12 U.S. restaurants that celebrate Black foodways

Bamboo Walk, in New York City, showcases beloved Caribbean dishes. Photo credit: Lumumba David.
A lobster tail on a pool of sauce at the NYC restaurant Bamboo Walk

Black foodways are as diverse as the people who are part of the community. Black food has often been viewed as a monolith, but restaurants across the country are showcasing the widespread influences within these cuisines.

In Brooklyn, hard-to-find Trinbagonian food, influenced by West African, Indian, and indigenous cuisines, is getting a much-needed spotlight. In Charlotte, foods of the Mississippi River Valley, such as sorghum and benne seeds, star in Southern comfort food dishes. And in Atlanta, a fried chicken sandwich destination that doubled as a meeting hub for leaders of the Civil Rights Movement is still going strong. 

Black chefs and restaurateurs across the country today are honoring their heritages with preparations both traditional and modern, in lively, exciting, community-minded spaces that’ll make you want to keep going back. Read on for 12 restaurants that are showcasing the diversity of Black foodways in America right now. 

Cafe Sbisa (New Orleans)

A French-Creole seafood dish at the New Orleans restaurant Cafe Sbisa
Creole seafood dishes star on the menu at Cafe Sbisa. Photo credit: Cafe Sbisa

This fine-dining French Quarter establishment has been dazzling diners with French Creole cuisine since 1899. French Creole cooking is a unique style that originated in New Orleans in the 18th century due to the presence of people from varied backgrounds in the city including French settlers, Native Americans, Portuguese, Germans, and the native-born descendents of African slaves. New Orleans native Alfred Singleton took over the Cafe Sbisa kitchen in 2016, when the restaurant reopened following a revamp. Come here for the courtbouillon, a Creole bouillabaisse, or stew, that Cafe Sbisa prepares with shrimp, crawfish tails, and mussels all cooked in a spicy sauce. Other classics include the crawfish beignets and the bananas Foster French toast. Cafe Sbisa makes some of the best versions of these hits in New Orleans. 

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Vyoone’s (New Orleans)

A bowl of cheesy, toast-topped French onion soup at Vyoone's in New Orleans.
The French onion soup is a dish you’ll want to keep going back for at Vyoone’s. Photo credit: Vyoone’s.

Owner Vyoone Therese Segue lets her southern French, African American, and Native American heritage shine through the menu at her acclaimed, eponymous New Orleans restaurant. That’s most evident in dishes such as the crevettes de barbecue, a sautéed shrimp dish featuring a spicy, vinegary, and garlicky sauce, synonymous with New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp (which aren’t actually barbecued but embody the color in the finished product). Vyoone’s rendition of French onion soup is another dish you’ll want to keep going back for. French bistro vibes await inside the restaurant, and there’s an intimate courtyard outdoors that’s fit for a romantic night out.  

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Bamboo Walk (New York City)

A salad dish at the NYC restaurant Bamboo Walk featuring radish and avocado
Come to Bamboo Walk, in New York City, for beloved Caribbean dishes. Photo credit: Lumumba David.

Jamaican-born Paula Mercure and her Haitian spouse Pierre Mercure didn’t let a global pandemic stop them from realizing their dream of opening an upscale Caribbean restaurant in Brooklyn. With a kitchen spearheaded by Paula’s mother Lorna Taylor and executive chef Dexter Royes, the Mercures debuted Bamboo Walk in East Flatbush in 2020. The restaurant showcases beloved Caribbean dishes, including falling-off-the-bone tender curry goat, a rich oxtail stew, and snapper that can be ordered fried or Escovitch style. (The latter is a style where the fish is topped with spicy, pickled vegetables in a recipe that dates back hundreds of years to Spain but was given a Jamaican twist as a result of colonialism.) Plants hang from the ceiling as a nod to the tropics, and cocktails such as the Bahama Mama, with coconut rum, pineapple juice, and grenadine, are meant to transport you to the islands. 

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The Ariapita (New York City)

A curry goat dish at the NYC restaurant The Ariapita
Trinbagonian food cooked by chef Osei Blackett is the focus at The Ariapita. Photo credit: The Ariapita

Brooklyn’s The Ariapita might have a modest space, but that’s largely because the focus here is entirely on the Trinbagonian food cooked by chef Osei Blackett, who grew up in Trinidad. Trinbagonian food, a blend of Trinidadian and Tobagonian foods, is influenced by West African, Indian, and indigenous cuisines, and is relatively rare in New York, where food from the Caribbean islands is still largely represented by Jamaican cooking. Blackett is spotlighting some of his childhood favorites such as the creamy curried crab dumplings that are seasoned with a spice paste featuring ginger, garlic, and cumin. Or try the saucy and crispy cumin-dusted Gerra chicken wings that you’ll want to dip in the tart and cooling tamarind-mint sauce on the side. Due to colonialism, Indians began arriving as indentured laborers in Trinidad and Tobago in the 18th century. As a result, modern-day Trinidadian and Tobagonian foods are heavily influenced by Indian curries, the uses of spices such as cumin, and tamarind sauces, all melding with the existing African and Caribbean influences on the islands. At The Ariapita, weekends are lit. Order one of the rum cocktails such as the guava punch and get down in the dining room, where tables are set aside for a DJ and dancing.

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Massawa- NY (New York City) 

Ethiopian injera bread with a lentil and meat stew topping at NYC restaurant Massawa
Let injera bread be your vehicle for sopping up lentils and stews at Massawa in New York City. Photo credit: Massawa

Getting to eat with your hands is just one of the delightful reasons you should go to Massawa, one of the oldest Eritrean and Ethiopian restaurants in NYC, founded by Almaz Ghebrezgabher and Amanuel Tekeste in 1988. As is customary in Ethiopian households, the food at Massawa is served without utensils to allow you to scoop it all up with injera, a type of fermented flatbread made from teff flour that dates back to 600 AD in modern-day Ethiopia and Eritrea. Timtimo, a red lentil stew seasoned with the spice mix berbere and ginger, is an ideal vehicle for the bread. Or try one of the meat dishes such as tsebhi beghe, or spicy lamb with onions and berbere. Try it all with honey wine, a semi-sweet, cooling accompaniment to the saucy food. 

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Moi Moi Restaurant (Washington, D.C.)

Gambian chef Howsoon Cham highlights West African cooking at his Washington, D.C. restaurant

Gambian chef Howsoon Cham was disappointed with the lack of West African-influenced food in Washington, D.C., so he debuted Moi Moi in early 2022. Cham’s extensive fine-dining training and love for Southern American food also stands out in the menu with dishes such as the grilled NY strip steak prepared like suya, a smoked and spiced skewered meat dish that is believed to have originated with the Hausa people in northern Nigeria. The okra stew featuring goat meat and smoked crayfish is another standout dish on the menu. If you simply can’t choose, Cham makes the decision somewhat easier with a $75-per-person, three-course meal with an appetizer, entree, and dessert. 

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The Anchor Spa (New Haven, Connecticut)

A bake and shark sandwich at the Trinidadian New Haven restaurant the Anchor Spa
Trinidadian street food such as bake and shark is served with grilled swordfish at the Anchor Spa. Photo credit: The Anchor Spa

This historic cocktail bar has lived on in many iterations since it opened in 1939. Today, owner Karl Franz Williams has turned it into a showcase for Caribbean flavors. A highlight is the rasta pasta, with a jerk cream sauce with scotch bonnet peppers and the option to add chicken skewers, garlic shrimp, or grilled swordfish. As is the bake and shark, a typical Trinidadian street food consisting of fried bread and fried shark meat, that the Anchor Spa makes with a spicy cabbage slaw and swordfish instead. And since this is a retro cocktail bar, the plethora of drinking options don’t disappoint. Try the rum-based Yale Beets Harvard (Franz Williams is a Yale grad), featuring beet juice and molasses bitters, or go for the gin-based Color Purple with blackberries and crème de violette liqueur. 

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Paschal’s Restaurant (Atlanta)

A fried chicken and green collards plate at Paschal's restaurant in Atlanta
Paschal’s in Atlanta served as a meeting hub for leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Photo credit: Paschal’s.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Aretha Franklin, and former vice president Al Gore have all dined at Paschal’s, an Atlanta institution famed for its fried chicken sandwich since 1947. Contrary to some misconceptions, fried chicken was introduced to America by Scottish settlers, and was eventually embraced by enslaved Black people. In the 19th century, Black women in particular made selling fried chicken a means for economic upliftment. In Atlanta, brothers James and Robert Paschal created a restaurant that became a meeting hub for leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, entertainers, and politicians, all of whom were drawn to the brothers’ top-notch soul food. Apart from the fried chicken, they returned time and again for other Southern food classics such as smothered pork chops, braised short ribs, and peach cobbler. From its start as a 30-seat sandwich shop to its spacious current home in the historic Castleberry Hill neighborhood, Paschal’s legacy endures. 

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Leah & Louise (Charlotte)

James Beard Award-nominated chef Greg Collier and spouse Subrina Collier looked to the Mississippi River Valley foodways as inspiration for Leah & Louise, their modern interpretation of a juke joint. The Colliers are beloved in their community, having founded BayHaven, an annual food festival that brings together the nation’s top Black chefs and entrepreneurs. At their Charlotte restaurant, the jive turkey is a fresh take on your standard turkey wing dinner. The Colliers serve the fried meat with spicy sorghum and smoked benne seeds, both of which are nods to their heritage (the first recorded use of sorghum was reportedly in Africa 8,000 years ago, and benne seeds were being cultivated in the American South from as early as the 18th century). The Colliers’s steadfast commitment to their community is what sets them apart: Diners at the restaurant can always request a “pay what you can dish,” the couple’s effort to make everyone feel included.

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Empire State Jazz Cafe (Houston)

There’s always a celebration happening at Empire State Jazz Cafe, where diners flock for the live jazz and reggae music, open mic poetry, and brunch parties featuring Cajun and Creole dishes. CEO Victor Allotey has made sure the menu spotlights some of the favorites from the cuisines such as etouffee, a seafood stew that was reportedly invented in Louisiana in the 1920s. Empire State serves its version over rice with shrimp and crawfish. The stewed okra and tomato loaded with sausage and shrimp is another highlight at the restaurant. Tables here get booked up fast, so plan on making a reservation ahead of time.

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Swamp Chicken Mo City (Houston)

This family-owned and -operated Cajun restaurant prides itself on its boudin-stuffed chicken wings, where the meat is stuffed with pork sausage and peppers. It’s a staple of Cajun cooking brought to Louisiana by Acadians and French settlers in the late 1700s. That’s just one of the stellar Cajun dishes Terrie Mason and her family serve here—go beyond the wings with fried grits or peach-glazed chicken and waffles. Get comfortable at one the benches or high stools to slow down and savor the meal.

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Kulture (Houston) 

A sliced meat dish with pieces of corn and a yellow sauce at the restaurant Kulture in Houston
Chef Toya Terry melded soul food with Peruvian-Criollo cooking at Kulture. Photo credit: Kulture

Houston’s Kulture is known just as much for chef Keisha Griggs’s modern take on Southern comfort foods as much as it is for the spotlight it shines on Black chefs across the country. When it opened in 2018, restaurateur Marcus Davis’s restaurant quickly gained acclaim for dishes such as the black eyed peas hummus served with akara (Nigerian bean fritters) and the oxtail ragout with coconut rice grits. Since the pandemic, however, the restaurant has been home to Black Chef Table, a showcase of Black foodways and culinary starpower. James Beard Award-winning chef Kwame Onwuachi shone a spotlight on West African food here, and in November 2022, chef Toya Terry melded soul food with Criollo-Peruvian, or Peruvian comfort food. Next up in February 2023, chef Jeff Taylor will spotlight his Afro-Puerto Rican cooking in a seven-course dinner. Diners at Kulture are treated to lively events with music and performers, but more than anything the restaurant is a reminder of the breadth and depth of Black food.

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Ameena Walker is an NYC writer and editor covering architecture, food, design, real estate, and culture. 

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