Shella , Lamu
Tel: 254 42 633022
Well-heeled expats in the tony enclave of Shella may buzz about the bar in the Peponi Hotel, but Baitil Aman tends to be the better (and more low-key) alternative. You have to negotiate a maze of coral-stone walls in the town's back streets to find this charming boutique hotel, stylishly converted from a former palace and tucked away among shady palms and bougainvillea. Meals are served alfresco on the rooftop, with guests seated on plush cushions in traditional Swahili fashion. Seafood dishes steeped in spices set the standard: Kingfish masala and prawn curry stand out, while the odd Italian dish curiously finds its way onto the menu. The rooftop setting is the main attraction, and the wind rustling through the palms on a moonlit night makes this Shella's most romantic dining option.
Open daily 8 am to 10 pm.
Tel: 254 20 605933
Call it a carnival, call it kitscheven call it overrated. But there's no denying that this Nairobi circus is Kenya's best-known restaurant. Carnivore takes the national obsession with nyama choma (roasted meat) and elevates it to high art. Waiters circle the floor with an endless supply of grilled meat skewered on the points of Masai swords; keep your eye out for the occasional ostrich or crocodile dish passing by, or stick to more familiar chicken, pork, beef, and lamb cuts. Purists might gripe that the standards have slid since "exotic" game meat was officially outlawed, but most people are too busy stuffing their faces to complain. Even if those animal-print uniforms and zebra-stripe chairs go a bit overboard, the boisterous air reminds you that it's all in good fun. The neighboring Simba Saloon offers a reliably busy dance floorperfect for that post-carnage workout.
Open daily noon to 3 pm and 6:30 to 10:30 pm.
Managed by an expat, jolly Castaways is popular with tourists and locals alike. The atmosphere is relaxed and informal, but things really get going when the sun sinks into the Indian Ocean—customers dance the night away to pop music and sing karaoke. The food is straightforward, with mostly Western dishes. Your best bet is lobster, shrimp, or the catch of the day. Castaways is right on Bamburi Beach and within walking distance of all major hotels.
The Westlands Mall
Tel: 254 20 4448294
Don't let your first glance fool you: Tucked away ten minutes from town in the obscurity of the Westlands Mall, Haandi dishes out some of the finest curries and masalas this side of Mumbai. The decor is as bland as the curries are spicy, but you're not here for the scenery. The encyclopedic menu covers a broad range of mughlai (Northern Indian) cuisine: crisp naans, fragrant tikkas, a host of succulent tandoori dishes left to marinate overnight. It'll take some time just to navigate all the options; you might want to start with a cool mango lassi while you think it over. Plump Nilgiri prawns masala and chicken makhaniin a spicy, tomato-based sauceare among a long list of standouts.
Open daily noon to 2:30 pm and 7 to 10:30 pm.
Harry Thuku Rd.
Tel: 20 335 422
Fax: 20 336 742
This pretty restaurant is part of the historic Norfolk Hotel, which dates back to 1904. Pricey by Nairobi standards, with a rather affected presentation (arty drizzles of sauce and sculptural garnishes), the Ibis nonetheless serves some of the best food in the city, using fresh, local ingredients (try the impala). The shaded terrace boasts a view of the well-tended grounds full of indigenous plants, and a pianist plays from 7 p.m. until closing. At lunch, business travelers will appreciate the special "businessman's menu." On weekends, only dinner is served.
Nyerere Road and Kenyatta Avenue
Tel: 254 20 282 2000
One of Kenya's finest restaurants, the elegant Mandhari is more expensive than most Nairobi establishments but well worth the price. The cooking style is Continental, but the chef makes good use of local ingredients with dishes like ostrich carpaccio and gazelle with poached pears. As for service, it's attentive but unobtrusive. Part of the Serena Hotel (a five-minute walk from downtown), the place takes its name from the Swahili word for "landscape," and rightly so: the balcony commands an impressive view of the Nairobi skyline.
Shella , Lamu
Tel: 254 42 633421
Whether you're staying in this swank, Swahili-style hotel or one of its luxurious neighbors, all roads in Lamu lead to Peponi. For more than 40 years, the hotel has been Shella's favorite watering holea place where well-heeled expats, Kenyan sophisticates, and continental jet-setters mingle and make merry. The place is upmarket but dressed-down: Think bare feet, flowing tunics, and chunky native jewelry of the hippie-chic variety. The food is sumptuous, if something of an afterthought; Peponi is all about the scene. Island gossip buzzes around the timbered dining room, with the glass-paned doors open wide to catch the sea breeze. Tuck into ginger crab, spicy piri-piri prawns, or decadent lobster Thermidor, then rub elbows (literally) in the tiny fisherman's bar over a couple of Old PalsPeponi's signature vodka cocktail. Outdoor dining under the bougainvillea is ideal for those sultry summer nights, while hotel guests can opt for private terraces overlooking the sea.
Open daily 7 to 10 am, noon to 4 pm, and 6 to 11 pm.
320 Ngong Road
Tel: 254 20 883213
Casting its spell on the sophisticated dining scene in the luxe, leafy suburb of Karen, Talisman charms with its sprawling gardens and tables set around a shady outdoor patio. Offering an upscale twist to classic curries and stir fries, the menu mixes Indian, Thai, and Swahili flavors, with plenty of coconut, chile, and ginger to go around. Start with the famous feta and coriander samosas before moving on to the lamb kebabs or tender strips of Thai chicken. The outdoor dining makes this a favorite weekend spot for families the kids can scoot across the lawn or play on the tire swingwhile the stylish interior, decked out with colorful cushions and local art, is a popular stop for Nairobi scenesters.
Tel: 254 41 474600
The whitewashed walls and soaring archways over Mombasa's old harbor are an ideal backdrop for what is arguably the finest seafood in Kenya (if they'd only do something about that cheesy, cringe-worthy keyboardist). Fresh catches can be made to ordergrilled, bathed in piquant piri-piri sauce, or dressed with Swahili spiceswhile the signature dishes offer a flourish of international flavors. Red snapper and prawns harissa take a page from Moroccan cookbooks; the tikka masalas are pure Punjabi; and the coconut, saffron, and ginger accents bring some Swahili swagger to the table. Desserts are decadentsave some room for the chocolate-and-banana mille-feuilleand the next-door casino offers the perfect postprandial diversion, if you're feeling lucky.
Open daily 12:30 to 2:30 pm and 7 to 10:30 pm.