24 Essential Black-Owned Restaurants in the Bay Area
Chef Nelson German of alaMar Kitchen and Sobre Mesa shares some of his picks.
“It’s exciting that we’re all pushing the boundaries, expanding on our history, and showing more of our culture,” says Nelson German, chef/owner of alaMar Kitchen & Bar and Sobre Mesa in Oakland, as well as a former contestant on Season 18 of Top Chef, of the Bay Area’s expansive Black culinary scene. “It creates more diversity in the food scene.”
According to German, Oakland’s Black-owned restaurant scene isn’t just about soul food anymore. “There’s a large diaspora—so many countries and ingredients that you can pull from that all revolve around the African Diaspora and Black community. Chefs are digging deeper into their roots and showcasing something different, but that still represents the whole culture.”
With all of the amazing food being championed by Black chefs, German feels optimistic about what’s to come. “I think it’s going in the right direction,” he says. “I’d like to see more marketing and investment into the neighborhoods, but I see a renaissance coming.”
Though the pandemic resulted in a wave of closures within the restaurant industry, German is heartened to see that many of these spaces are being reclaimed by people of color.
“I think the keyword is innovation,” German says. “People are finally realizing that we’ve got all of these eyes on us because of the support in 2020, and that now it’s time to take it up a notch and get it to the next level. We’re showcasing that we can do amazing food and it can be different and high-quality. And people are finally respecting 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 a bunch of 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 (find more, as well as all kinds of Black-owned businesses in The Greenbook’s nationwide online directory), 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.
“Chef Adiam is doing something totally different than what you’d think an Ethiopian restaurant would do,” says German of this charming Ethiopian spot that gives equal space to tradition and innovation. “She’s going more regional, which is absolutely amazing. She’s trying to educate people about Ethiopians and their country and that there are so many cool regions with different food, just like in our country.” In addition to Injera bread (which can be optionally substituted for turmeric rice, couscous, or pita bread) served alongside red lentils, wild-caught sushi-grade tuna tartar, and grass-fed lamb, you can also tuck into their new brunch menu which includes Shakshouka, Teff Porridge topped with spiced butter, and a Teff Banana Pancake, served alongside mimosas, a Roasted Pepper Gimlet, Berbere Bloody Mary, and other cocktails.
How to enjoy: Walk-ins accepted for dine-in or call to make a reservation. Order pickup online.
TENI East Kitchen
This spot earned a Bib Gourmand from the Michelin Guide in 2019 for its welcoming atmosphere, affordable prices, and unique menu that’s helmed by Tiyo Shibabaw. “The chef/owner is from Ethiopia, but she’s doing a kind of Burmese-African-fusion-inspired cuisine, which is really fantastic. She opened her roti shop Aman Cafe, next door, which is definitely a highlight of Oakland right now.” Stop by during lunch to dig into specials like Coconut Curry (with veggies or shrimp) and gluten-free Teni Spicy Noodles (with veggies, chicken, or shrimp) for just $14 or $15, or go all out for dinner with roti and dips and an array of curried options, plus Orange Saffron Lemon Cake that’s served with Coconut Ice Cream for dessert. Teni East also offers a full bar, with craft cocktails.
How to enjoy: Walk-ins only for dine in. Order online for pickup.
German describes Chef Smelly as “the hometown hero” of Oakland, saying that, “He started as a pop-up chef and now has a permanent space now at AU Lounge. He’s really expanding on his food and diving deeper into Creole cuisine. He’s born and raised in Oakland and has a not-so-good past, but he’s turned it around and he’s an amazing chef.” The Dungeness crab that’s served over garlic noodles is a must-order and very much worth the wait, but don’t disregard “Designer Fries,” like the Creole Loaded Dungeness Crab Fries that pours Dungeness Crab Creole cheese sauce over seasoned fries with green onions. They also offer Creole Loaded Lobster with Dungeness Crab Fries as well as a Surf and Turf option and Extravaganza Fries with lobster, Dungeness crab, blackened prawns, and steak or chicken.
How to enjoy: Order online for pickup and delivery.
This swanky, tropical Afro-Latin lounge from Top Chef alum Nelson German became an instant destination for people seeking creative cocktails and Afro-Latin-inspired bites when it opened in March 2020 and, lucky for us all, it is still open and thriving. The indoor and outdoor areas are once again full of people enjoying all aspects of the chef-driven bar concept, including specialty cocktails like the signature drink (Mosswood light rum blend, Dominican rum, Sobre Mesa mamajuana mix, lime, grapefruit) which you can also get by the pitcher, cheese empanadas, roasted and stuffed plantains, Red Stew Chicken Skewers, and more. Not drinking? There are also a couple of fancy “Stay Sobre” drinks on the list. Go on Saturdays at 9 pm to enjoy the live DJ.
How to enjoy: Walk-ins are welcome and you can also make reservations online.
OKO Supper Club
Solomon Johnson and Mike Woods, the chefs behind Oakland’s popular ghost town kitchen Bussdown, offer diners a new perspective and approach to African Diasporic cuisines with their pan-African fine dining concept, OKO, named after the African god of fertility. The food at OKO highlights ingredients and dishes across Africa as well as the Caribbean, Latin America, and the United States, via a ten-course tasting menu and also finds fun ways to educate diners (like writing menu items in Swahili). The chefs are still looking for a permanent location, so right now, the only way to experience this new concept is at monthly Sunday suppers. This is also one of chef German’s recommendations, so you know it’s gonna be good.
How to enjoy: Reserve on Tock.
Pitmaster extraordinaire Matt Horn has done it again with Horn Hospitality Group’s second concept, Kowbird, a fried chicken sandwich joint that pays homage to the food he ate growing up and the soul and love that accompanied it. The menu is all about Horn’s signature (and oh-so flavorful) buttermilk-fried chicken in various versions, like the Honey Bird, finished with pickled mustard-seed and aged honey butter sauce; the Early Bird, featuring chicken thigh served on a potato bun and accompanied by house-made pickles; as well as his take on classic sides like Fried Cabbage with country bacon; and creamy mac and cheese made with Havarti, provolone, and gouda. There are also half-birds, wings, chicken and waffles, and lots and lots of pie.
How to enjoy: Walk-ins only. Delivery is in the works.
Chef Tamearra Dyson has been cooking her signature plant-based Creole dishes since she was 18 years old and has put that practice to excellent use not just with her four restaurants in LA, SF, Oakland, and Vegas, but by recently becoming the first vegan chef to beat Bobby Flay on his TV show of the same name. At her restaurants, you’ll find soul food favorites like a Chik’n Seitan Po’boy, Okra Gumbo, Cornbread, Collard Greens, and Red Beans and Rice. The SF location is only open takeout and delivery, but the Oakland restaurant is open for dining in, has a full bar, and a bottomless mimosa brunch on Sundays.
How to enjoy: Dine-in at the Oakland restaurant Tuesday–Sunday or order takeout online. You can also get delivery via Grubhub, Caviar, and DoorDash. For SF, get pickup and delivery (DoorDash, Postmates, UberEats) seven days a week.
Rize Up Bakery
During summer 2020, when the pandemic was having a disparate effect on the Black community and support for the Black Lives Movement was soaring in response to police brutality and racism, Azikiwee Anderson felt the need to reconnect with his New Orleans roots, make a difference in his community, and hopefully inspire other young Black bakers to “think outside of the traditional box.” Today, he’s the owner of this “micro-bakery” that’s focused on reimagining SF’s traditional sourdough. His bread is some of the best you’ll find in the city right now and includes versions like a Cinnamon Spice Pan Loaf, Ube Sourdough Loaf, Paella Inspired Loaf, the “K-Pop” Gochujang Loaf, and more. Find Anderson’s loaves on the menu at local restaurants, as well as online for one-off orders and subscriptions.
How to enjoy: Order online. Get it delivered in SF or order for pickup in SF, Mill Valley, Berkeley, and Oakland. (Bread subscriptions include free delivery in SF.)
Kingston 11 Cuisine
When Kingston 11 chef and owner Nigel Jones was growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, he spent a lot of time in the kitchen with his grandmother (“Miss Gwen”) learning about local ingredients and balancing flavors. Today, you can taste these bold, aromatic flavors in his bustling restaurant that’s known not just for being a destination for healthy versions of Jamaican favorites like jerk chicken, oxtail stew, and curry goat, but for being a welcoming spot where everyone is greeted with a genuine and friendly smile. The restaurant is also home to the largest selection of rums in Oakland, serves up lots of vegan options, often has live music, and has a charming patio that’s the place to be for Saturday brunch with bottomless mimosas.
How to enjoy: Make a reservation online. Call 510-465-2558 or order online for takeout and delivery.
alaMar Kitchen & Bar
This Michelin-recommended Caribbean-inspired seafood spot from chef/owner Nelson German is finally open for indoor dining again, and German says things are picking up. “It’s a really great neighborhood restaurant,” he says. “It’s almost like Cheers for a lot of people.” That feeling was lost a little bit with the pandemic when only outdoor dining was available, but it’s back in full force. As are the classic dishes that made it such a popular spot to begin with, including the Seafood Family Feast and the customizable seafood boils. Start with your protein—Dungeness crab, Alaskan snow crab, peel-and-eat shrimp, or mussels; then choose your sauce—romesco butter (German’s favorite), chile pepper scampi, or rosemary “Steph” curry (the most popular, possibly just because of the name); then, decide on your spice level—mild, hot, fire, or “hella spicy”; and pick your add-ons: andouille sausage, white corn, grilled bread, and potato. 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.
How to enjoy: Walk-ins only for dine-in. Order takeout and delivery via Caviar and other delivery apps.
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 as Ethiopian honey wines. If the weather permits, dine al fresco on the charming back patio.
How to enjoy: Walk-ins only for dine-in. Order online for takeout and delivery.
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 grew up with and 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.
How to enjoy: Order online for takeout and delivery.
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 also 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.
How to enjoy: Open for walk-ins on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, as well as takeout.
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 that’s based on a recipe passed down from Marcel’s grandfather.
How to enjoy: Open for walk-ins seven days a week, as well as takeout and delivery.
Renowned pitmaster Matt Horn’s barbecue is so popular that people line up around the block to get their hands on some. “Gotta give it up to him,” chef German says. His restaurant is fantastic.” He 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.
How to enjoy: Open for walk-ins Thursday–Sunday. You can also pre-order to skip the line.
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.
How to enjoy: Call 510-756-6049 for reservations and takeout.
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.
How to enjoy: Walk up to the little window seven days a week to order takeout or order ahead. You can also order it at the counter at next-door bar Victory Hall to enjoy there Tuesday–Saturday.
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. Malibu has lived in Oakland since he was 18, and co-owner, Wahid Brown, was born and raised there, so 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.
How to enjoy: Order at the counter Tuesday-Sunday. Order online for delivery and takeout.
Chef Fernay McPherson learned to cook from her great Aunt Minnie and grandmother Lillie Bell, who came to San Francisco during the Great Migration. 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 that’s 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.)
How to enjoy: Walk-ins only for dine in. Order online for delivery and takeout.
Mission Bowling Club
Mission Bowling Club is 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. Just, you know, use a lot of hand sanitizer between bites. (Or enjoy it at a table in the dining area pre- or post-game.)
How to enjoy: Open for reservations and walk-ins. Call 415-863-2698 for takeout. Delivery via delivery apps.
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 doesn’t actually 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.
How to enjoy: Open for walk-ins or make a reservation online. Also available for delivery and takeout.
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, house-made Pâté, Gourgères, Escargots… everything your heart desires. At least in terms of a French bistro in the East Bay.
How to enjoy: Make a reservation online or by calling 925-385-0793 after 2 pm.
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 Philly 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.
How to enjoy: Walk up to the window (outdoor seating available) or food truck. Order online ahead of time to avoid the line.
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.
How to enjoy: Open for walk-ins or call 415-625-0614 to reserve a table for a large group. Also available for delivery and takeout.