You’ll have to excuse my rather academic interest in Kenyan cuisine up until this point. It’s been a while since I last stepped foot into such a restaurant. I can tell you the exact date, in fact: It was Jan. 20, 2009, that meat-locker-cold day when Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. That afternoon, I had wandered over to Safari DC on Georgia Avenue NW, where there were no birther debates. They were celebrating, hard, for the man with Kenyan blood in his veins.
Safari DC closed less than a year later (and was recently resurrected as more of a pan-African outpost), but it wasn’t until I entered Swahili Village that I experienced the same gentle pulsating energy that I had found at Safari. It’s not clubby in its intensity, but it’s not family-sleepy either. It straddles those worlds with the kind of good humor captured only in the best neighborhood restaurants catering to immigrants so far away from home. In an L-shaped room outfitted with vibrant paintings of African life, as a friend and I split an ice bucket of Tusker beer (five to a container, so you can fight over the last bottle), I felt as if I had been granted honorary Kenyan status for the evening.