There is something beautiful about simplicity. Dishes don’t always have to have a long list of ingredients to be amazing. Tucked away in a little strip mall off of New Circle Road in Lexington, La Reference is a very plain-looking restaurant serving some great African food.

Given the size of the restaurant, La Reference only has a few tables and booths. There isn’t much decoration either beyond a light purple accent wall. You first go place your order then find an open table to take a seat while your food is prepared.

I had just arrived as the last of the oxtail stew was sold so I settled on the fried fish with plantains ($18.00) and picked out a bottle of pineapple Jarritos ($2.00).

Chips and Dip

Unexpectedly, I was first given a plate of tortilla chips and a ranch dip that contained diced pickles. While my knowledge of African food is admittedly narrow, I don’t know if any part of this has any root in African cuisine. That’s not to say it was bad. I’ve always enjoyed the mixture of tanginess from pickles and the creaminess from things like mayonnaise or cream cheese. Unlike most pre-entree freebies, this was a tasty treat that wasn’t too filling (6/10).

My main meal arrives shortly after. This is where I must also confess a slight ignorance of different types of fish. I don’t exactly know what type of fish I was served other than it was medium-sized and towards the head had smaller rib bones. It was incredible. The fish was juicy with an almost tuna steak taste to it. Beyond perhaps salt and pepper, I didn’t notice any seasoning used, though the fish didn’t need it. Served on top of the fish was a mixture of sauteed onions and green and red peppers. Their bright sweetness elevated the dish.

Fried Fish

I had a choice between rice or plantains as my side dish, so I went with the plantains as I always love ordering them at Mexican and Cuban restaurants. These were sliced more to a banana chip thickness, fried, and topped with salt and pepper. While I certainly enjoyed them, the plantains were a bit hard to eat with a fork unlike their more caramelized brothers at Mexican restaurants.

All that being said, I believe it’s incredible that a dish that is essentially a fish, some onions and peppers, and plantains could be so flavorful. I am not being facetious when I say I ate the dish to the bone (8/10).

There was a poster near the door when I was walking in that said, “Immigrants and Refugees welcome here”. I think that’s what makes this whole experience of writing about food so worth it. People that come to America and patch their food and culture into a wider tapestry. When you’re thinking about the next place you want to eat at, consider a place like this.