June 4-13 is Black Restaurant Week, a chance to support local businesses and celebrate the flavors of African American, African, and Caribbean cooking.
We’ve always made a concerted effort to cover the full spectrum of this city’s diverse food communities, from the Mexican, Italian, and Southeast Asian restaurants of South Philly to the international melting pot of Northeast Philly. I consider it a core value in writing about food, not to mention our overall mission as journalists in Philadelphia.
The desire to support more Black-owned restaurants now is timely, productive, and hopefully lasting. But it also culminates a growing sense I’ve had the past couple years that a new generation of talented Black chefs are about to make their move, sometimes beyond the bounds of traditional restaurants. I aim to shift my coverage spotlight accordingly as that evolves.
To that end, some comprehensive lists of Black-owned food businesses across the region offer useful resources to consult, like this one from Infatuation.com and another compiled by WHYY “Check, Please! Philly” host Kae Lani Palmisano along with Jenn Hall, Charles Rumford, and Ron Holgado and subsequently uploaded to the EatOkra.com and Black and Mobile apps. It lists more than 150 so far, including many I’ve yet to visit. But many I have, and to get you started, here are a dozen personal favorites in Philly and beyond that shouldn’t be missed.
A member of my Top 25, Chad and Hanna Williams’ three-bell modern revamp of this Restaurant Renaissance gem is one of the most complete fine-dining destinations in Philly. Chad leads a hyper diverse kitchen that channels its many cultures into a menu with both edge and polish, from sweetbread katsu to many ingredients from his West Philly childhood, like oxtails, cracklins’ and collards, that appear in creative and surprising ways.
Camden’s Queen of Soul Food, Corinne Bradley-Powers, has been going strong on Haddon Avenue for three decades. It could be the Cajun-spiced turkey wings, picnic-perfect black-eyed peas or sweet potato pie. But for me, it’s a traditional fried chicken that’s still the region’s best.
Saba Tedla’s lively restaurant and bar brings a fresh breath of Southern flavors, live jazz, and weekend brunch energy to Cedar Park. Reviewed with two bells in February and open for takeout (plus outdoor dining soon) during the pandemic, its diverse clientele comes for the blackened catfish, chicken and waffles, seafood mac-’n-cheese, stewed oxtails, and vegan options, proving Booker’s to be a valuable anchor for a West Philly neighborhood grappling with gentrification.
Philadelphia has a long tradition of fried seafood sandwiches, especially standbys like the Muslim fish hoagieat Sister Muhammad’s Kitchen in Germantown that rank among the city’s most popular sandwiches. But when Joshua Coston decided to leave his career as an Amtrak conductor to open Gilben’s Bakery in East Mount Airy, the chef’s menu of seafood po’ boyson fresh garlic bread became a phenomenon on its own, in particular the unlikely (but fantastic) fried salmon po’boy. Soul Food Sunday platters are also a draw.
Brothers Ben and Robert Bynum have been a prominent force on Philly’s dining and live music scenes since launching their first Zanzibar Blue in 1990. One of their current restaurants has become an important anchor for North Broad Street’s revival, the new Southern flavors and live jazz of upscale South. Another Bynum restaurant, Relish (7152 Ogontz Ave.) is also open for takeout and delivery.
They don’t call Sid Booker Sr. the “Colonel of Shrimp” for nothing. The pink takeout window at Belfield and Broad serves nothing else, and has been a late-night destination for paper boats brimming with deep-fried jumbo shrimp since 1962. These greaseless crustaceans are so sweet and delicately crunchy, they’re best devoured right there, on the dashboard of your car.
This new shop in North Philly offers more than good pizza. The shop was created to provide career opportunities and fair wages for formerly incarcerated people. Check out the Detroit-style pies named in honor of Philly rappers. And some good picks include the Ima Boss, a white pie with turkey sausage, peppers, mushrooms, and what chef-owner Kurt Evans calls Bodega sauce, “a sweet-tangy drizzle of reduced Goya Malta and tamarind inspired by the corner grocery.” The shop also offers a vegan pie, as well as wings, fries, and milkshakes.
Doug Henri’s road house on the Black Horse Pike is a must-stop on the way to the Jersey Shore. The barbecue is reliably among the region’s best (ribs and chicken, in particular), but I’ve come to consider his weekend soul food buffets the most worthy reason to visit, including some of the best fried chicken (and fried chicken wings) anywhere.
Philly’s Haitian community has a worthy standby in this unassuming Olney café and market. I visited last year for a lunch so flavorful I can still taste the crispy pork griot with riz collé (rice and peas), spicy pikliz slaw, and perfect fried acra and marinade fritters. The fried goat cabrit was also a treat, washed down with a ginseng-spiced energy drink to the beat of merengue videos on the TV.
One of the original pioneers of West Philly’s Ethiopian community remains a great bet for injera flatbread platters laden with spicy minced kitfo, doro wat chicken, and vegetarian stews like kir qey wot (yellow lentils) and ye gomen wat collards.
📍 229 S. 45th St., 📞 215-387-2424, 📷 Mon.-Sat. 9:30 a.m.-2 a.m., Sun. 10 a.m.-midnight.
Fried fish and buttery grits are a North Philly morning tradition, and it’s a worthy favorite on the menu of Desiree and Robert Pollard’s fast-growing brunch empire. I visited their fourth Breakfast Boutique, opened in Mount Airy last year, and the cornmeal-crusted whiting fillets were fantastic. But don’t sleep on the crisp salmon cakes, either, with big chunks of fresh fish bound in a moist dressing that perked even more with vinaigrette on the side.
📍 6833 Germantown Ave.; 📞 267-437-2884, 🌐 facebook.com/BreakfastBoutiqueMountAiry, 📷 @breakfastboutiqueissounique, 🕑 Mon.-Thu. 7:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m.-2 p.m., 🚗 Grubhub, Uber Eats, Seamless
The flavors of Trinidad are the feature at this West Philly Caribbean standby, which is doing takeout during the pandemic with outstanding roti (try the stewed chicken or vegetarian potatoes and chickpeas) and weekend-only doubles with curried chickpeas.
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