Inside Lit Bar
As demonstrations in honor of George Floyd and other African-Americans who have lost their lives to police violence continue through this week, many people across the country are looking for ways to support local Black-owned businesses. Across the country, people have been purchasing books from Black-owned bookstores, shopping online at Black-owned clothing stores, and ordering food from Black-owned restaurants.
Black-Owned Brooklyn, a curated guide to Black Brooklyn’s people, places and products, have been documenting and highlighting Black-owned businesses across the borough, and food critic for The New Yorker Hannah Goldfield and social media manager of Bon Appetit Rachel Karten have compiled spreadsheets of currently open Black-owned restaurants in New York. Untapped New York has compiled our own guide to Black-owned restaurants across the five boroughs, from the Senegalese eateries of West Harlem to the Guyanese restaurants of Jamaica to the Togolese and Guinean spots of West Bronx.
Harlem, the epicenter of Black culture in Manhattan, is home to at least 50 Black-owned eateries, representing everything from soul food to Senegalese to Nigerian. Harlem developed as a Jewish and Italian area in the 1800s, but after the Great Migration of the early 20th century, many African Americans from the south settled around Harlem to seek better jobs and education. Harlem soon after experienced its namesake cultural Renaissance, which saw figures like Langston Hughes, Alain Locke, and Duke Ellington rise to fame. However, Harlem was hit hard in the Great Depression, and soon after Harlem was the scene of rent strikes to improve housing. Despite efforts like the Model Cities Program, Harlem struggled throughout the 20th century to improve education for students, and many Harlem residents who found fruitful employment left the neighborhood.
Despite this, Harlem houses some of the best Black-owned restaurants in all of the city. Perhaps the most famous is Sylvia’s, a soul food restaurant founded in 1962 by Sylvia Woods whose diners have included Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. Soul food like fried chicken, ribs, and shrimp and grits feature on the menu of Amy Ruth’s, another well known spot opened in 1999 named for founder Carl S. Redding’s talented grandmother. Other soul food eateries in Harlem include Melba’s, BLVD Bistro, Miss Mamie’s Spoonbread Too, and Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken in Harlem whose founder Charles Gabriel has been the recipient of numerous James Beard Award nominations. Readers also recommend Londell’s, Tsion, Reverence, Jacob, Ruby’s, Chocolate, Les Ambassades, Lee Lee’s, Lolo’s, and 67 Orange. In addition, there is Harlem Hops, Manhattan’s only Black-owned craft beer bar.
West Harlem is home to a small ethnic enclave called Little Senegal, known for its West African restaurants and shops. Pikine, a Senegalese restaurant, serves dishes like Thiéboudienne, Senegal’s national dish consisting of grilled fish, broken rice, tomato sauce, and cabbage. A bit more uptown is Africa Kine, known for Senegalese dishes like chicken yassa, and nearby Chez Alain serves West African fare like peanut butter stew and fish and jollof rice. Also in the area is Safari Restaurant, one of the city’s only Somalian restaurants.
Room 623 Speakeasy sits below B2 Harlem, a Black-owned Caribbean restaurant
Harlem also prides itself on its modern approaches to cooking that fuse older recipes with culinary trends. Lee Lee’s Baked Goods is best known for its rugellach, a Jewish dish originating in Poland, and Ponty Bistro offers a mix of French, American, and West African fare. Teranga offers a play on fast food with its make-your-own West African grain bowls, and Uptown Veg and Juice Bar serves vegan options like curried chickpeas and collard greens. Contemporary approaches to seafood and Caribbean cooking can be found at restaurants like B2 Harlem and LoLo’s Seafood Shack.
Outside of Harlem, Manhattan is not particularly known for its Black-owned restaurants, but there are at least a dozen in Lower Manhattan serving up a diverse selection of cuisines like Nigerian, Berber, and Southern fare. After emancipation, African Americans settled in communities like Seneca Village in modern-day Central Park and Sandy Ground on Staten Island, but the Great Migration led to exponentially increasing Black populations in Hell’s Kitchen (which today houses a Haitian and an Ethiopian restaurant) and Greenwich Village. As Lower Manhattan became more expensive, many black residents either moved uptown to Harlem or towards the surrounding boroughs like Brooklyn in Bedford-Stuyvesant or Crown Heights. Lower Manhattan also saw a recent increase in Caribbean immigration to areas like the Lower East Side.
The Lower East Side houses a handful of Black-owned restaurants like Omar’s Kitchen & Rum Bar, a “nouveau Caribbean” eatery with dishes like breadfruit tacos and curry oxtail. Whipped – Urban Dessert Lab prides itself on its oat-milk soft serve with bases like chocolate and sweet creme. Also notable is Cheeky Sandwiches, which serves po’ boys and other New Orleans-inspired sandwiches, and Las Lap bar.
In West Village, Berber Street Food serves a variety of cuisines, from Kenyan to Tanzanian to Mozambican. Popular dishes range from Zanzibar vegetable curry to Djolof Fried Rice to Calypso grilled jerk wings with habanero mango salsa. Also in West Village is Urban Vegan Kitchen, known for veggie burgers, nachos, and sandwiches. Nearby Greenwich Village is home to Negril Village, serving “New York Savvy Caribbean cuisine” like Guava BBQ wings and collard green spring rolls.
There are also a number of Black-owned eateries in the East Village, like ice cream store Mikey Likes It, Southern comfort-food restaurant Sweet Chick, and Ethiopian eatery Haile. And in Hell’s Kitchen, Casa Del Toro, a Oaxacan eatery, serves up regional dishes like shrimp and steak tacos and tlayudas, as well as signature cocktails and wine. The eatery is owned by Sanjay Laforest, who also owns the nearby French bistro Le Privé