Recently opened Charcol Restaurant catches the eye for two reasons. No. 1, it is located in the old Nakamoto space in Plano, a much respected sushi restaurant that closed in 2011. No. 2, it has local roots: It's a spinoff of Aggie's, an African restaurant that opened in northeast Dallas in 2010.
Charcol owner Stephen Munabo helped manage Aggie's for his mother.
"I moved to Dallas about three years ago to help my mother with her restaurant," Munabo says. "That was Aggie's. My mother was here first with my aunt; they opened Aggie's. But it was giving them a hard time. I came down and managed that for a little while, then decided to open another restaurant."
"People don't understand the cuisine," says Charcol owner Stephen Munabo. "It looks different, odd. I'm trying to make it contemporary."
The basis of the menu at both Aggie's and Charcol is fish — specifically, tilapia.
"In Africa, we have so many different cultures, so many different foods," he says. "We are from West Africa, and as a West African restaurant, you have to have fish. Fish is a big deal for us. The signature dish is tilapia; that's popular in our community. Ours is seasoned with a mixture of spices that only my mother and aunt know, and baked."
Another Charcol specialty is chicken DG, in which fried chicken, plantains, carrots and other vegetables are simmered in a tomato-based sauce that thickens and intensifies in flavor.
Munabo says that the food is spicy — "we like our food hot," he says — and that Africans eat a lot of meat. "We like goat, beef, cow, lamb and especially the fish. Our restaurant is built on the fish."
In addition to tilapia, Charcol also offers a few other traditional dishes that Munabo says come from different tribes. "There's a dish we call eru," he says. "In Nigeria they call it edikang ikong. The dish is like a vegetable stew that's eaten with fufu, or pounded yam."
"But what I'm really trying to do is 'contemporize' African food," he says. "People don't understand the cuisine. It looks different, odd. I'm trying to make it contemporary. That's why we post photos of our food, so you can look and see what you’re eating."
While restaurateuring wasn't originally on Munabo's agenda — he's a talented graphic designer — he's enjoyed meeting the vibrant African population that has settled around Dallas. Other African restaurants include African Village in Irving, Nai's in Addison and M&B Lounge in Arlington.
"Everybody has their own specialty," he says. "There's a huge community here, all over. Whether Nigerian, Kenyan, Cameroonian, we all socialize with each other and come to different events. It's one of those things where you kind of almost know everybody."
He's still remodeling the Nakamoto space. He has plans to add jazz and R&B bands to the docket and has meanwhile applied for a liquor license for a full bar.
"The landlord was looking for something diverse," he says. "The center has Bavarian, Mexican, Chinese — it's a diverse thing he has going on here, and we seem to be a good fit."