20 Historic Black-Owned Restaurants You Need to Eat At

Many of these spots have held a place in Black and American history for decades — and each serves food like you can't get anywhere else.

February 06, 2023
Ezell's Fried Chicken On Location Garfield Photoshoot

Ezell's Fried Chicken On Location Garfield Photoshoot

Photo by: Courtesy of Ezell’s Famous Chicken

Courtesy of Ezell’s Famous Chicken

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many restaurants have struggled to keep their doors open. The effects of the lockdowns, supply chain problems, worker-related issues, and more, businesses — both small and large — have scrambled to keep things going. For Black-owned restaurants, however, finding a way to sustain has been even more difficult — even for those with a strong amount of history.

Historic Black-owned restaurants fed the Civil Rights Movement, hosted some of the nation’s most prolific and iconic members of the Black community, uplifted their own communities, played a part in knocking down racial barriers, and offered up a safe space to anyone who walked through their doors. But aside from their place in Black American history, these restaurants also served up some delicious food and continue to do so to this day.

Unfortunately though, while tech companies like Doordash, Yelp, and Google all created the "Black-owned" label guides to make it a bit easier for anyone to find Black-owned restaurants serving up delicious meals wherever they are, a recent study performed by the University of Washington notes that said restaurants still struggled to bring people in. But even with the search for Black-owned restaurants on restaurant apps dying down since implementation, the one thing that hasn’t are the stories lining the walls of all the restaurants still standing. And for some restaurants, that could mean more than 50 years of culture, experience, and unforgettable history tied all in one.

While it’s important to patronize Black-owned restaurants both new and old if you’re looking to learn a bit more about those that have a lifelong place in Black and American history, this list of 20 historic Black-owned restaurants will serve as the perfect guide.

Photo by: Courtesy of Busy Bee Cafe

Courtesy of Busy Bee Cafe

Busy Bee Cafe (Atlanta, GA)

Located in the bustling city of Atlanta, Busy Bee Cafe is rich with Black culture and history. Opened in 1947 by Lucy Jackson, the restaurant is a staple in the city, as it was throughout the Civil Rights Movement as it served as a place for Martin Luther King Jr. and other Civil Rights icons to hold meetings.

The meeting space, however, wasn’t all they showed up for. The food — especially the fried chicken — was a focal point, too. Now owned by the Gates family (who took over the recent James Beard Award-winning restaurant in 1981), Busy Bee Cafe is still serving up delicious eats and a sacred space for everyone who stops by.

Photo by: Courtesy of Ben’s Chili Bowl

Courtesy of Ben’s Chili Bowl

Ben’s Chili Bowl (Washington, DC)

Opened in 1958, Ben’s Chili Bowl is the must-eat-at restaurant in Washington, D.C. The coveted restaurant, which was founded by Ben Ali, quickly became a gathering place for many of the jazz greats like Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, Miles Davin, and more. Fast forward more than 60 years later and Ben’s Chili Bowl has grown beyond its original U-Street location to serving their loyal customers in four additional spaces around Washington, D.C. and Arlington, Virginia.

So what’s the best thing to eat on the menu when you visit? The chili, of course. And, if you visit the first location on U-Street, you can do so while sitting at the restaurant’s original counters, stools and booths.

Melba’s (Harlem, NY)

If you ask anyone in New York where to stop for some of the best fast food, they’ll most likely have Melba’s at the top of their list. Opened in 2005, the restaurant — which got its name from owner Melba Wilson — prides itself on being community-driven and at any given moment, you will most-likely spot Melba herself greeting guests as they flow into the location. Melba’s, however, is not just for the community. Popular dishes like the southern fried chicken, wine-braised short ribs and Melba’s spring rolls have drawn in celebrities like Stevie Wonder, Katy Perry, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and more.

Whether you’re a native to California or just visiting, Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles is the one place you need to try. With eight locations from Hollywood and West L.A. to Anaheim and La Brea, you’ll have plenty of ways to enjoy dishes like their signature chicken and waffles, Obama’s Special, The Oscar and more.

Since opening in 1975, Roscoe’s has become a solid staple in the Los Angeles area and its founder, Herb Hudson, has celebrities like Stevie Wonder, Natalie Cole and Redd Foxx to thank for initially spreading the word to both those in and out of the entertainment industry. Planning to stop by soon? Celebrities like Snoop Dogg andShaquille O'Neal are known to frequent the restaurant, so there’s no telling who you may run into at this timeless classic.

The Beautiful (Atlanta, GA)

While Atlanta has a slew of timeless restaurants in and around the city, one that may not be on traveler’s radars is The Beautiful. Hitting the scene in 1979, the restaurant — which dubs itself as being the “Healthy Soulful Taste of the South” — has become a staple in Atlanta’s culinary history and still stands on its original concept: delivering love, consideration and concern for both customers and the food they serve.

Mary Mac’s Tea Room (Atlanta, GA)

Still holding its original 1945 location on Ponce De Leon Avenue, Mary Mac’s Tea Room really is “Atlanta’s Dining Room.” Going by the name Mrs. Fuller’s Tea Room when initially founded, the location was initially one of 16 total tea rooms in the area. Now, nearly 80 years after opening, however, Mary Mac’s is the only tea room left in the city.

Now owned by Harold Martin Jr., the historic restaurant — which was initially called a tea room because women couldn’t establish a restaurant on their own — has seen its fair share of celebrities and influential figures walk through the doors and met with open arms and a huge smile as if they were family.

Dooky Chase’s Restaurant (New Orleans, LA)

If you’ve been to New Orleans, chances are you’ve heard Dooky Chase mentioned as a must-visit location. And there’s a good reason why. Founded by Emily and Dooky Chase in 1939, what is now known as Dooky Chase’s Restaurant was initially a sandwich shop and lottery ticket outlet. Thanks to Dooky Chase Jr. and his wife Leah Chase who took over the restaurant in 1946, however, Dooky Chase’s repositioned itself to a thriving bar and successful family restaurant over time.

While the iconic family-owned eatery is known today for its delicious menu items, during the 1930s and ‘60s, the space was known as a safe space for both national and local Civil Rights activists — like Thurgood Marshall — to meet and strategize. Lunch counter protesters Jerome Smith, Rudy Lombard and Oretha Castle Haley also held planning sessions and Dooky Chase’s, while Martin Luther King Jr. and the Freedom Bus Riders used the space as a secret meeting location.

Hawkins House of Burgers (Los Angeles, CA)

Opened in 1939 as “little more than a food stand,” Hawkins House of Burgers is a staple in Los Angeles’s history. The restaurant, which James Henry Hawkins opened in 1939 after arriving in the city from Arkansas during the Second Great Migration, first began as a neighborhood market. After his youngest child of 14, Cynthia Hawkins, added a small burger restaurant to the location in 1982, the Watts landmark began to grow its reputation as one of the best burger joints in town.

It was that exact reason that when both the 1965 Watts uprising and 1992 Los Angeles riots took place, Hawkins was left unscathed and open for business. Still serving up fresh ingredients and made with perfection and customers in mind, now — more than 80 years later — Hawkins House of Burgers is still standing strong.

Photo by: Courtesy of Brenda’s Bar-B-Q Pit

Courtesy of Brenda’s Bar-B-Q Pit

Brenda’s Bar-B-Q Pit (Montgomery, Alabama)

If you ask anyone who’s passed through Alabama (or the south in general), they’ll tell you that good barbecue comes right from Brenda’s Bar-B-Q Pit. Back when Jereline and Larry Bethune first opened it in 1942 though, Brenda’s was just a nightclub by the name of the Siesta Club. Later switching to a carryout-only establishment, Brenda’s — which saw Jereline take over and keep it going for decades after her husband Larry passed in 1956 — became a gathering place for Civil Rights organizers during the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 and 1956.

Jereline, who was very active in the Civil Rights Movement, also used her restaurant to hold secret meetings where she provided an opportunity for disenfranchised Blacks to learn to read and write so they could pass the literacy test that kept Blacks from voting. Literally walking the walk and talking the talk, Jereline was also a participant in the Selma to Montgomery march that led to the 1965 Voting Rights Act being passed.

Still standing strong in Montgomery, Brenda’s is currently run by the Bethune family and is still serving up some of the best ‘cue you can find on either side of the Mason-Dixon.

Sylvia’s (New York, NY)

Founded in 1962 by Sylvia Woods, Sylvia’s Restaurant is largely known for its authentic soul food and southern-like charm. Transitioning to New York from South Carolina, the widely known “Queen of Soul Food,” opened up her doors when her then-employer agreed to sell her the luncheonette she had been working at. Her mother, Julia Pressley, mortgaged her farm to loan her the money for the purchase and the rest, as they say, was history as we know it.

From the Civil Rights Movement to the events of 9/11 and now, the COVID-19 pandemic, Sylvia’s continues to serve customers delicious meals with a side of hope, love, and community. Whether Harlem locals or figures and celebrities like Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Nelson Mandela, Jesse Jackson, Bruno Mars and more, this Harlem landmark is still making strides and gaining new fans — both old and young.

Ezell's Fried Chicken On Location Garfield Photoshoot

Ezell's Fried Chicken On Location Garfield Photoshoot

Photo by: Courtesy of Ezell’s Famous Chicken

Courtesy of Ezell’s Famous Chicken

This Seattle-based restaurant is more than just a longstanding favorite of Washingtonians — celebrities love it, too. Ezell’s Famous Chicken — which was opened in February 1984 by Ezell Stephens and Lewis Rudd — has served a number of prolific figures, but it was one celebrity in particular that gave this landmark location the world famous stamp: Oprah Winfrey.

Since the former talk show host put her stamp on the brand on her eponymous show, the restaurant has grown from just its one flagship location to partnering with both Seattle sports teams to deliver meals to the players, launched a food truck franchise, and opened up nearly two dozen new restaurants in Washington. But don’t think that people are just showing up for a chance to dine with a celebrity; the “famous” claim on their fried chicken is what keeps them coming back for more.

The Four Way (Memphis, TN)

Heading to Memphis, Tennessee anytime soon? You’ll need to add the Four Way Restaurant to your list of places to eat at. Founded in 1946 by Irene and Clint Cleaves, the Four Way (originally named the Four Way Grill) began its journey to creating a lasting legacy for southerners. Known for “feeding the souls” of the Memphis community, the restaurant was one of just a few places in the city that became a home for leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s as well as become a place where both Black and white customers sat together regularly.

Now, 77 years later, the restaurant is owned by Patrice Bates Thompson and still has a slew of items on the menu that have kept customers coming back for decades.

Harold & Belle’s (Los Angeles, CA)

Hitting the scene in 1969, Harold & Belle’s is one of L.A.’s most beloved soul food restaurants in the city. Providing a New Orleans cuisine flair to the Jefferson Park area, the restaurant that is known for once hosting Rosa Parks has built a legacy in its own right. While the restaurant’s founders, Mary Belle and Harold Legaux Sr, have since passed, one thing remains the same: the restaurant has a loyal dedication to the community.

Now owned by Harold and Belle’s grandson Ryan Legaux, the restaurant has since expanded to multiple avenues including a food trailer, a to-go service, the packaging of Harold & Belle’s Creole Seasoning and more.

Jones Bar-B-Q Diner (Marianna, AR)

Touted as being the oldest Black-owned restaurant in the United States, Jones Bar-B-Q Diner has been operating since the 1910s. Delivering a simple and straightforward menu, the generational diner was recognized as an American Classic by the James Beard Foundation in 2012 and has received a number of recognitions throughout the years.

Prince’s Hot Chicken (Nashville, TN)

Arriving in Tennessee in the mid-1930s, Prince’s Hot Chicken has been credited for popularizing its namesake dish. As the story goes, James Thornton Prince — the restaurant’s founder — cooked up the recipe after getting a spicy taste of revenge from a then-girlfriend who overloaded a plate of fried chicken with spices and peppers. Instead of doubling over in pain from the immense amount of spice, Prince perfected the recipe and used it as the main draw to what was then known as the Bar-B-Que Chicken Shack.

The restaurant got its current name in 1980 once the current owner and Thornton’s great-niece André Prince Jeffries took over. But back when it donned its previous name, Prince’s was a hot spot in its heyday for those who left the Grand Ole Opry and were looking for a late night spot serving up good food. And things haven’t changed much now as folks from all over stop by Prince’s during operating hours to get a serving of the gold standard for hot chicken.

Photo by: Courtesy of Nikki’s Place

Courtesy of Nikki’s Place

Nikki’s Place (Orlando, FL)

Whether you’re born or raised or are a transplant into The City Beautiful, Nikki’s Place is a key part of Orlando’s culinary history. First opened under the name Roser’s Restaurant in 1949 by Parramore’s own Roser Mae Jones, the restaurant has seen a number of Black icons, Civil Rights leaders and athletes grace its space to get themselves a plate of deliciously memorable soul food. And once Jones’ nephew, Nick Aiken took over the restaurant in 1999 (though he had been working alongside her since 1952), its name has become even more synonymous with good eatin’.

Dubbing the dishes available as "the finer side of soul food" — southern cuisine — Nikki’s Place, is bursting with history and culture.

Photo by: Courtesy of Welton Street Cafe

Courtesy of Welton Street Cafe

Welton Street Cafe (Denver, CO)

Frequently argued to be the last true soul food restaurant in Denver proper, Welton Street Cafe has been a pillar in the city’s historically Black neighborhood, Five Points, since its opening in 1986. Founded by Mona and Flynn Dickerson, the Virgin Islands transplants and husband-wife duo were set on providing customers with warm hospitality and an even warmer plate of unforgettable food.

First opening under the name the Caribbean and then changing to Mona’s Wings and Tings before finally settling on its current name, Welton Street Cafe is one of the last businesses that originally graced the strip of Black-owned businesses in the Five Points area. And while their infamous location (2736 Welton Street) is no longer where they’re serving plates from these days, the still family owned business will be opening their newest location within a 4 minute walk from the previous location (2883 Welton Street) and will be serving up a few of their classic dishes like honey hot wings and fried chicken as well as adding both vegan and vegetarian options.

While the new location won’t open until early summer 2023, those looking to visit will be met with double the space as well as a patio and bar. Currently though, the Welton Street Cafe team is offering catering services until the opening and can be found doing pop-ups at Spangalang Brewery.

Woven into Macon, Georgia’s history, H&H Soul Food has been keeping the city fed since 1959. Founded by Inez Hill and Louise Hudson, the downtown location was made famous by The Allman Brothers Band with acts like Molly Hatchet and the Wet Willie Band frequenting the location, too. Aside from its celebrity draw, H&H (which stands for HIll & Hudson) has also been a meeting place for many Civil Rights activists, NAACP members, and Georgia state presidents and officers.

Opening the doors to her landmark restaurant in 1964, Elizabeth White’s Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Cafe has long been recognized as a premiere dining space for soul food lovers from all walks of life. And now, nearly 60 years later, it’s still one of the most iconic restaurants in Phoenix.

Though parts of the city were still segregated when she initially opened her location, the trailblazing business woman opened her doors to any and everyone, supplying the likes of James Brown, Jesse Jackson, Senator John McCain and many more with kind and loving service. And while many things have changed for the restaurant — like the removal of 24/7 service and a 7 a.m. open time — the number one rule remains the same: the menu doesn’t change.

Jackson’s Soul Food (Miami, FL)

Founded by Jessie and Demas Jackson in 1946, Jackson’s Soul Food delivers southern comfort in every bite. Located in the Overtown community of Miami, Florida, Jackson’s — which originally went by Mama’s Cafe — has been a mainstay in the area since its humble beginnings. Now owned by one of their 12 children, Shirlene Jackson Ingraham, this popular dining location is still set on delivering one of the best soul food experiences guests have ever tasted. From presidents and celebrities to local, national, and international visitors alike, Jackson’s is bubbling with culinary delights like their famous catfish,biscuits and more.

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