How to Celebrate Black Restaurant Week in the Bay Area
From Italian soul food to Afro-Latino and Jamaican cuisines.
Black Restaurant Week co-founders Warren Luckett, Falayn Ferrell, and Derek Robinson wanted to make Black-owned restaurants more accessible to diners, while also helping those eateries expand their customer base and remain profitable in an industry where they’re often overlooked. They founded Black Restaurant Week in 2016, to create a nationwide event that would celebrate African American, African, and Caribbean flavors, and more recently the trio launched Feed the Soul Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to helping Black culinary entrepreneurs and businesses. Since their inception, Black Restaurant Week has supported nearly 700 restaurants by shining a spotlight on small businesses that don’t often have much of a marketing budget and are often passed over for loans.
The Bay Area’s Black Restaurant Week is taking place from Friday, August 20, through Sunday, August 29 with over 35 restaurants participating, many of which will be offering special menus and other deals in the hopes that you’ll discover dishes you love and come back for more. In a time when so many restaurants are still struggling, an event like this can make a big difference, especially when it gets a lot of community support and participation.
You can find a list of all of the participating restaurants here. It’s also a good idea to follow Black Restaurant Week’s Instagram because that’s where you’ll find most of the updates about specials and other cool stuff you won’t want to miss. By all means, try to visit as many of these culinary establishments as possible, but if you’re looking for suggestions, here are a few Black-owned food spots participating in the celebration that we’ll be supporting this week.
Simileoluwa “Simi” Adebajo, the chef and owner of SF’s only Nigerian restaurant, does not give up. In the summer of 2020, she was pivoting her restaurant from a dine-in experience to a delivery and takeout model as a way to save her business during the pandemic. Just days after relocation to a commissary kitchen in the Mission, a five-alarm fire destroyed everything. A week later, she was back in a new space cooking up authentic Nigerian comfort food like jollof rice with grilled chicken and roasted pepper sauce, vegan coconut bean porridge with fried plantains, and puff puff donuts (Nigerian donut holes with cinnamon sugar). Right now, you can order from the Lagos-inspired menu Friday through Sunday. That’s because, on the other days, Adebajo is helping provide meals to the homeless and elderly.
Food truck visits various locations around the Bay
Ronnishia Johnson and Rheema Calloway started cooking vegan soul food as a way to fight against food injustice and social inequality. They recognized the lack of access to nutrition education and healthy foods in many communities of color and how that directly affects overall health. As a way to show people that healthy food can be delicious and comforting, they launched The Vegan Hoodchefs, which is a catering company, as well as a food truck that shows up at the Chase Center and a few other locations (check their Instagram for more info) to dole out loaded jackfruit nachos, po’boys, Cajun crunchwraps, a peach cobbler fried donut, and more.
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 his bold, aromatic flavors in his bustling (more so during non-COVID times) restaurant known in the community for not just 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, and has a charming patio that’s the place to be for Saturday brunch with bottomless mimosas.
If you’re looking for legit Cajun and Creole cooking in SF, this is the spot. Even better, chef/owner Eva Morris makes everything “with love,” which includes ensuring everything is sustainably sourced and produced—from the delivery containers to the seafood—so it’s not just food that tastes good, but food that feels good. You’ll find lots of the classics, including fried oyster and fried catfish po’boys, shrimp and grits, and red beans and rice, as well as dishes with a California twist, like a Cajun burger and a “soularito,” which is what you’re imagining—a huge burrito stuffed with Cajun goodness. The playful names make ordering that much more fun: “Hush Yo Mouth” plate (fried oysters, hush puppies, VooSlaw, and Cajun fries), “Dat Fuqin Seafood Roll” (lobster, shrimp, and lettuce in a buttered garlic aioli roll with fries), “Hella Saucy Cajun Fries,” and even a “Rich Girl Sando” (fried shrimp, sauteed shrimp, or salmon on a toasted acme torpedo roll with remoulade, tomatoes, red cabbage, and lettuce). Don’t (over)sleep on brunch, the only time you can get chicken and waffles, a lobster shrimp scramble, and a “Hoodoo” seafood boil.
This swanky tropical lounge from Top Chef alum Nelson German was became an instant destination for people seeking creative cocktails and Afro-Latino-inspired bites when it opened in March of 2020. You can figure out the next chapter of the story yourself, but today Sobre Mesa is back open and thriving. It’s not quite as bustling as it was that opening week, but the indoor and outdoor areas are always full of people enjoying specialty cocktails like a passion fruit paloma (which you can also get by the pitcher), cheese empanadas, roasted and stuffed plantains, and more specialty cocktails because who among us couldn’t use a Zombie Reviver (absinthe spritz, gin, coconut oil washed overproof rum, cream sherry, orange liqueur, passion fruit, lemon, lime) right about now?
Music and dancing on the patio, art lining the walls, old school arcade games, comedy open mics, local artists and vendors, trivia nights, boozy slushies, and all kinds of comfort food (lumpia, loaded sisig fries, Filipino fried chicken, fish tacos)—what more could anyone want from a restaurant/bar/community gathering space? Owned by a group of Oakland residents, 7th West celebrates the neighborhood and community, as well as inclusion and diversity. In a time when Bay Area neighborhoods are changing quickly, the people at 7th West are preserving what already makes West Oakland great.
When you think of soul food, you probably don’t also think of Italian food, but that’s exactly what chef and owner of Rome’s Kitchen, Rome Rogers, is all about. Southern Italian-style crab gumbo, spicy black garlic seafood boil, and garlic butter char-grilled oysters all appear on the rotating menu, but there’s not a brick and mortar, so you’ll have to check Rome Kitchen’s Instagram to find out where he’s popping up next. (Speakeasy’s brewery and the Bayview Bistro food truck park are two of his most frequented spots.)
This family-owned Cuban and Puerto Rican restaurant has been serving San Franciscans homestyle comfort food since 1974. Empanadas, ceviche, chile relleno, and pastel plato are all favorites, but the dish that most impressed Guy Fieri was the ropa vieja, a Cuban favorite that consists of shredded flank steak stewed in Cuban seasonings, tomatoes, and bell pepper. There’s not a lot to the operation, but the ingredients are local and high-quality, and it’s clear that everything is cooked with care.
Chef Dov Sims grew up in Berkeley (by way of Mexico and the often overlooked Trinity Alps in Northern California) helping his mother, a food vendor, at street fairs and festivals. That inspired his work ethic and his passion, both of which are evident in his latest venture, Cali Alley, an “artisan food window” (down an alley, hence the name) where you can get waffles, a loaded double-baked truffled potato, loco moto, fried chicken, and a very popular burger with house-ground brisket and short rib that is then mixed with ground chuck and topped with anything from pastrami and swiss to seared pork belly and a fried egg. Sims opened the window during COVID when his catering business (California Rose) was struggling, but its success means it’s not going anywhere, even when catering does return in full swing.