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Cooking for the Culture

Ten black-owned Bay Area restaurants to nourish your soul.


Baked cornbread at Auntie April's Chicken, Waffles, and Soul Food

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Fried chicken and waffles at Brown Sugar Kitchen Counter

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Rosemary fried chicken at Minnie Bell's Soul Movement

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Pecan pie at Farmerbrown

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Red lentil samosas at Radio Africa & Kitchen

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Fried chicken at Miss Ollie's

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READ MORE: The Last Black Chefs of San Francisco

At this modest Bayview spot, chef-owner April Spears has been serving what might be the best soul food in the city since 2008. No one would blame you for sticking to the namesake fried chicken and waffles ($12/$13), but those who dig deeper into the menu are richly rewarded. Hot-water cornbread ($3)—a rare alternative to the usual baked variety (which is pictured)—is fried to order so that each piece arrives piping hot and crunchy on the outside, like a sweet, oblong hush puppy. And a gravy enlivened by the heat prickle of red chili peppers makes Spears’s shrimp and grits ($9/$15) destination worthy. 4618 3rd St. (Near McKinnon Ave.), 415-643-4983

Chef-owner Eskender Aseged hails from Ethiopia, but his cozy Bayview restaurant isn’t Ethiopian in any conventional sense. There are no heaping platters of injera or shiro wot, and the California-inflected menu uses all of Africa as its spice pantry, with detours to the Mediterranean and the Middle East. There might be saffron-tinged jambalaya, or harissa-spiked crème fraîche, or raw-fish “kitfo” (a dish traditionally made with beef) suffused with Ethiopian mitmita. Go on a Tuesday for a bargain-priced prix fixe: two courses for $10. 4800 3rd St. (At Oakdale Ave.), 415-826-9660

Located in the heart of Uptown Oakland, Nigel Jones’s first restaurant, Kingston 11, is known for both its painstakingly prepared Jamaican specialties and its crowd, which is often so diverse it almost seems too good to be true. Foodwise, Kaya, the new Mid-Market project Jones recently launched in collaboration with Daniel Patterson (Coi, Alta), hews closely to its East Bay cousin’s formula for success. It’s the same smoky, wellspiced jerk chicken ($24), the same easy-drinking rum cocktails, just in a slightly more upscale setting. One wrinkle: soft-serve ice cream infused with a taste of the tropics—say, a chocolate-habañero flavor topped with lime zest and pomegranate molasses ($6). 1420 Market St. (At Fell St.), 415-590-2585

Residents of the Portola district have had Danielle Reese all to themselves since she opened her Louisiana-themed spot in the neighborhood in 2009. But now they must share her with Pier 39–bound tourists, who can stumble upon her new outpost on the Embarcadero. The oyster po’ boy is likely the finest you’ll find in the Bay Area, but really, the menu is chock-full of genuine New Orleans–style delights: hush puppies ($6) so big they’re hard to dunk in the accompanying tub of honey butter, and a dark roux gumbo ($9/$15) that’s deeply savory and loaded with an abundance of meat and seafood. 3030 San Bruno Ave. (Near Dwight St.), 415-656-0711; Pier 33½ (Embarcadero at Bay St.), Ste. 100, 415-397-1507

Anyone who’s waited an hour or more to get a brunch table at the original West Oakland location of Tanya Holland’s Brown Sugar Kitchen knows that the cornmeal waffles are worth it all on their own: crisp, golden brown, and impossibly delicate. Once the restaurant’s counterservice kiosk opens for business in the Ferry Building, serving a stripped-down version of the original menu, San Franciscans will no longer have to cross the bridge to get their fix. No promises about the lines. ETA: late spring or early summer 2018.
Ferry Building Marketplace (Embarcadero at Market St.)

The most famous of the city’s higher-end black owned restaurants of the past decade, the original 1300 on Fillmore shut its doors this past fall. Chef and co-owner David Lawrence hasn’t yet ruled out the possibility that it might rise again, but in the meantime, the restaurant’s spirit lives on—at the airport, of all places. Though the environs couldn’t be more different, Lawrence’s basic approach is the same: traditional dishes of the American South, often with a fine-dining shine. The bestselling item? The fried chicken Cobb salad ($19). International Terminal, San Francisco International Airport, 925-483-6078

Longtime caterer and pop-up operator Fernay McPherson’s dream of opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant in the Fillmore, where she grew up, is still on hold for now. In the meantime, she’s opening a counter-service version of Minnie Bell’s in the food court of the Public Market in Emeryville, taking over the turnkey kiosk formerly occupied by Cambodian street food shop Nyum Bai. The menu is a work in progress, but McPherson says the centerpiece will be her rosemary fried chicken. ETA: March 2018. Public Market, 5959 Shellmound St. (Near 59 St.), Emeryville

If you thought soul food couldn’t flourish with a hip farm-to-table aesthetic, you haven’t met Jay Foster and Deanna Sison Foster, whose downtown restaurant serves sweet tea in mason jars. Farmerbrown is probably best known for its hearty brunch buffet ($26.95), but those with a sweet tooth might want to come just for dessert—especially the warm, gooey, individual-size pecan pie ($7.50). 25 Mason St. (at Turk St.), 415-409-3276

Open since 1977 and now run by second-generation owner Nik Cooper, Two Jack’s is one of the last black-owned establishments still standing where Fillmore hits the Lower Haight. This has long been the neighborhood’s go-to spot for a fish fry, especially on Fridays, when many black Christians abstain from meat. Check out the weekly Throw Back Thursday promotion, when prices dip to 1977 levels—$2 drinks and a fried-fish sandwich for as little as $3.60. 401 Haight St. (at Webster St.), 415-431-6290

Sarah Kirnon’s Afro-Caribbean restaurant in Old Oakland—home to one of the Bay Area dining scene’s most inclusive, diverse crowds since it opened in 2012— employs a staff, in both the front and the back of the house, almost exclusively made up of people of color. Ultimately, though, it’s Kirnon’s food that keeps customers streaming in: herb-infused fried chicken ($24) that might be the best in the Bay Area, one-of-akind Caribbean-inflected salads, and a no-compromise, searingly spicy version of saltfish and ackee ($16.75). 901 Washington St. (at 9th St.), Oakland, 510-285-6188


Originally published in the March issue of San Francisco 

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