17 Essential Black-Owned Restaurants in the Bay Area
From Liberian cuisine to vegan BBQ to French-inspired fare.
If you’re looking to support our local Black communities, a great way to do so is by putting your dollars into their businesses. This goes for all kinds of Black-owned businesses, but considering you have to eat to survive and that we can finally eat out with no restrictions, dining at Black-owned restaurants is a no-brainer way to do exactly that.
Let’s be clear. Eating at Black-owned establishments isn’t going to change the abhorrent ongoing injustices that Black Americans are forced to deal with every day. It won’t suddenly end systemic injustice and racism, stop police brutality, or achieve equal rights. We still have to do the work to make that happen. And there is a lot of work to be done. But by eating at Black-owned restaurants, you create opportunities for those businesses to succeed and grow.
It’s also just really fun to eat great food. And this list includes 17 restaurants that can make that happen for you in the form of barbecue, escargot, smashburgers, and more. There are so many amazing Black-owned restaurants in the Bay Area, but think of this list as a jumping off point for a culinary journey that can encourage entrepreneurship, show allyship, and give you a chance to eat tons of flavorful food along the way.
alaMar Kitchen & Bar
You can build your own seafood boil at this Michelin-recommended Caribbean-inspired seafood spot from season 18 Top Chef contestant Nelson German. Start with your protein—Dungeness crab, Alaskan snow crab, or white Gulf shrimp; then choose your sauce—romesco butter, chile pepper scampi (German’s favorite), or rosemary “Steph” curry (the most popular, possibly just because of the name); then, decide on your spice level—mild, hot, fire, or inferno; and pick your add-ons: andouille sausage, white corn, or Yukon gold potato wedges. If you’re not drooling, we don’t even know who you are anymore. There is also a slew of creative cocktails on the menu, including several by Sobre Mesa, German’s Afro-Latino cocktail and tapas bar that’s just a few blocks away.
Barcote’s chef and owner, Mulu Reda, was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and found her passion for cooking her country’s food after she moved to the US and spent time preparing meals for the priest and congregation of her church. That’s how she figured out she wanted to share her food with even more people, which she now does at Barcote, an Ethiopian restaurant with stand-out versions of traditional dishes, like kitfo (spiced minced beef cooked in clarified butter), as well Ethiopian honey wines. If the weather permits, dine al fresco on the charming back patio.
Brown Sugar Kitchen
Brown Sugar Kitchen’s chef and owner, Tanya Holland, is a beloved Bay Area restaurateur known mostly for her inventive take on soul food, but also for her many television appearances (including season 15 of Top Chef), cookbooks, and her podcast “Tanya’s Table.” Her fried chicken is some of the best around, but if you can stray from it, even just once, the North African-spiced oxtails with Creole mashed potatoes will reassure you that you made the right decision.
This Pan-African soul food restaurant from chefs Solomon Johnson and Mike Woods is a collaboration born from heritage and innovation. For Maryland-born Johnson, it’s his Jamaican culture, and for Oakland native Woods, it’s the food he fell in love with when traveling to New Orleans and the Caribbean. The result: bold flavors that take you on vacation even if you’re eating it at your own dining room table. The cultures come together in dishes like the adobo pork bussdown, Sea Island red peas, Carolina gold rice, fried plantains, and jerk BBQ and kijani kibichi sauces. The Gangsta Mac—a crispy corner of the pan mac and cheese—is a must with every order. The two chefs are also working on a new concept, OKO—named after the African god of fertility, harvest, and agriculture—a pan-African fine-dining restaurant that’s currently operating as a supper club with an eight-course tasting menu through 2021 and will officially open in 2022.
Take a vacation to the Caribbean courtesy of Chef Ann (Annabelle Goodridge) who opened CocoBreeze mid-pandemic, bringing a menu full of traditional dishes to the Bay. Goodridge’s culinary career began in Trinidad and Tobago, where, beginning at 12-years-old, she helped out with her mother’s catering business. Now, she’s working with her daughter, Merissa Lyons, to bring authentic Caribbean dishes to Bay Area residents who haven’t had many options when it comes to that arena. (Her daughter runs a vegan bakery in the same space.) The herbaceous jerk chicken is the go-to order, as is anything that comes wrapped in roti.
Whenever someone scoffs at the usage of “Frisco” as an abbreviation for “San Francisco,” saying that no one who lives here really says that, we point them in the direction of Frisco Fried, where SF native and chef/owner Marcel Banks continues his family’s legacy of feeding the Bayview community—he’s the third generation to do so—alongside his Uncle Gregory Banks. Everything at the restaurant is “fried with pride,” but the star of the show is the crisp, golden, juicy, fried-to-order lemon pepper fried chicken based on a recipe passed down from Marcel’s grandfather.
In the middle of the pandemic, renowned pitmaster Matt Horn pivoted from pop-ups to a brick-and-mortar that immediately drew (socially distanced) lines around the block. Horn draws his meat-smoking inspiration from Central Texas and the South but ultimately describes it as “West Coast barbecue,” a thing that, thanks to his tender, 16-hour oak-smoked brisket with a perfectly crispy layer of charred bark, is destined to put the Bay Area on the barbecue map. What to order? Truly, you can’t go wrong with any of the meats, but make sure you get a side of Granny’s potatoes—a cheesy potato casserole based on Horn’s grandmother’s recipe—with every order, and if you want something special, go on Sundays when he smokes a whole hog.
West African food is hard to find in the Bay Area, and if you want Liberian food, well, you’ll have to either go to Dougie Uso’s restaurant Kendejah in San Leandro or track down the restaurant’s food truck—Kendejah on Wheels—usually parked at Lake Merritt or in downtown Oakland. The cuisine is often spicy with a kick, but also sweet and is centered around rice (usually eaten two times a day in Liberia) and other starches, as well as smoked meat and fish. It’s comforting, flavorful, and an adventure in seasoning.
It’s impossible to walk past the alley where Little Skillet resides and not be lured in by the smell of fresh waffles and fried chicken. That combo was sold solely out of a little window for a while, but since 2014 is also available inside the bar next door. Started by chef-owner Jay Fox and his business partner Deanna Sison, Little Skillet was originally an offshoot of Farmerbrown, the Tenderloin’s beloved soul food restaurant. When that shuttered in 2018, it left Little Skillet as the only place to get the famous fried chicken and Belgian-style waffles. We’re just glad we can still get them somewhere.
The guys behind Malibu’s Burgers are hitting all of the trends in the best way possible. Food truck-turned-brick-and-mortar? Check. Smashburgers? Check. One-hundred percent plant-based? Check, check, check. The concept from Darren Preston, aka Darren Malibu, is basically a menu of all of the fast food we crave—burgers, fried chicken sandwiches, crinkle fries, and milkshakes—only completely vegan. Preston/Malibu has lived in Oakland since he was 18, and his co-owner, Wahid Brown, was born and raised there, and there are nods to that in the menu, like the Ghostown Burger (a nickname for the Foster/Hoover neighborhood in West Oakland) and Hella fries (self-explanatory), the latter of which are a must, as is making whichever burger you get a double.
Chef Fernay McPherson learned to cook from great Aunt Minnie and her grandmother Lillie Bell who came to San Francisco during the Great Migration in search of a better life. McPherson is an SF native—she grew up in the Fillmore—and though she uses many of her great aunt and grandmother’s recipes (albeit sometimes with a tweak here or there), the signature rosemary fried chicken marinated with hot spices and fresh rosemary is all hers. It’s truly everything you want when you bite into fried chicken, which is why McPherson can “get away with” it being the only main dish on the menu. Of course, the sides shine as well, especially the brown butter cornbread, which, just like the chicken, is exactly what you want it to be. (It’s also one of the only spots in the Bay Area where you can find legit sweet tea.)
Mission Bowling Club
Mission Bowling Club is not just the chicest bowling alley we’ve ever been to, in addition to being the home of one of our favorite burgers; it’s also owned by Molly Bradshaw, a Black woman who takes the Mission part of the name literally via community partnership and support of local artists and musicians. It’s also just a really fun (and fancy) place to bowl a few games while sipping on creative libations and eating that aforementioned Mission burger with Monterey jack, caramelized onions, caper aioli, all on an Acme bun.
This gorgeous, casual, and inviting restaurant isn’t just owned by three women of color, it’s owned by three women of color who are Bay Area natives, which gives it cred it actually doesn’t need since the food and cocktails speak for themselves. The menu reflects co-owners’ Lea Redmond, Anna Villalobos, and Sandra Davis, Mexican and African American heritages through Latin and Southern flavors, which means fried red snapper with plantains, beans, and rice sits next to cheesy shrimp and grits. The hearty food is definitely a reason to visit, but so is popping in for a cocktail at the rooftop (!!!) bar.
Red’s House has maintained a steady buzz ever since chef/owners Christopher Russell and Sharon Russell (they’re also son and mother) started popping up around SF with their Jamaican backyard-gathering-inspired dinner, and though they’ve been looking for a permanent home for a while, as of now, you can order the succulent jerk chicken and oxtail stew for takeout from their commercial kitchen in Daly City.
Executive chef Paul Magu-Lecugy worked at Michelin-starred restaurants and five-star hotels, but what he really dreamed of was a French bistro to call his own. As of 2016, he’s made that dream come true with the help of his wife and co-owner, Laura Magu. Rêve describes itself as “a little Paris in the hood” and takes the Paris part very seriously with a menu that includes classic French fare, like steak frites, housemade pâté, gourgères, escargots… everything your heart desires. At least in terms of a French bistro in the East Bay.
Vegan Mob started as a barbecue spot with multiple walk-up windows in Oakland not even two years ago and has already expanded to a food truck in SF with more on the way. To call the food barbecue doesn’t do it justice. There are lots of vegan barbecue options on the menu—brisket, links, rib tips—but you can also get the brisket in a burrito stuffed with macaroni and cheese, barbecued baked beans, coleslaw, and guac, or cheesesteak-style with grilled onions, bell peppers, guac, slaw, and melted nacho cheese on a soft roll. The menu also offers deep-fried spring rolls filled with “smackaroni’ and candied yams with country sausage gravy on the side, and a deep-fried grilled cheese. Who’s the mastermind behind these concoctions that are a dream come true for everyone, but especially vegan stoners? Chef and founder Toriano Gordon, an SF native who grew up in the Lower Haight.
Cajun and Creole restaurants have had a hard time surviving in SF as of late, but it appears that chef Eva Morris has found the secret to success with Voodoo Lounge where the food has all of the spice and flavor of those cuisines but with a slightly lighter (healthier-ish) touch. Not too light, as you can still get a fried catfish po’ boy, the “hush yo mouth” plate with fried oysters, hush puppies, slaw, and Cajun fries, and smoked gouda mac and cheese. But for those looking to keep it healthier, there’s also a vegan pineapple bowl, blackened mahi-mahi, and even a kale salad that sounds good but probably doesn’t get a lot of airtime since it’s competing against collard greens and whipped yams.