Rwanda - Kigali's Best Restaurants & Cafes
- by two foodie locals
Where to eat in Kigali? If you're a local, you often complain openly that Kigali can be boring and "there's no where decent to eat!" Actually, even though we all do this, we're all wrong. Kigali's changed a lot in the past five years - there is a wide variety of restaurants, cafe's, patios, and even newly emerging cocktail bars. If you're visiting Kigali, you definitely won't be bored! If you're missing international food, you will find it. If you crave cheap food, you will find it. There is something for everyone.
This post contains our personal recommendations. We are not paid to provide these tips, and they are based solely on our views. We’ve probably visited each of these places at least 30 times (probably closer to 75 for some!), and they consistently provided good food, good service. So we want to recommend them to you. If you have other tips, or wish to provide any thoughts, please post them in the comments below.
"This is a big list below! What are your top Kigali restaurant recommendations for 2016?"
Let's start with our top five first, mainly for people visiting Kigali (rather than those with lots of time to try everything). If we had guests in town, or visitors coming for just a couple of days to Kigali, these would personally be our top places to recommend:
- Heaven - either for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Check their website to ensure they are open, and stop by. It’s a great place for visitors, and you can pick up your tourist items and see some art all in one go. This or Repub Lounge, as it offers a chic dinner using local Rwandan foods.
- For the foodies: Brachetto Restaurant and Tapas Bar and/or Poivre Noir - if you want to really eat well, go to either of these places. Both are the fanciest restaurants in the city, so instagrammers who love the #foodgasm hash will rejoice.
- Our favourite coffee shops are Inzora Rooftop Cafe and Shokola Cafe on the top of Kigali Public Library or in Kimihurura. They are places where you can just go and chill, with free wifi, good coffee, nice people and the best views!
- For the tourists: have a sundowner (and a pizza) at Sol e Luna, or a drink and appetizer from Hotel Mille Collines. Both have great views, although Sol e Luna has the better food.
- For the sports fans: watch the footy at Pascha, or at local joints around the city.
Mornings & Slow Brunches
- Inzora Rooftop Cafe - visit this lovely cafe for a morning coffee, homemade breakfast and incredible views of the city. The coffee is delicious (why wouldn’t it be, it’s Rwanda after all), and the rooftop terrace is a great solace to relax and take advantage of the free wifi. The cafe is in the Ikirezi bookstore, so you can pick up local books in English and French, plus maps and any other necessities. No where else in the city has home made granola, tea, chia seed puddings, and the most delicious cookies/muffins. Everything is made by Katie, a dedicated Canadian with a talent for baking (which she's shown to her team)! Tip - they also sell beautiful gift boxes with handmade local products from Rwanda - a great gift!
- Neo Cafe - this is another great cafe located just across the street from Inzora. The coffee is said to be one of the best in Kigali, and the cafe is located in a covered outdoor area, which is quaint and cosy. They make homemade wraps and sandwiches, and it’s my top pick for a healthy (and cheap!) veggie wrap. Right at the location is Think Incubator, an organisation promoting start-up companies (if you’re looking for temporary office space to work and link up with the Kigali crowd, or try The Office on the other side of town).
- Shokola and Shokola Lite - these are two restaurants that offer cute cafe spaces, good atmosphere and a wide variety of menu options. We used to pop in for their breakfast burritos, or their lunch salad bar, where you can eat what you like without fear of a dodgy stomach. The smoothies are also delicious! The prices are fair, and the locations on top of the public library, or in Kimihurura have lovely decor and views of the city. The newest location is on the top floor of the library by the US embassy - another great place to go to relax and get your bearings.
- Brioche Bakery & Cafes - these seem to be popping up all over the city. If you’re looking for French ‘boulangerie’ style pastries, desserts, and coffee, this is the place to go. While it doesn’t top our list of “must visits” in the city, this is partly due to the price! That being said, the cafe in Kagugu has an incredible view of the golf course, and is a nice place to stop for a coffee and to people watch if you are staying nearby. We do love their desserts, and they offer lunch as well. They also deliver sandwiches, so you could order these if you are working elsewhere in the city (or want something to take with you on a car journey!)
- Twistiblendz - Smoothies! Formally Hero Shop, this Kigali-based smoothie chain makes delicious and healthy smoothies. The company makes their own coconut milk from scratch, which they freeze and add to smoothies. They use all local fruit, plus Rwandan peanut butter. I especially loved their peanut butter shakes, and their banana oatmeal smoothie. I also loved their pineapple passion fruit smoothie with ginger. So many options, cheap and delicious! I used to buy in bulk and keep them in my fridge for up to three days.
- J. Lynn’s Cafe (formally ABC - Africa Bagel Company). I’ve already done a post entirely on J. Lynn’s Cafe, so you can read more about it here. If you have a Saturday free and miss bagels, chai lattes, or other delights, you can get a driver to take you over to J. Lynn’s. It’s a bit of a trek, but you can relax in the garden and enjoy yourself!
- Rz Manna - we are slightly hesitant to recommend Rz Manna. This is a social enterprise that was set-up with help from the Koreans. It is run by Koreans and has a comfortable cafe, with good smoothies, lunches and many home made bakery items. Rz Manna also makes cakes to order, plus other high end desserts. There was some press in March 2015 about Rz Manna not treating their staff well. We hope this has been resolved, as the staff there are lovely and deserve the best. It seems that all is now well, so we'll add it back to our list. But please tell us otherwise!
- Kimy Gourmand Crêperie - many people love this local crêperie. We used to meet friends for breakfast, lunch and dinners here. It's simple, think basic tables and chairs, but they have a variety of sweet and savoury crêpes, plus coffees and drinks. They make their batter from scratch, and have buckwheat options for those who are gluten intolerant (or just like buckwheat). A nice weekend treat!
- Caiman Bar - this is our favourite place to go for an afternoon drink. Located in Kibagabaga, the bar is an easy drive over from the MTN centre. It’s also worth the drive - I think it has my favourite views in all of Kigali. And that’s saying a lot! There is a huge lawn where you can sit out for afternoon drinks, and on weekends they have a BBQ that serves local Rwandan food (brochettes, fish, veggies). The place is family friendly! You can also go in the evenings for a different vibe, as there is often live music and dancing. But I prefer the afternoons, without mosquitoes, and with that beautiful view!
- Inema Cafe - we were deciding where to put the Inema Cafe within this article. Newly opened, Inema Cafe is a joint venture between the talented Nkurunziza brothers and Carlos Caula, one of Kigali's top chefs. Inema Cafe is open everyday from 7:30 until 19:30, but also hosts various cocktail evenings. See the Inema Cafe menu here. The cafe offers Cuban-inspired sandwiches, coffees and sweets, breakfast, and occasionally evening tapas. So is it a place for afternoon drinks? Yes! Visitors will love the cafe, which is set in the eclectic art gallery (take a painting class, see the local children practice Intore Dancing!) Is it a morning cafe? Of course! - go for brunch and enjoy the atmosphere. Is it a place to party? Most definitely - the Inema Arts Center cocktail/music nights are so very fun. So just remember that this place exists, and that Carlos is a superbly talented chef, and that really, you never need an excuse to pop by. Just go!
- Mille Collines Hotel - everyone seems to know this famous hotel from the film Hotel Rwanda. Indeed, for many its our only reference point to understanding the city. If you're not already staying here (many tourists do), we'd recommend popping by for a drink. The hotel has a lush garden and pool. On Sundays you can stop by for brunch, which is a fixed price buffet well worth the price. You can sit by the pool for hours, popping over to eat whenever you're hungry. There is often live music on weekends and evenings, and it's nice to visit just for the history of the hotel. We've tried and tried to get a decent meal here, however - the service is dreadfully slow, and we had about a 2/10 chance of getting what we ordered, cooked properly. Hopefully they can improve, but it's still worth the visit!
Lunches, Dinners & Watering Holes
- Brachetto Restaurant & Tapas Bar - If you’re not on a backpackers budget, or even if you are and you want to eat real food, good food, that is Italian inspired, you must go to see Alessandro at Brachetto. Their express lunch menu, their dinner menu, and their cocktails are all excellent. Really excellent! So is the attention to detail and the service. You can sit outside on the patio with a view of the city, and enjoy fresh ginger/passion fruit lemonade, or a proper martini. The lunch buffet is also divine, with a wide variety of salads and antipasti (think grilled aubergine, feta and melon salad, hummus, meats, cheeses, potato salad). If you check out Brachetto’s facebook page, you’ll see they also offer wine tastings, so if you are in town you should drop by and chat with the staff. A fantastic addition to Kigali!
- Poivre Noire - If you are a foodie, or you want to be in the hip scene, you don't want to miss a night at Poivre Noire. You'll likely need to book, as it's all the rage. The restaurant is trendy, the food is good with a changing menu (Belgian/French influence), the cocktails are divine. This is the place where you put on that extra makeup, your best dress, and head out with friends looking fabulous, ready to take selfies. Ok, it's not that pretentious, but it's one of the closest things Kigali has to a trendy night out. We've been a few times and never been dissapointed.
- Sol e Luna - we always brought all our guests to Sol e Luna to sit on the terrace and watch the sunset. Sundowers are beautiful here, as the view of the city is expansive. The Mediterranean gin and tonic is delicious (fresh rosemary), and the pizzas are the best in Kigali (real cheese!) My favourite dish is the aubergine parmigiana, something about that homemade tomato sauce! Sol e Luna is famous for it’s pub quizzes on Monday nights, run by local expats and it’s a great place to go and meet people (get there early so you’re not waiting hours for your pizza!) If you're alone you can also just rock up and join a table, no one would mind, they'd welcome you with open arms (so long as you know the answers!) The restaurant also do buffet lunches if you don’t have time to go in the evenings. Definitely don’t miss this restaurant while visiting (if you miss proper Italian food!)
- Heaven Restaurant and Boutique Hotel - You can’t visit Kigali without having brunch at Heaven, or going for their evening tasting menu (amazing!) Heaven Restaurant is a bit of a tourist mecca in Kigali, but the atmosphere is fantastic and the latest chef is producing some really delicious food. The owners have worked tirelessly to train up their staff to provide exceptional customer service, which they pride themselves on. We would often go for their drinks alone - try their passion fruit mojito, for example! Additionally, on site you can visit the gallery of Inema Arts Center, and the Azizi Life Boutique. There are various events on throughout the month, and you can opt for the brunch buffet on the weekends (although we often order a la carte). Definitely try out Heaven if you’re visiting Kigali.
- Pascha Restaurant - depending on your preference and budget, Aberdeen Hotel is a good choice to stay for visitors. Located on the other end of the city from the central business district, and run by great people (hi guys!), the hotel is known for it’s beautiful gardens, and for having an outside bar that plays the football! The Turkish food at Pascha provides an alternative to the regular Kigali mix - we’d recommend trying the shish (kebabs), or if you are more adventurous, the steak with coffee sauce (not for everyone!). There is a lovely fire area lit up in evenings, with posh bean bags where you can sit and gaze at the stars. There is also live music on weekends, for a great ambiance. We used to live 200 meters from Pascha, and the staff who work there are some of our greatest friends in the city. Try them out on a sunny afternoon, or on an evening. You can also stay at the nearby CityBlue Hotel Kagugu, or the Gorillas Golf Hotel, if Aberdeen isn’t your top choice. Tell them "Mr. Ryan" sent you - it will put a smile on their faces!
- Zen Restaurant - this restaurant is impressive to visit. Built outside under a traditional Kenyan thatched roof, Zen Restaurant provides Asian fusion with a lovely ambiance (think large chandeliers, water features, trees, views of the lake). The food is good, and the location is central for people visiting Kigali. It’s a good place to go with a group of people, as you can order many dishes to share, from dim sum, sushi, noodles, rice, and many other Chinese dishes. Melanie, the manager, keeps the staff in tip top shape, and they’ll always aim to please. The menu has such a large variety that there really is something for everyone - even a trained teppanyaki chef! (book in advance for this).
- Sakae Japanese Restaurant - if you want sushi, or miss Japanese food, Sakae is the place to go. The fish is flown in, so if you are a sushi snob, adjust your expectations (Rwanda is land-locked after all!) However, this is where you can get sushi, plus lunch boxes, Korean dishes, and Teppanyaki! There is always a debate with the local expats on which is better - Zen or Sakae. Honestly, it’s a personal preference. If I had visitors, I would recommend Zen as I think the atmosphere is unique. But I love Sakae’s rice bowls!
- Epicurien - France comes to Kigali. Enough said. This fine dining restaurant is always packed on weekends, and the food is delicious. Buttery, imported, and pricey, Epicurien is still worth it if you have a special night planned, or just want to eat some well-plated food. Some of our favourites include: the seafood bisque, salmon with potatoes dauphinoise, duck with passion sauce, and of course, the chocolate mousse - everyone who's anyone in Kigali knows about the chocolate mousse. If you like chocolate, try the mousse! Oh the mousse, we dream of that mousse!
- Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant - this is Kigali's only Ethiopian restaurant, and has a large garden where you can eat and enjoy the fire (evenings only). They also do a mean lunch buffet (mostly vegetarian), but very cheap. If you go, watch your bill, as on occasion we've had the bill contain many more costs than things we ordered. They always said it was an accident.....who knows! Regardless, the food is good and healthy, vegetarians will love this option.
- Khana Khazana Indian Restaurant - there are quite a few Indian restaurants in town. We prefer Khana Khazana, mainly due to the atmosphere. If you love curry, you would likely want to dine-in, or get delivery from here, or from Zaaffran. Those living in Nyarutarama may choose Blueberry. Each of these restaurants has standout dishes, so try them for yourself to see your favourite!
Where to find local Rwandan Food
Great question! I'm sure you were thinking “this is all expat food, where can we get LOCAL food, that Rwandans eat?” Well, it’s all around you, for sure. We used to eat at so many buffets with work that we would spend our hard earned money at the restaurants above. That being said, Living in Kigali has a great post on the best local Rwandan restaurants. Additionally, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Afrika Bite. The lunch menu is cheap and the food is authentic. I miss their peanut sauce with plantains so much. If you are on a shoe-string budget, or not, go here!
Repub Lounge - If you want a fancier dinner option with a fusion of Rwandan food meets international cuisine, you need to visit Repub Lounge (formally Republika). The restaurant moved locations recently and the new location has great reviews, especially for its night atmosphere. Cocktails, dinner, parties with friends, this is the place to go if you want a bit of Rwanda fine dining. We went in January and just loved the atmosphere, and the sharing platters - so delicious!
For other recommendations (including Caiman), refer to Living in Kigali's top tips.
Where to get fast food, takeout and delivery
If you don’t have time to go out and try all these places, do they deliver? Yes! Many restaurants deliver, so look up their websites/facebook pages and give them a call. You can also order many options through Hello Food, an online delivery service which brings any restaurant food to your door. It’s convenient, but make sure you have proper directions for them as they often get lost. Also expect to wait a long time during busy periods, so plan ahead! You can even order a weeks worth of smoothies - so it’s a great option for people at hotels that don’t want to rely only on hotel food.
Our honourable mentions for fast food include some of the Kigali staples. First up is Mr. Chips, a fast food joint that also does special nights (pizza, Russian, Pho). The Canadian owner also took over Meze Fresh, Kigali's California-inspired burrito joint. These are Kigali's solutions to in-and-out burger, and if you're hungover, craving fast food, or just like burgers/wings/burritos, these places can't be beat as they use local ingredients and are cheap!
Hope this is helpful for you, bon appetit in Kigali. Happy eating! Love from Ryan & LA. xx