Black cuisine is as diverse and multi-faceted as Black culture itself. With influences from the Caribbean, the American South, and, of course various African countries, many of the beautiful and nuanced differences between the various cultures within the diaspora are recognizable across aspects such as music, speech, style, design, and of course, food. And in NYC—with celebrated enclaves such as Harlem, Bed-Stuy, the South Bronx, and Crown Heights—along with a citywide Black population of 22% (1.9 millions residents), as the home to many folks of African and Carribean descent, in addition to those who settled here from the Great Migration, it’s often looked at as the perfect canvas for all these different hues and flavors to shine.
Korsha Wilson, food writer and podcast host of A Hungry Society, is an industry expert who tells stories about Black foodways in America. When it comes to NYC, she highlights that on top of their outstanding food, many restaurants like Lolo’s Seafood Shack in Harlem and Negril in Park Slope are great representations of the city’s Black culinary landscape. “Black cuisine is multifaceted,” says Wilson. “Lolo’s is presenting Bahamian foods and Negril is Jamaican, with both showing how even within Caribbean cuisine, there’s differences and regional specialties. The same is true of African-American foodways.”
Since the onset of COVID-19, early statistics in the pandemic revealed that 41% of Black-owned businesses in America closed, a rate that remains the highest of any racial group in the U.S. And sadly, this includes the shuttering of beloved local Black culinary institutions such as Gloria’s and Glady’s. In Wilson’s opinion, the pandemic has made it just that much harder for Black eateries to flourish. “The regulations and rules are constantly changing,” she says, “which is hard for operators to keep up with—and Black and Brown neighborhoods are often the hardest hit in terms of COVID infections.”
As one of the country’s most important epicenters of Black culture, NYC offers no shortage of Black-owned restaurants to choose from. The offerings are as diverse as the city’s Black diaspora itself, and we’ve rounded up 15 essential Black-owned restaurants to try across the five boroughs. Support them not only during Black History Month but every month of the year, along with all Black-owned small businesses near you. And as always, tip generously, mask up, and eat on.
Janae Price is an Editorial Assistant and contributor to Thrillist.
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