This Historic South LA Neighborhood Is a Mecca for Black-Owned Businesses
From 19th-century architecture to local art, there’s so much to explore in West Adams.
Compared to the East Coast, Los Angeles doesn’t have much in the way of historical homes and buildings, with even the oldest standing residence in the city, Avila Adobe, erected in 1818. Often it’s Highland Park that’s revered for its Craftsman-style homes and architecture, but further south in the neighborhood of West Adams, you’ll find beautifully preserved homes and buildings, with many of them built between 1880 and 1925.
Developed by railroad tycoon Henry E. Huntington and industrialist Hulett C. Meritt of Pasadena, West Adams was established as the wealthiest neighborhood in LA, complete with Victorian mansions and Craftsman bungalows, as well as being home to USC professors and Downtown businessmen. The district is marked by boundaries of the Santa Monica Freeway on the north, Crenshaw Blvd on the east, Exposition and Jefferson Blvds on the south, and Culver City’s boundary on the west, and has been recognized by the city of Los Angeles as a Historic Preservation Overlay Zone for its architectural heritage.
In the 1910s, LA’s Westside began developing at a rapid pace, attracting West Adams’ upper-class white residents to neighborhoods like Beverly Hills. Wealthy Black residents began moving in, including renowned architect Paul R. Williams, who designed the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company headquarters—once the largest Black-owned insurance company in the West—when it opened on W. Adams Blvd and Western in 1949. The neighborhood continued to thrive throughout the 1950s, attracting big-name residents like actor Hattie McDaniel of Gone With the Wind and musicians like Little Richard and Ray Charles. Charles opened his business headquarters and recording studio in the neighborhood, and you can still visit the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Westmoreland Boulevard to see "Ray Charles Square" that’s named in his honor.
Despite all of this growth and investment from the local Black community, the neighborhood of West Adams suffered when construction of the I-10 Santa Monica Freeway began in 1961 and tore through a core section, resulting in the taking of eminent domain and demolition of numerous West Adams homes, including many owned by Black residents.
In recent years, West Adams has experienced a renaissance, attracting a new wave of residents and business owners with its comparably lower rents and well-preserved architecture. Today, the neighborhood is one of the most densely populated areas in the city, with some of the youngest residents (with a median age of 28). As of the 2000 Census, Latinos comprise the majority at 56%, while Black residents still make up a significant portion at almost 38%.
Much like other, historically Black areas in LA, such as Inglewood, long-term residents of West Adams and South LA are eager to reclaim a piece of their neighborhood, with many stepping up to launch new businesses. Even newcomers tend to arrive with a sense of responsibility to honor the history of West Adams and make sure that it retains some of its magic as one of LA’s oldest neighborhoods.
Next time you find yourself in the area, consult this list of our favorite West Adams’ businesses, spanning Black-owned restaurants, bookstores, museums, wine shops, breweries, and more.
Founded by actor and curator Terrell Tilford in 2015, the name of this gallery is defined in its mission statement, which says in part that, “We are creating a Band of Vices. We reject colonialism, we reject tribalism, we reject exclusivity, we embrace uniqueness, diversity, and inclusion. We embrace love.” They have two locations in West Adams: Band of Vices Sacred House is next door to Alta and Adams Wine Shop (making for a perfect Sunday Funday excursion), while the Collaboration Laboratory (CoLab) is directly across the street.
Led by chefs Keith Corbin and Daniel Patterson, Alta Adams is a soul food restaurant with a style that you’ll only find in LA. Marrying influences that span West Africa and the American South with the best California produce, even the dishes that sound familiar get a new spin at Alta Adams—like savory Collard Greens that you’ll swear were simmered with a ham hock, but are actually vegan—the smoky flavor comes courtesy of the chefs smoking the oil that’s used in the greens. Also of note are the crispy Black Eyed Pea Fritters that give way to a pillowy center and come with a herbaceous spicy sauce for dipping, and mains like Shrimp and Grits, Oxtails and Rice, and a Gumbo with fresh market veggies. The cocktail menu takes similar inspiration, with nods to the Golden State in drinks like the Angeleno with bourbon, montenegro, cacao-spiced bitters, and Luxardo cherry.
Opened during the pandemic by late sommelier Ruben Morancy, who also launched neighboring Alta’s wine program, this boutique shop is now run by Morancy’s mentee, Jaela Salala. You’ll find BIPOC and women wine producers dominate the shelves of this cozy shop, with a focus on small producers and a selection of international spirits like Haitian rum available.
After achieving cult status for his downtown pasta pop-up, chef Avner Lavi opened this quaint restaurant that’s perfect for date night with an intimate, string-lit patio that offers a view into the open chef kitchen through floor-to-ceiling windows. There’s also a cozy, L-shaped bar on the interior if you prefer a front-row seat to the pasta-preparing action. Lavi’s known for his Middle Eastern-inflected takes on Italian cuisine, like a bed of chewy, al dente spaghetti that’s topped with creamy uni, burrata, and Persian saffron; and magenta spaghetti that gets its natural dye from beets and is served with ricotta and brown butter.
This soul food restaurant that first opened in 1969 and is now owned by the third generation of the Legaux family is your best bet for authentic New Orleans-style Cajun food in the area, with a sleek dining room that gets lively during meal times and almost feels like a holiday dinner at your favorite relative’s home. The must-order here is the File Gumbo, a filling and fragrant stew with dark roux, ground sassafras, shrimp, sausage, blue crab, and chicken, though an array of po’ boy sandwiches, fried crab cakes, and the Louisiana-Style Catfish prove just as tempting. They’re also one of the few restaurants in LA that offers a crawfish boil when the freshwater crustaceans are in season.
Led by executive chef Kat Turner, this neighborhood cafe recently expanded into an evening natural wine bar, offering more than five rotating wines by the glass and 50+ bottles that favor California producers, with most between $18-36. The dinner menu is far from stuffy, with options like Fish and Chips with tempura-fried snapper, and the You Had Me At Halloumi salad with grilled halloumi cheese, gem lettuce, mint yogurt dressing, roasted cherry tomatoes, and a savory miso granola sprinkled on top. You can still stop by early to enjoy their menu of coffee drinks and breakfast items, like the Franch Toast (sic) with caramel apples, cinnamon, and honey labneh on Bub and Grandma’s focaccia.
This fun-loving brewery on Jefferson Blvd touts itself as the official craft beer of the LA Football Club and offers one of the largest patios in the neighborhood, with 6,000 square feet of space. Pull up to one of their picnic tables and order a flagship brew, like the LAFC Golden Ale, a bright and refreshing pilsner that’s available by the can, as a draft pull, or by the pitcher. They’ve also got seasonal brews (the Mango Sour is perfect for a sunny afternoon), hard seltzer, and beer cocktails like the Strawberry Shandy Slushee, with house-made lemonade, strawberries, and Pilsner. There’s also a full menu of plant-based Neapolitan-style pizzas on offer and every Friday they host Vegan Playground, a night market with live music and 15 rotating vegan vendors.
Led by chef Tony Xu of the famed Chengdu Taste chain, fans of Sichuan-style noodles rejoiced when his San Gabriel Valley outpost expanded to a new location in West Adams last year. Translating to “noodle” in Chinese, Mian takes its name seriously, earning itself a spot on Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand list in 2019, as well as accolades from late food critic Jonathan Gold. The menu is helpfully organized according to spice and numb levels—opt for the signature Sichuan Cold Noodles if you’re a fan of spicy, but less so of numbness, or go all out with Crazy Beef Soup Noodles and order some Mung Bean Tea (which comes with free refills) to help bring your taste buds back to life.
This ceramic studio that launched in 2017 has another location in Echo Park and stands out as the first community pottery studio in the United States that’s owned, operated by, and intended to support POC. Find it in the West Adams-adjacent neighborhood of Jefferson Park, where they offer classes that range from wheel throwing to hand-building, with some offered in Spanish. They also aim to make ceramics programming more accessible by providing scholarships, free workshops, artist residencies, and professional development training to Black and Brown communities through their non-profit arm The Potluck Initiative.
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Led by South Central native Sandra Meija, this plant shop built such a dedicated following on social media that they were able to open a greenhouse stocked with affordable plants along Jefferson Blvd in 2018. The shop specializes in “wishlist” plants or those normally grown in warm climates, that aren’t commonly found in stores, and other unique options. They also host community events, including a Black-owned community market and a wellness day with yoga and floral arrangements. Follow them on Instagram to stay updated on special events, plant restocks, and other news.
Formerly known as Jewel’s Catch One, this multi-level nightclub that was once owned by Jewel Thais Williams, stands out as the oldest Black-owned disco in America and the longest running Black gay bar in LA. You’ll see nods to this history in its diverse programming, even if some of the attendees might not be aware of it.
If West Adams had a signature neighborhood scent, it’d likely be the smoked pastrami that wafts from this stand on W. Adams Blvd near Crenshaw. The long-running stand shuttered in 2015, but was brought back to life in 2018, courtesy of Mizlala owner Danny Elmaleh. Pastrami is the obvious order here and the only real decision is how you want it served, whether sandwiched between two slices of Tartine marble rye, stuffed in a French roll and served with dip, or straight up by the pound. Burgers and sandwiches, including a BBQ Brisket Sandwich, are also on offer, as well as sides that range from hand-cut fries to Matzo Ball Soup and Knish With Gravy.
Founded by late artist Noah Davis alongside his wife, sculptor Karon Davis, in 2012, this museum operates out of four converted storefronts and was intended to provide a space for the local community so they wouldn’t have to travel outside of the neighborhood to see world-class art and have the opportunity to learn from artists, speakers, and forward thinkers.
Technically located in the West Adams-adjacent neighborhood of Arlington Heights, the Underground Museum has played host to Solange and John Legend’s album release parties in the past, and recently reopened earlier this year for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, featuring a self-titled exhibit from Noah Davis that provides a glimpse into his career, which was tragically cut short when he died from a rare form of soft tissue cancer at the age of 32 in 2015.
This Black-owned concept bookstore and creative space frequently hosts author readings and workshops, in addition to playing host to the Los Angeles chapter of artist Noname’s Book Club. Stop by the store or shop online for titles that span bestsellers, fiction and nonfiction, audiobooks, history, biography and memoir, poetry, children, young adult, and teen reads—plus a wide selection of anti-racist, LGBTQIA, and movement literature. The club boasts that it’s “Curated by Blackness,” with puzzles, playing cards, and even organic honey being sold by Black-owned labels.
For those who doubt the resurgence of West Adams, let us point you to this boutique hotel that opened in fall 2021, offering an option to low-key tourists and locals who want to staycation in a different section of town. The 48-room hotel offers a peaceful courtyard, heated outdoor pool, 24-hour fitness studio, and bike rentals as well as bike tours (every Sunday at 11 am) to help you discover the surrounding neighborhood. Just steps away from the hotel is the coworking spot Yoube, and guests can enjoy up to four complimentary credits during their stay.
Slightly outside the bounds of West Adams, at the corner of Redondo and Pico, is this no-frills Jamaican spot. Order well ahead of actual hunger pains because there’s almost always a wait for freshly prepared dishes like slow-cooked Oxtails, Jerk Chicken, and Curry Goat, served alongside sides like Rice and Red Beans with a coconut blend, Ackee and Saltfish Seasoned Rice, and Ground Food, which includes a boiled ripe banana, sweet potato, yam, and dumpling. They also have vegan options, including Callaloo, or tropical greens sauteed with peppers and onions, and of course, fried plantains. Check the daily special before you go, and take advantage of special dishes like a spicy Cow Foot Soup (only available on Mondays) and Jerk Pork (only available on Fridays). You’ll also want to tack on some Jammin Sauce (available in Vegan Sweet and Sour as well as Spicy Jerk flavors) and one of their signature drinks, like Honey Punch and Jamminade in Pineapple Ginger flavor, to complete your order.
This “spiritual oasis in the city” offers a peaceful respite, with the intention of helping people take a pause from their busy lives to reflect, be present, and rejuvenate in natural surroundings. Built in 2001 and modeled after the Chartres Labyrinth in France, the gardens serve as the headquarters for the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA) and Peace Theological Seminary & College of Philosophy (PTS) and include a labyrinth, meditation gardens, and Guasti VIlla, an Italian Renaissance mansion that was built between 1910 and 1914, and is designated as a Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Monument. Entry is $6 and the gardens are open Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays from 1–4 pm. Visits must be booked in advance through the website.
This neighborhood favorite that’s helmed by chef Danny Elmaleh expanded from its original location in Sherman Oaks to West Adams in 2019, offering a partially covered patio strewn with olive trees and string lights that’s perfect for a casual date night. The menu features market-fresh Israeli fare, including hummus, falafel, spit-roasted meats, and tahini shakes, plus veggies and salads. The West Adams location also boasts a build-your-own pickle bar as well as a wine and beer list.