11 Queer-Owned Restaurants You Need to Visit
It’s great food with a side of Pride at these LGBTQIA-owned restaurants.
Across the US, gay bars aren’t too hard to find, but gay restaurants tend to be a little less overt. In more subtle ways though, queer-owned restaurants are cornerstones of their communities, be it a pleasant surprise in a flyover state, a tropical Hudson Valley oasis, or a beacon of purple-hued inclusivity amidst a sea of sports bars. By hanging rainbow flags, donating to social justice organizations, slinging feminist literature, or simply being welcoming havens, queer dining rooms are crucial gathering places for LGBTQIA+ people with discerning palates. From Oklahoma City to Oakland, these 11 amazing queer-owned restaurants are some of our favorites.
84 Hospitality in Oklahoma City
It just so happens that the most popular and prolific restaurant group in the urban hub of one of America’s reddest states is queer-owned. Rachel Cope is the founder and CEO of 84 Hospitality, a powerhouse group responsible for Oklahoma City’s buzziest and most successful restaurants and bars, from Goro Ramen + Izakaya and Burger Punk to Empire Slice House (the one that started it all). Each unique concept, thoughtfully planted as neighborhood keystones throughout the city, exhibits a penchant for community, an eye for design, a sense of inclusivity, and a proven strategy for success. Her restaurants are beloved for the delicious food (the Sriracha-drizzled Foghorn Leghorn slices at Empire are definitely worth the inevitable wait and ditto the picadillo tots at Revolucion), but also for providing spaces that are diverse and welcoming. With the tireless work ethic of Beyoncé, Cope and 84 Hospitality have expanded Empire to Tulsa, announced a partnership with Capitals Ice Cream, and opened Neon Coffee.
Pink Door Cookies in Nashville, Tennessee
Follow the rainbow — or rather, the rainbow brownie cookie — to one of the most colorful, whimsical, and exciting new-ish cookie shops in the country: Pink Door Cookies. What started as an all-too-familiar story of quarantine resilience and ingenuity for pastry chef/owner Mathew Rice, whose confectionary resume runs the gamut from Girl & the Goat to Pastaria (with a winning stint on Chopped along the way), has evolved into a full-fledged storefront in Chestnut Hill. In the early months of the pandemic, Rice began taking cookie orders via Instagram for pickup from his home (the one with the pink door, in case you were wondering). Now that he’s got a small storefront, it’s thankfully easier to get your sugar fix on the reg. The playful flavors are as fun to describe as they are to eat: rainbow brownie cookies with chocolate frosting, rainbow candy bits, mini chocolate chips, “optimistic vibes,” PB&J cookies with peanut butter chips, and many more. Don’t forget to snag a Pink Door Pride T-shirt while you’re there!
Bloodroot in Bridgeport, Connecticut
The concept of a lesbian-owned feminist bookstore/vegan restaurant hybrid may sound like something out of Portlandia, but Selma Miriam and Noel Furie have been peddling empowering literature and egg-less quiche long before it was cool (1977 to be precise). Located in quaint Bridgeport, Connecticut, Bloodroot has the warm, welcoming vibe of a woodland cottage, complete with relaxing patio, an ever-changing blackboard menu of seasonal plant-based bites, and plenty of feminist reading material to occupy your mind while you enrich your belly with vegan cheese boards and ripe-from-the-garden blueberry pie. Part bookstore, part health-conscious counter-service eatery, Bloodroot has long established itself as a community cornerstone for feminists, activists, and LGBTQIA+ patrons who want their tofu salad with a side of sisterhood.
Davis Wayne’s Restaurant in Chattanooga, Tennessee
Owned by partners Antonia Poland and Cynthia Wood, and located on charming Cambridge Square in the Chattanooga suburb of Ooltewah, Davis Wayne’s Restaurant is a modern Southern eatery filled with heartwarming ambience and surprises. For one thing, the classic meat-and-three formula is served in a seriously stylish dining room, where hearty offerings like jerk pork tenderloin and slow-cooked pot roast are joined by sides such as fried corn, glazed carrots, pinto beans, and cheesy broccoli. It’s also got award-winning cocktails like peachy martinis, strawberry daiquiris, and Unicorn Punch — which packs such a punch that it comes with a two-drink limit.
Big Heart Hospitality in Boston, Massachusetts
As the O.G. winner of Top Chef and the head of Boston’s Big Heart Hospitality, Tiffani Faison is quite the culinary force, with diverse concepts like Southeast Asian-inspired Tiger Mama, Sweet Cheeks Q, and Italian-accented Orfano. Each of her Fenway restaurants offers totally distinct vibes and flavors, from the casual comforts of buttermilk biscuits and sliced prime brisket at Sweet Cheeks to roving martini carts and housemade rigatoni Bolognese at Orfano. But no matter which spot sounds like the best date night joint, it’s empowering to know it’s the handiwork of a lesbian chef reigning at the top of the Boston food scene. Still to come from Faison: a raw bar called Dive Bar and Tenderoni’s Pizza, both taking shape at forthcoming food hall, High Street Place, due later in 2021.
Lil’ Deb’s Oasis in Hudson, New York
Lil’ Deb’s Oasis (not to be confused with the snack cakes) is a pastoral, pastel-hued sanctuary for playful tropical bites and queer-friendly respite in Hudson, New York. Owned by partners Carla Perez-Gallardo and Hannah Black, both of whom were semifinalists for James Beard Awards in 2019, Lil’ Deb’s Oasis lives up to its welcoming name with an overarching ethos of social connection, righteousness, and rights for diverse communities — with a portion of proceeds from every menu item going to racial justice and mutual aid organizations. The space is so colorful it makes Barbie’s Dreamhouse look drab, and the cuisine is described as tropical comfort food with items like silk road salad laden with tomatoes, fried eggplant, and feta; “sweet surrender crudo” with scallops, coconut, coffee, grape, and dill; and a bright and tangy passion fruit tiramisu.
JenniVee’s Bakery in Chicago, Illinois
It used to be that most dining spots in Chicago’s Wrigleyville were limited to clichéd sports bars, but nowadays the diversifying neighborhood is also home to the city’s only trans-owned bakery. Jenne Vailoces, aka Jenni Vee, is the owner of her namesake Filipino-American JenniVee’s Bakery, where all-American faves like red velvet and funfetti share shelf space with ube buttercream cupcakes and pandan chiffon cakes with young coconut filling. An homage to her Filipino heritage, the bakery was also envisioned as a safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community — one of Vailoces’ primary motivations for the shop was to counteract infamous bakeries refusing to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples. So the next time you’re hungry after a Cubs game, skip the hot dog and head to JenniVee’s for a slice of mango cream cake.
Miss Ollie’s in Oakland, California
San Francisco is undoubtedly America’s queer epicenter, but across the bay, things are just as gay in Oakland. A prime example is Miss Ollie’s, an LGBTQIA+ and Black-owned Caribbean hot spot from chef Sarah Kirnon that goes above and beyond. They offer their community halal fried chicken upon request and shut down on Tuesdays to cook for houseless citizens. Aside from making outrageously delicious Caribbean food like goat curry, skillet fried chicken, and jerk shrimp salad, Kirnon strives to curate a space that’s deliberately welcoming for queer and Black diners. It's a sentiment made clear by its menu specials for holidays like Juneteenth, its pink interior strewn with eccentric artwork, and its refreshing, breezy aesthetic reminiscent of a beachside bar.
Farm Bar in Tulsa, Oklahoma
The flyover states are always the ones with the biggest surprises. In Tulsa, Lisa Becklund's Farm Bar is one of the spots pushing second-tier cities in unexpected places to the forefront of the national culinary conversation with its intimate tasting menu that takes local sourcing so seriously, it gets much of its ingredients from Living Kitchen Farm & Dairy right next door. Chef/owner Becklund was also James Beard-nominated for Best Chef: Southwest in 2020, making her one of the first nominees from Oklahoma’s second largest city. Forget any preconceived chicken-fried notions about the area because Becklund’s dazzling restaurant (which she co-owns with partner Linda Ford) is here to spotlight Oklahoma’s surprisingly vibrant agriculture by eschewing menus in favor of ever-changing 10-course degustations of farm-fresh bites. The restaurant website lists in-season ingredients so you have hints, but the rest is up to Becklund, and all are welcome.
Saint John’s Bar & Eatery in Seattle, Washington
If you’re both gay and a fan of Jurassic Park, then Saint John’s Bar & Eatery in Seattle might be your dream come true. The singular vision of Michael Lee, the queer-owned concept bills itself as a dinosaur-themed bar and restaurant, where epic pre-historic murals, artwork, and trinkets provide a whimsical backdrop while eating enough chicken wings and tuna melts to satiate a T-Rex. It’s also the gayest gastropub in Capitol Hill, with Pride parties, rainbow flags, and sassy chalkboard phrases like “We like our gay friends married and our vices legal and taxed.”
Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ in Walt Disney World, Florida
Not only is Walt Disney World a great place to celebrate your gay honeymoon, but it’s an equally great place to satisfy your hankerings for soulful Southern comfort. Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’, one of the most popular (read: annoyingly hard to get into) restaurants in Disney Springs is the kind of place that feels like a big hug from the affable gay uncle you always wanted — one who can also whip up a mean platter of fried chicken and biscuits. Art Smith made a name for himself as Oprah’s personal chef and as the owner of Chicago’s Blue Door Kitchen & Garden before making his “homecomin’” to Florida to open a space where locals and tourists from all walks of life feel welcome. The reservations are impossible to get for good reason, too — the hushpuppies, fried chicken, and pineapple-banana hummingbird cake are some of the best eats in Disney.