In Mali, there is a varied choice for food and dining, from pastry shops to restaurants offering African, Asian or international cuisine. In the large cities, several of the hotels have restaurant and bar facilities of international standard, serving international dishes, and most towns have small restaurants serving local and north African dishes. Hotel restaurants are open to non-residents.
In smaller places, the standard Malian restaurant serves chicken or beef with fries and/or salad – usually edible and affordable, but boring and not particularly Malian. The better places in the more touristy areas may also have some local specialities. For the adventurous, street food is a lot more fun and cheap – breakfast will be omelette sandwiches, lunch is usually rice with a couple sauces to choose from, and dinner presents many options including beans, spaghetti cooked in oil and a little tomato, potatoes, fried rice, chicken, meatballs, beef kebabs, fish and salad. You can find little table along the road sides and near transport centres.
Alcohol is available in bars (with very late opening hours), but since the majority is Muslim, there is a good range of fresh fruit juices. Most people tend to drink fruit juice rather than alcohol.
Bamako has a number of restaurants that serve African, French, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Italian and Lebanese specialities. A few cafés and local bakeries serve sandwiches, burgers, pizza, etc. Brochettes (skewered meat) are widely available. The Kempinski Hotel, the Sofitel and the Mandé Hotel offer a Sunday buffet brunch and the Hotel Salam offers a buffet breakfast. The Broadway Café in Hippodrome offers pancakes, eggs, shakes, and so on at all hours of the day and evening. Restaurant reservations are rarely required.
Located at Place OMVS in Quartier du Fleuve, African Grill is a wonderful place to sample African specialities like foutou (sticky yam or plantain paste), kedjenou (slowly simmered chicken or fish with peppers and tomatoes) and poulet yassa (grilled chicken in onion and lemon sauce). There's a different plat du jour every day, a delightful oasis of a dining area, friendly service, and a steady stream of regulars. They also do sandwiches and have a branch restaurant in the Musée National.
The décor at San Toro (Route de Koulikoro, Hippodrome) is charmingly African and the specialities are fantastic Malian dishes, which can take a while to appear, but are always worth the wait. The restaurant doesn't serve alcohol, but there are fruit juices.
Off Route de Sotuba in the neighbourhood of Niaréla, you will find Le Compagnard. This restaurant serves high-quality French dishes, French wines and a switched-on ambience ensure plenty of regular customers among the expatriate community. The salad bar is a nice touch, and the wood-fired pizzas are as good as you'll find in Bamako.
For authentic Thai cuisine, head to Soukhothai (Rue 311, Quartier du Fleuve). The expatriate community swears by this place as one of Bamako's best restaurants. As for Vietnamese, Hong Mai (Rue 220, Niaréla) does cheap and quick Vietnamese food.
Pâtisserie le Royaume des Gourmands (Avenue Modibo Keita, Quartier du Fleuve) is an air-con haven amid busy Bamako is the best patisserie in town, with good croissants, coffee and fresh orange juice served with a smile.
In the neighbourhood of Bamako Coura on Rue Ousamane Bagayoko, Café Restaurant la Casa is a fine, relaxed backpacker hang-out opposite the Mission Catholique; their spaghetti, couscous and ragout dishes contain the freshest ingredients, but if you want meat you'll need to order in advance.