During the ’80s and ’90s, Times Square was the turf of the Senegalese, and their eateries operated as ghost kitchens in hotel rooms and pop-ups in delis. In the decades since, a West African eating establishment has been notably absent from Times Square — until now.
Lagos Bar & Grill, a Nigerian restaurant, first opened in 2021 at Second Avenue and 49th Street near the United Nations. By March of last year, it had moved into a more prominent and accessible space at the north end of Times Square, at 727 Seventh Avenue, near 48th Street, changing its name to the catchier Lagos TSQ.
Now, it’s a trilevel clubstaurant that seats 200 or so, with a wild lighting scheme of pinks, blues, and purples; huge crystal chandeliers; and an ocean-liner of a bar along one wall over which monitors hang, tuned to football, basketball, and music videos. An elegant banquette flanked by tables hugs the opposite wall, and there are two additional rooms upstairs along with a VIP loft.
Customers are greeted at the front door by a selfie setup featuring a backdrop of plastic foliage, conga drums, and a wicker throne. In addition to an international selection of wines, the bar menu lists invented cocktails. Many feature tropical juices like pineapple and coconut, with names like Fire on the Mountain ($22), with two kinds of Caribbean rum, peach Schnapps, prosecco, pomegranate grenadine, pineapple, orange, and orgeat syrup, decorated with a lime slice — which is lit aflame as it arrives. I know this drink sounds like it would knock you on your ass, but it doesn’t, tasting mostly like fruit juice.
About a third of the menu via chef Ayodeji Adeosun features dishes that might be found on other Nigerian menus around town: The best I tried was the famous jollof rice ($19) — a glowing globe of rice laced with palm oil, tomatoes, and a touch of chiles. I ordered the optional chicken on the side ($10 extra), a half bird thickly coated with red sauce that packed a bit of a burn, but pleasantly tender as I stripped the poultry from the bones. The combination made a nearly perfect meal.
But the mild heat of the jollof rice never prepared me for the goat pepper soup ($18). It’s my go-to dish on any Nigerian or Ghanaian menu, a thin spicy soup with goat or sometimes fish bobbing around and nothing else. The heat comes from combinations of chiles and indigenous African spices and peppercorns, often containing grains of paradise. Well, when I tried my first bite, it almost took the top of my head off and steam started shooting out my ears. I’ve never tasted a version this hot before.
If you’re looking for something much milder, pick the loaded version of moi moi ($12), a finely textured mash of black-eyed peas something like a tamale, in this case stuffed with boiled egg and ground corned beef — a protein source that usually comes in cans and is readily available in African markets. This boxcar of beans is absolutely stomach soothing, especially after a few bites of pepper soup.
At this point, the chef turns to bar food like Buffalo wings, calamari, and steak sliders, along with more interesting fusion dishes, some good, some not. The goat tacos are made with flour tortillas bent into a U and fried — the shell itself is worth eating in spite of a too-tough meat filling, which comes drizzled with avocado aioli.
The shawarma sandwich ($19), on the other hand, is mega tasty, shreds of chicken tossed with vegetables and a mayo-tahini dressing. It comes with fries or a salad, and did I mention that there are some cut-up hot dogs in there too? It makes a wonderful and not too expensive Times Square lunch. Then there’s a so-called Lagos smash burger tucked into a roll, but consists mainly of suya — spice-dusted and grilled beef — with a fried egg on top, which didn’t quite seem like a smash burger.
As we left, the bouncer at the front door laughed when I told him I’d tried the pepper soup. He then mentioned that the owners of Lagos TSQ were going to be opening another Nigerian restaurant not far away with a more traditional menu. When they do, I’m there, but till then, this place provides a much better alternative to the neighborhood’s Bubba Gump Shrimp Company and the like.