Editor’s note: For our Top 10 New Restaurants list, published in full in the February 2022 issue, our editorial team has selected (you guessed it) ten of the places we believe represent the best of our culinary future. city. We’ll be highlighting each of the restaurants online over the next few days. Please note that this is not a ranked list; we love what each of the ten featured restaurants brings to the table. Enjoy your lunch!
Bala Tounkara has been cooking in Memphis for nearly two decades now. He started alone a few years ago in new excavations on Elvis Presley Blvd. in Whitehaven. Tounkara brings fresh flavors to local diners with dishes from his home in Mali and West Africa in general.
“A lot of people come here and they’ve never eaten African food before. If they’re hesitant, I’ll ask them about the things they like and see what might be a good starting point for them. —Bala Tounkara
Tounkara initially operated from a small location on Raines Road, but often thought about moving to a larger space where he could expand his business. So last November he closed that Raines location and moved into his new, much larger space. This allowed him to rethink the way he serves his clients. Now, instead of just a la carte dishes, Bala’s Bistro has a bar offering all the best dishes like chicken curry, jollof rice and seafood okra stew, all available to order by the pound. .
The hot bar rotates depending on availability, but there’s always the chance to try something new and exciting, like curried goat or tender braised lamb. Otherwise, stick with the spicy chicken yassa or maafe, the West African peanut stew. Whether people are familiar with West African cuisine or not, Tounkara is always happy to point them in the right direction. “A lot of people come, and they’ve never eaten African food before,” says Tounkara. “If they’re hesitant, I’ll ask them about the things they like and see what might be a good starting point for them.”
Most of Tounkara’s meals are vegan varieties, and it serves more traditional American options like burgers and barbecue for eaters who aren’t looking for adventure. The bistro recently expanded to include breakfast (think waffles, pancakes and omelettes – with a West African twist), and stay tuned for fun nights planned, like DJ and karaoke nights . Bala’s Bistro presents a unique dining experience in Memphis and gives everyone the chance to sample dishes that will take them on a journey. Just make sure to get there before the rarest dishes run out! — Samuel X. Cicci