Review: Comfort Kitchen Beautifully Executes a Soulful, Global Menu

The Upham's Corner restaurant not only illuminates the African diaspora through terrific food, drinks, and service, but a path to improve the lives of its descendants.

A spread of dishes at Comfort Kitchen, including yassa chicken, jerk jackfruit sliders, and more. / Photo by Brian Samuels

Every restaurant has a story, or at least a website “About Us” section with a founder’s mission statement. Some are more compelling than others. There’s the Plucky Indie First-Timer (“It’s been our lifelong dream to serve Mom’s cooking!”); the Solemn Luddite (“Our food demands intense focus, so no phones allowed!”); and the Food-TV Celebrity Jerk (which, regardless of the marketing spin, should always be read as: “This is my 19th chain outlet; don’t expect to see me here again after the ribbon-cutting.”). Once in a while, a restaurant emerges whose story extends further and deeper, knitting the space, menu, staff, customers, and neighborhood together. Comfort Kitchen, a Black-, immigrant-, and woman-owned restaurant that opened in January 2023 in Upham’s Corner, has just such a story. Its food and drinks are wrapped in history lessons both global and local, relaying the thorny tale of the centuries-long African diaspora; together, they reflect the tangled culinary and cultural influences of a vast, polyglot stream of immigrants, not all of whom came here freely.

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To highlight that interconnectedness, the restaurant’s leadership team—development partner Nyacko Pearl Perry, managing partner Biplaw Rai, chef-partner Kwasi Kwaa, and branding partner Rita Ferreira—greet diners with an expansive printed menu that documents their aims, ethos, and inspirations. The food itself draws on strains of South Asian, Middle Eastern, North African, West African, and Caribbean cooking, resulting in a diverse palette of ingredients and techniques united by a few common threads (chilies, legumes, staple grains, and slow cookery). In the hands of gifted professionals, the result can be fascinating and soul-satisfying food, like a dazzlingly spiced chicken stew or a bland wild fruit alchemized into lip-smacking slider filling—two standouts from Comfort Kitchen’s menu.

The exterior of the Upham’s Corner restaurant. / Photo by Brian Samuels

What makes this particular story even more remarkable is how this fledgling business is striving to address some of the adverse outcomes of the history behind the food it serves. One example is the transformation of the restaurant’s setting: an abandoned “comfort station” (read: public restroom) built in 1912. The building closed in the 1970s and became a derelict eyesore in this corner of Dorchester. With funding from nonprofit historical preservationists, its Mission Revival exterior has been handsomely restored, its interior completely rebuilt into a softly lit, 30-seat dining room draped in serene shades of ecru, dove, and peach. Five counter seats overlook an open kitchen; the exterior is flanked by two cozy dining patios. Chef Kwaa (a Ghanaian expat) and his team serve a dinner menu of “global comfort food” that attracts diners from all over Greater Boston. (That’s the focus of this review, but by day, the menu shifts to breakfast and lunch pastries, sandwiches, salads, and grain bowls.)

The vast extent of the diaspora is immediately apparent in the “Snacks” (small plates) section of the menu. Beef kafta ($14) carries a whiff of the Levant: meatballs scented with cumin and cinnamon, served with a generous cucumber salad dusted with fresh herbs and dried chili flakes over yogurt tahini. The aforementioned jackfruit sliders ($13) use jerk seasoning to jazz up the flesh of an Indian fruit with the texture of shredded meat: a complex, chili-hot, spice-and-smoke technique that fuses indigenous Caribbean and immigrant African influences. Layered with pickled red onion, coriander aioli, and baby arugula, the sensational pair of little sandwiches evoke spicy pulled pork. Seared okra ($12) likewise trots the globe with an Indian-accented, masala-spiced yogurt and crunchy West African plantain crumbs. Among these starters, only a seasonal salad ($12) seems squarely in the modern-American corner, a riff on the familiar roasted-beets-and-goat-cheese salad that gets lightened up with a fluffy house-made ricotta and a tahini vinaigrette.

The entrée-size plates in the menu’s “Meals” section reveal other geographic inspirations. Potato curry cake ($22) would be right at home in a Bengali restaurant: two crunchy mashed-potato croquettes flecked with peas and spiked with a hot masala spice blend, ably complemented with dollops of tomato jam and lemon yogurt, rounded out with a huge herb salad in a lemon vinaigrette. Yassa chicken ($24), a Senegalese one-pot stew of chicken leg and thigh, combines the smack of chili heat with mustard-seed pungency, adding starchy contrast with delightfully chewy, mild cassava dumplings. Jerk marinade provides mild fire to a tenderly confited and then pan-roasted duck leg ($30). One might complain about the price for the smallish amount of protein, but the accompanying hillock of rice and peas in a fragrant coconut-milk gravy should leave no one hungry, while Haitian-style pikliz (a fiery cabbage-and-carrot pickle) and parsley oil add welcome acidity and bright herbaceousness. By contrast, the magnanimously sized za’atar-brown-butter trout ($28) stuns with a superbly cooked, whole-but-boned specimen over smoky eggplant purée, punched up with tomato and a vivid crown of green-onion chimichurri.

The open kitchen is the heart of the interior. / Photo by Brian Samuels

Meanwhile, beverage director Kyisha Davenport has put together a smashing list of craft cocktails and a tight list of wines, ciders, and beers, all favoring BIPOC producers. Standout drinks (all $17) include the Dream Street, featuring hibiscus and orange liqueurs, coconut, and lime (all beachy tropical vibes), and the Kesar Iced Tea, a refreshing, lower-proof long drink with saffron and elote liqueurs, smoky lapsang souchong, lemon, and honey. “Free spirited” (alcohol-free) cocktails ($10) are likewise pretty, intricate, and delicious. Wines include novelties like the 2021 RAS Wines “Source Decay” ($16 per glass, $42 per bottle), a wild-blueberry sparkler from Portland, Maine, that sharply changed my opinion of non-grape wines, and the 2020 Forlorn Hope Wines “Dragone Ramato” ($17/$38), a California orange pinot gris with the sherry-like edge of skin-contact fermentation. Lacking a standalone bar, Davenport mixes and pours from inside the kitchen, joining back- and front-of-house staffers in a deft ballet to maneuver through the tight space. It’s exciting and edifying to watch this small, exceptionally well-coordinated squad — despite the cramped backstage quarters.

Nepali expat Biplaw Rai often notes how the restaurant industry is a microcosm of the immigrant experience in America. There’s ready kitchen work to be had—many immigrants are already skilled home cooks—but the hours are difficult (especially for working parents), the wages low, and benefits like healthcare distinctly lacking. Further, restaurants that serve immigrant cuisines are often marginalized in the popular imagination as casual, low-service, and located in poorer neighborhoods. Rai and company seek to address many of these issues by paying their staff a living wage (with the help of a 5 percent kitchen appreciation fee) and delivering a fine-dining experience with high-touch service in a location that anchors an ongoing neighborhood revitalization effort. In this way, they create a much more powerful narrative, one that is deeply relevant to a huge swath of the city but has long been muted or ignored. Comfort Kitchen illuminates not only the extent of the African diaspora through food but a path to improve the lives of its descendants and other immigrants here. And with the help of its beautifully executed menu and sweet space, it succeeds in telling a story that Bostonians should finally, gratefully, be able to embrace.


Comfort Kitchen

611 Columbia Rd., Dorchester, 617-329-6918,

Menu Highlights

Jerk jackfruit sliders, Seasonal salad, Beef kafta, Za’atar-brown-butter trout, Jerk-roasted duck, Yassa chicken, Pistachio-cardamom ice cream

★★★★ Extraordinary | ★★★ Generally Excellent | ★★ Good | ★ Fair | (No Stars) Poor

First published in the print edition of the June 2023 issue with the headline “Comfort and Joy.”