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Fast-casual Afro-fusion at Berber Street Food

Berber Street Food’s Diana Tandia, left, and her sous-chef, Guillermina Solis. Photo from Instagram

BY GABE HERMAN | Berber Street Food, a small, fast-casual restaurant serving Afro-fusion food, has been an instant hit in the Village since opening in August at 35 Carmine St.

With dishes and flavors from countries all over the world, and prepared on location in a homemade style, Berber has gained a loyal following. About 80 percent of its business comes from regulars who work and live in the neighborhood, according to owner and chef Diana Tandia.

“I am very surprised with the warm welcome I got from the neighborhood,” Tandia said. She added that lunch is always packed during the week, and that even though she isn’t adept at social media, word of mouth keeps bringing in more customers.

“I was really scared opening this place, because I didn’t know how people would approach Afro-fusion cuisine,” she admitted. “But I think it’s amazing. I am surprised myself.” She said of all the regulars that come in, “It’s like my second family here.”

Tandia worked in fine dining for 10 years before deciding to start her own place, both to spend more time with her son and to allow her to travel more.

“I wanted to expand my knowledge in cooking, and lean more toward Asian cooking.” She has recently been to Hong Kong, Thailand and Cambodia, and spent most of the past summer cooking in Bali.

Tandia is from Mauritania in West Africa, and said she speaks French and multiple African dialects. There is a big West African influence on the menu, she noted, including Mauritania, Nigeria and Senegalese empanadas. Tandia said her grandmother on her father’s side is Senegalese.

There are also Caribbean influences. In the custom bowl, the fried rice option is Indonesian and the veggie options change daily. On a recent day it was roasted squash with thyme, but Tandia said it could be broccoli, or she may wok vegetables with sesame oil.

“It just depends what my mood is today, it changes all the time,” she said of what’s on the menu.

There are also French influences, including a “Colonial Quiche Lorraine,” and French options for the custom bowls.

Other menu options include Moorish kebab, Senegalese Djolof Fried Rice, Calypso Jerk Wings and an African Street Burger, which is marinated and served with piri-piri, an African hot sauce.

“Everything is homemade,” Tandia said, adding that she and the staff come in at 8 a.m. to start preparing the food, and don’t open until noon. The jerk chicken, for example, is marinated for up to 48 hours before being grilled, cut and finished in the oven.

Tandia said she focused on street food because it’s the most authentic.

“All around the world, I try only street food,” she said. “I’m a big believer if you really want to get a taste of a country, you should start with the street food.”

Berber Street Food is closed on weekends, which Tandia said lets her spend time with her son after she works long hours during the week. And she said she’s not worried about losing business because of all the regulars she gets during weekdays. She rents the place for private events on weekends and does some catering work, as well.

Berber Street Food, at 35 Carmine St., 646-870-0495, berberstreetfood.com, does not take reservations but offers delivery via Seamless.

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