various business opportunities on the East Coast. Prior to their grand Philly launch of Eatwell, the restaurant was previously located in Irvington, New Jersey as a very small takeout spot. Oyelakin says it took some persuasion to initially convince Wahab to reimagine the popular Jersey carryout venture as a full-service, dine-in restaurant in Philly — something he says she always wanted to do, but needed some encouragement.
“Aisha has always been interested in this industry since working in her mother’s restaurant as a teenager,” Oyelakin says. “After opening her shop in New Jersey, she always dreamt of owning a bigger restaurant.”
Eatwell’s menu is as expansive as the duo’s ambitions: inexpensive African snacks (priced from $4 to $6 ) that include chicken pies, a scotch egg, and chin-chin (seasoned fried pastry). Dinner entrees include asun (grilled goat meat with spices), peppered snail, giz-dodo (seasoned gizzards with fried plantains), asaro (yam porridge) and a variety of grilled and stewed fish dishes.
“We have several traditional dishes that you will not see at other restaurants in Philadelphia,” said Oyelakin, citing the restaurant’s “designer stew” (aka ayamase) served with white rice as an example. “Even the snacks, puff-puff aka deep fried dough and the meat pie, you’ll only see in Nigeria.”
Eatwell African Restaurant & Lounge is now open Mondays thru Thursdays from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. Large groups can reserve a private 25-seat dining room for parties and other social gatherings. Their website and social page will be released soon, but diners can now walk-in or make reservations by phone at (215) 964-9213.