Monday, March 30, 2020

Wilson's Words of Wisdom: Celebrating a decade of blogging

March always marks the #WilsonsGuide blog anniversary.
And this time around, 2020 commemorates a noteworthy milestone for me:
a full 10 years in this blogging game. 

Not surprisingly though, I'm finding myself having a solemnly quiet celebration. 

This particular anniversary comes in the midst of a global pandemic — the COVID-19 pandemic. Being in this outbreak for the past few weeks has caused me to pause my writings and contemplate exactly how I'll continue in the midst of — and after — this health scare is over (hopefully soon). 

While I knew that wining and dining and traveling were passions of mine, I never really knew how ingrained into my life they were, until they abruptly came to a sudden halt. As much as I enjoy cooking in the comforts of my own kitchen and exploring my little neighborhood in my spare time, I've come to the realization of how much I thrive being in the throes of the culinary scene or off to another adventure as well...

I've also realized that it's so much fun to bask in a swanky lounge's incredible ambiance, catching up with friends and loved ones ...

... and it's a welcomed relief to sip meticulously made cocktails at a neighborhood bar, on a Friday evening after a long week ...

... and that I've delighted in learning about new cultures by exploring different cuisines at one-of-a-kind eateries ...

... and, that I've been inspired by the chefs and teams who have poured their hearts and countless of hours of hard work into masterpieces that we call appetizers and entrees and desserts ...

Clockwise top left: Hotville Chicken owner Kim Prince; Chef Megan Marlow; Chef Michelangelo “Miguel” Aliaga and Eko Kitchen owner Simileoluwa "Simi" Adebajo

... and finally, that traveling always widens my view of the world and my unique but connected place within it.

But more than anything, I also think about how many making a living in the culinary and travel industries have been hit by sudden business closures due to shelter-in-place orders everywhere. True, these all-new limited operations are for a good cause — to help prevent COVID-19's spread — but I can't help but wonder what the potential short- (and long-) term negative impacts for the millions of culinary and travel professionals around the world may be.

I pray for resiliency and I'll continue to do my part to help support the industry that has given so much to me over the past 10 years. As I think back to that first post that started the #WilsonsGuide Blog back March 1, 2010, I'm grateful that I’ve been blessed to experience more highs than lows on this blogging journey, even while in the midst of a tough low like right now. 

Since I've made it this far, my wish is simple but more meaningful than I ever could've imagined it would be: that we'll have the culinary and travel scenes around for ten more years (and definitely many, many more) to enjoy.

So in closing, I hope you'll join me in raising a glass, in the comforts of your home of course, and making a toast, to celebrate 10 years of the #WilsonsGuide Blog and defeating COVID-19 soon!

Monday, February 24, 2020

Where to Eat, Drink & Be Merry: Top Black-Owned Restaurants, Bars, Lounges & Eateries @ Los Angeles (Updated for 2020)

In February 2016, I launched the Top Black-Owned Restaurants, Bars, Lounges & Eateries in Los Angeles list in honor of Black History Month

The list grew to 28 in 2017, 38 in 2018, 39 in 2019 and now for 2020, we're at 38 places,
with the addition of Hilltop Coffee and Kitchen and the unfortunate closing of Brownstone Bistro and Hal's Bar & Grill.

From vegetarian Ethiopian fare to popular Brazilian dishes, jazzy Sunday brunches, both Southern-style and health-conscious soul food, scrumptious BBQ and more, this list highlights a range of eclectic and diverse range of tastes that are sure to please all palates. 

Presented in alphabetical order, this list is in no way exhaustive and represents the places that yours truly has personally frequented and loved over the past 10 years. I'll include even more amazing places in the future and always welcome suggestions. If you don't see somewhere that deserves to be on this list, drop a note in the comments section below! 

In the meantime, read on, and here's to celebrating amazing foods from the Black Diaspora in Los Angeles, all year long!


Alta Adams – Located on Adams Blvd. in between La Cienega Blvd. to the west and La Brea Ave. to the east, Alta Adams serves up traditional soul food favorites that have a fancy, modern twist to them. For example, Alta’s collard greens will probably look nothing like the pot of greens with neckbones you might find brewing on your grandmother’s stove, but they still hold their own and are delicious in their own right. Alta’s sultry interior is bathed in earth tones — lots of different shades of brown — and R&B and hip-hop tunes add a comfy touch. Another great option: the Grilled pork collar topped with a sweet and tangy “chow chow.” 

Azla vegan – Azla vegan is a casual eatery that's housed in the Mercado La Paloma, which is an incubator for first-generation business owners. Azla is also the first Ethiopian restaurant to open in South L.A. Here, you'll find healthy, vegan twists on traditional Ethiopian dishes, such as the Shimbra pictured below. Ran by Nesanet and her mother, Chef Azla, it's the perfect stop for a quick bite, if you’re in the downtown vicinity.

Barbara Jean Restaurant – Barbara Jean has moved around quite a bit since its 2017 opening — first in the Melrose Umbrella Company, then in Vinoteque and now south of DTLA near USC — but it's still in the culinary game. Chef Jason Fullilove has made a killer menu featuring “American Soul Food.” Personally, I can’t get enough of the buttermilk biscuits, the deviled eggs and the Grandma Jean’s Sampler, pictured below, which is the best way to sample a bit of everything, including delectable BBQ ribs, black eyed peas, greens and mac’n’cheese.

Bayou Grille – Bayou Grille brings the flavors of New Orleans to Inglewood, featuring Po’Boys, “Creole Classics” like jambalaya and étouffée, and my favorite, the Louisiana Finger Lickers, pictured below — hot wings, with a kick. You can also order seafood platters, where items like catfish, salmon, red snapper, shrimp and oysters can either be grilled or fried, and come with a side of your choice, salad and amazing French bread.

Black Bottom Southern Café – Should you find yourself in the south part of the San Fernando Valley and looking to quickly grab soul food, there’s really no other place to go than Black Bottom Southern Café in North Hollywood. This fast casual corner café serves up southern inspired dishes — like shrimp ‘n’ grits prepared several different ways — and daily specials, like the Fried Yardbird chicken, which is only available on Saturdays. There’s also a super cute patio area enclosed by leafy green trees, if you have the time to dine while you’re there.

Bludso's Bar & Que – The “Pitmaster” Kevin Bludso launched his first BBQ joint in Compton and has now expanded to Hollywood and, even internationally, to Melbourne, Australia. His Hollywood location somehow simultaneously feels casual and upscale — with BBQ meats and sides served family-style on platters covered by brown paper, right alongside fancy craft cocktails and an impressive list of high-end whiskeys. Tip: definitely order the chicken link, stuffed with creamy cheese and spicy jalapeños — you'll love it.

Brooklyn Deli & Mini Market – I initially couldn’t comprehend how a casual sandwich shop could have almost 200 five-star Yelp ratings — literally a perfect score — that is, until I ventured into Brooklyn Deli & Mini Market. Located on Crenshaw Blvd. near Leimert Park, this tiny deli is dishing out a ton of amazing sandwiches that are piled high with fresh ingredients that are combined in ways that make it all taste so good. Plus, the energetic, smiling crew behind the counters exudes fantastic customer service that’s like the icing on the cake. Speaking of cake, don’t walk out without copping a homemade cake; the strawberry cream cheese one is so good!

Buffalo Wild Wings (Baldwin Hills) – Like any other Buffalo Wild Wings across the country, expect to find a casual sports bar atmosphere to consume copious amounts of wings and beer while watching the latest games. Yet what sets this location apart from other BWW establishments is that it's achieved the highest sales percentage increase of any other BWW, in 2012, 2013 and 2014. It's co-owned by community leaders Karim Webb and Ed Barnett pictured below, who also own two other BWWs, in Carson and Torrance.

Café Buna – Café Buna in Marina del Rey literally has the largest selection of classic American breakfast and lunch favorites. With such an expansive menu, it’s so hard to choose what to order! Neal’s Cornflakes French Toast, pictured below, is a popular pick, and there's also a nice selection of hot beverages, from specialty teas to different types of hot cocoa and gano coffee — coffee made from mushrooms.

Chick-fil-A (Venice) – The Chick-fil-A in Venice on Lincoln Blvd. may be like any other Chick-fil-A in the world for the most part, except for one small detail: it’s owned by Local Franchise Operator Kayla Griffin, an African-American woman who’s been climbing up the corporate Chick-fil-A ladder for the past several years. She first got her start by working at the Chick-fil-A near USC (Fight On!), did a stint at the Hollywood location and opened up new Chick-fil-As all across the country. Now, she’s launched the first franchise in Venice. Similar to its Hollywood counterpart, this Chick-fil-A has a drive-thru window, a line that queues outside and outdoor seating. And of course, it has infamous Chick-fil-A staples, like waffle fries and Chick-N-Minis. 

Comfort LA – Casual and unassuming, Comfort LA dishes out fried chicken wings covered in “that sauce” and soul food sides like greens, yams and mac ’n’ cheese. Board games, cards and dominoes are placed on the communal tables and a smooth soundtrack of R&B and hip-hop hits fills the one-room establishment. Open until 3 a.m. on the weekends and with a free BYOB policy, there’s really no better place to stop by to get late night munchies in DTLA after the nightclubs / bars / lounges close.

Dulan's Soul Food Kitchen – This family-owned chain spans two generations of restaurateurs serving up Southern style soul food to the masses. Self-proclaimed “King of Soul” Adolf Dulan operates the locations on Manchester Blvd. and W. Century Blvd., both in Inglewood; and his son Greg Dulan — “Restaurant & Catering Connoisseur of Soul Food in Los Angeles”— runs the Crenshaw Blvd. kitchen. All three locations feature the $18.45 Sunday Dinner Special, pictured below, which includes an entrée with stuffing or rice & gravy, two sides, cornbread and dessert. So much food, you may not need to eat for the rest of the week.

Harold & Belle's – This upscale Creole restaurant right on Jefferson Blvd. has been an L.A. staple for more than four decades. It underwent a fancy new remodel a couple of years ago, now showing off a sleek exterior and a sophisticated bar area. Fortunately, the same great well-proportioned Creole selections — like the Louisiana style catfish, pictured below — are still available.

Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen – Located in Inglewood, this two-story cafe is the second location for Ajay Relan and Yonnie Hagos, and it's also backed by entertainment mogul Issa Rae. It's serving up more than your cup of joe and pastries like delicious donuts; it's also a communal place to gather, often packed to the brim on weekends with study groups, fashionable dates and solo workers typing away on their laptops. There's also a food menu with options like waffles, beignets and drop tops – thick cuts of toast with different sweet and savory toppings. 

Hyperion Public – Silverlake’s Hyperion Public is a tiny, casual restaurant serving up unique takes on traditional American & California classics. Expect to find one-of-a-kind options like a Brussels Sprouts Cobb salad, Spicy Blueberry Wings and Hyperion's own rendition of Jerk Chicken with beans & rice, pictured below. There’s also a location in Studio City.

Janga by Derrick’s Jamaican Food – Janga is the brainchild behind the owners of Derrick’s on Centinela Ave. Located on the main drag in Culver City, this bright eatery not only features amazing Jamaican cuisine, but also has a long list of fantastic tropical libations and a very wonderful happy hour where you can get a free jerk chicken taco with any cocktail order. 

Les Sisters – Alllll the way in the thick of the San Fernando Valley — Chatsworth to be exact — there’s a small but bustling, family-owned restaurant that has a mix of BBQ, southern soul food and Creole favorites. Initially opened in 1986 by three friends, this festive and cozy neighborhood restaurant is now ran by one of the original owner’s grandchildren, Jessica and Kevin. Portions are big and an order of the hush puppies with honey is a must.

JR’s Barbecue – JR's Barbecue is a hole-in-the-wall BBQ joint that's located on one of the busiest strips of La Cienega Blvd. in Culver City. Blink too fast, and you just might miss it. Customer service can be wanting at times and the common areas could use a facelift, but the Memphis-style BBQ is consistently on point. You can't go wrong with the pork ribs (pictured below) or Pork Shoulder BBQ sandwich, and of course, a side of the “award-winning” BBQ sauce.

Messob Ethiopian Restaurant – The Little Ethiopia area in the Fairfax district has a handful of Ethiopian restaurants, including one of my favorites, Messob. Not only do they serve traditional Ethiopian food and beverages, like the honey wine Tej, but they also have several vegan options available. Choose to sit at a standard table or around the traditional Ethiopian table, the mesob, pictured below.

My Two Cents – Chef Alisa Reynolds opened up a modest eatery on West Pico Blvd. near Fairfax Blvd. that puts a health-conscious spin on soul food favorites. Some options to expect are the Oxtail Tacos, Plantain Stuffed Pork Chop and the BBQ Fried Chicken Caesar Salad, pictured below. Plenty of vegetarian options as well. It’s fast, it’s fresh and it’s appreciatively unassuming. 

Orleans & York (Baldwin Hills) – As the name suggests, this family-operated delicatessen chain draws its inspiration from both the New Orleans and New York culinary scenes. Top picks: the fried shrimp Po’ boy pictured below and the Buffalo wings. The wait can be long, so call in advance to place an order and pick it up. There are other locations in Inglewood, Downtown L.A. and Carson.

Pips on La Brea – No one does a Sunday Jazz Brunch quite like Pips. With a Jazz saxophonist playing R&B and smooth jazz hits, endless rounds of fruity sangria and mimosas, and a delectable buffet spread of Italian favorites, I’d see no reason not to spend at least three to four hours here. Best seat in the house when the weather’s gorgeous: on the secluded patio shaded by massive, breezy trees.

Post & Beam – Post & Beam in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza has a phenomenal afternoon happy hour in its bar area. Aside from delicious food options, the bar designs extraordinarily refreshing seasonal cocktails, including white peach sangria, Moscow mules and mojitos. The restaurant has a swanky, debonair vibe, with a dapper crowd to match.

Red's Flavor Table – No, they don’t take reservations and yes you will have to wait at least 10 – 20 minutes for a table, but the Southern soul food brunch at The Flavor Table on Florence Ave. is absolutely worth it. The servings are enormous and the service is exceptional. They also have a cute patio in the back that’s perfect when the weather is right. Come with your appetite and don’t forget to leave with at least one slice of the layered cake already packaged and ready to-go (flavors vary).

*Red's Flavor Table Take-out – This Inglewood location is like the lite version of Red’s Flavor Table on Florence Ave. It has the same great heaping servings of Southern soul food, only this time, in white Styrofoam to-go containers. There's also a smaller dining area that’s really more for waiting for your order to be ready rather than eating there. Definitely order the breakfast potatoes, loaded. It comes topped with grilled cheese, onions and bell peppers.

Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles – The originators of the legendary “chicken and waffle” combo. They’ve also mastered sides like mac ’n’ cheese and cornbread, and drinks like the Sunset, a super sweet blend of lemonade and fruit punch. Seven locations in total, throughout Southern California. 

Rusty Pot Café – The Rusty Pot Café in downtown Inglewood is a brunch spot that serves up classic soul food breakfast and lunch options, including the Fried Chicken and Waffles, pictured below. They also have their own signature dishes, such as the Truffle & Parmesan Fries, accompanied with honey mustard dipping sauce (so good!). With only seven tables inside and a couple outdoors, the space is super small, but it’s totally worth the wait that you may have to face to get a seat.

Simply Wholesome – One of the only places in the city where you can shop for vitamins and natural foods, and then also sit down for a satisfying meal. Simply Wholesome houses both a health store and a café, and frequently produces community events, including live band performances. The smoothies — almost 50 in total — and their Jamaican patties, both pictured below, are great on-the-go snacks.

Sky's Gourmet Tacos – I don’t know how she did it, but Chef Sky has managed to take the best of both Mexican and African-American cuisines — to create a menu that’s truly in a category all its own. Meats like chicken and shrimp are marinated in a spicy, flavorful sauce and then piled high into quesadillas, burritos and tacos. My favorite so far is the Torta — the Mexican version of a sandwich with grilled Telera bread, cheese and of course, Sky’s signature meat.

Southern Girl Desserts – Cupcakes, cakes, cookies, cobblers, puddings and pies, and so much more can be found at this dessert shop in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. While traditional and classic options — such as red velvet cupcakes — are available, expect the unexpected here, too. For example, there are Hennessey and Coke, Chicken & Waffle and Peach Cobbler cupcakes. There's also an adorably chic dining area, to sit and savor your treats.

Stuff I Eat – This is a healthy-conscious vegan eatery situated on Market Street in downtown Inglewood. With wooden benches and tables, and colorful, eclectic artwork embellishing muted mustard yellow walls, the fast casual concept serves up specialties with bold flavors that are also healthy. Two of the biggest sellers: the Organic Soul Food Platter, pictured above, and the Enchilada Pie. 

Sweet Chick – Anything Nas touches is pretty much golden. So it should come as no surprise that his venture into restaurants would be any different. Sweet Chick, right in the heart of the Fairfax District is a bustling, one-room restaurant that on weekends, dishes out an incredible soul food brunch and a jammin’ R&B playlist. You simply can’t go wrong with an order of the Chicken & Waffles, which comes with two pieces of chicken and an option of six different waffle flavors, including Classic, Dried Cherry, Bacon N' Cheddar, Spiced Pecans and more.

The Serving Spoon – Drive by The Serving Spoon in Inglewood on any given Sunday, just after church lets out, and you will see everybody and their aunties/cousins/grandmamas/friends/other family members in line, waiting to have brunch. With huge portions of well-seasoned homestyle soul food, it’s no wonder why this diner is so popular. And, perhaps it also has to do with the complimentary champagne they provide on Sundays.

The Savoy Entertainment Center – A low-key, laid-back club/lounge in Inglewood that frequently hosts up-close-and-personal live music performances and various weekly events. Scores of R&B legends have graced this venue's stage throughout the years: Johnny Gill, Kelly Price, Kenny Lattimore, Chrisette Michelle (pictured below), Raheem Devaughn, Stevie Wonder — the list literally goes on and on. And when there's not a performance, DJs are typically spinning R&B, hip-hop, dancehall, reggae and/or rap. Also stop by for the $1 tacos on Taco Tuesdays.

Wood Spoon – A Brazilian restaurant in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. Phenomenal, fresh options with rich, bold flavors. You’re apt to find owner Natalia Pereira strolling through the premises — in the kitchen or charmingly chatting with customers. Pictured below is the Moqueca, a stew with coconut milk, seafood and spices.

Xen Lounge – An indoor-outdoor lounge, located in the Studio City neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley. Opened by actor Duane Martin in 2012, Xen is a popular place for events, including day parties, night functions and private affairs. I haven’t explored the food menu here, but I will say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed their cocktails and eclectic décor.


And the ones we lost along the way...

Unfortunately, a few establishments closed their doors over the years, but they remain on this list, for the legacy they left on Los Angeles:

Brownstone Bistro – This West L.A. restaurant offered an amazing Sunday brunch buffet that rotated its African-American and Caribbean-inspired selections, on a weekly basis. Some breakfast/lunch goodies to expect, on any given Sunday: BBQ chicken, yams, shrimp & grits (pictured below), breakfast potatoes, gumbo, grilled veggies and so much more. 

Hal's Bar & Grill by Primitivo – The restaurant that had sat on Abbot Kinney for 30+ years was such a neighborhood gem for fine dining, smooth live jazz and exquisite food. While it had closed it doors for a couple of years, it reopened in two locations: one right back in its original Abbot Kinney neighborhood and another in Playa Vista. The Seafood Grill, which had been a Hal’s Classic for decades, and features scrumptious Ahi tuna, scallops, shrimp and salmon, all served with creamy spinach and onion rings, was a must-order item.

House of Music & Entertainment, a.k.a. H.O.M.E. – H.O.M.E. in Beverly Hills had been a mecca for the black entertainment world, since opening its doors in late 2013. So much talent has come here — to entertain, and also be entertained. Goapele, local jazz bands and DJs are just a few examples of who’s made an appearance. Aside from a vibrant music scene, H.O.M.E. had a bar that knocks out killer cocktails and a kitchen that whips up California fare with a European influence, such as the bruschetta, pictured below.

Leona - Low lighting, high ceilings, white exposed brick walls and a smooth soundtrack of old-school R&B, neo-soul and chill rap, made this one-room restaurant in Venice feel quite quaint and intimate. There was a seasonal rotation of eclectic dishes, and, the detail was in everything — right down to the presentation on your plate.

Taste of Universal – With a soft launch in Fall 2016, Taste of Universal celebrated its official grand opening in 2017. The teeny tiny sandwich shop in DTLA has an eclectic, out-of-this-world interior theme, with murals of colorful planets, bright stars and a larger-than-life astronaut floating around in space. Taste of Universal brought a taste of Dallas to L.A. by featuring two main items: 1) signature sandwiches with different types of BBQ sauces — including pineapple, smoked bacon, Korean and sweet Thai chili — and 2) gourmet shaved ice, with more than 25 flavors to pick and choose from. 


*Photo credits: Buffalo Wild Wings - Jason Clark; Hal's Bar & Grill by Primitivo - management; The Savoy Entertainment - Earl Gibson III;  Xen Lounge - Xen Lounge website

Monday, February 17, 2020

Where to Eat, Drink & Be Merry: Top Black-Owned Restaurants, Bars, Lounges & Eateries @ Oakland

Back in February 2015, I debuted my "Top Black-Owned Restaurants, Bars, Lounges & Eateries in Los Angeles" list, recognizing some of most amazing places in the city, in honor of Black History Month.

And now that I’m officially calling the Bay Area home, it only made sense to create a brand spanking new list that celebrates some of the best black-owned gems, right here in Oakland.

While not exhaustive by any means (hey, I’ve only lived here 12 months — I have lots more exploring to do!), I think the following 10 places, presented in alphabetical order, represent the diverse, beautiful face of the African Diaspora, all providing one-of-a-kind experiences and quality cuisine and cocktails.

You’ve got Jamaican fare, a bit of Nigerian flavor, casual and upscale soul food…bar bites and BBQ…and a fabulous coffee shop serving up my fave, a candied yam latte.

So read on and don’t forget to drop your top choices of black-owned Oakland places in the comments section below, too.

Here's to celebrating amazing foods from the Black Diaspora in all of Cali, all year long!


Brenda’s Oakland – Brenda’s Oakland is bringing a taste of New Orleans to Temescal, with treats like hot beignets, po’ boys and gumbo. I’m very particular about my gumbo, and I’ll confidently say that Brenda put her foot in this pot. The fried chicken is also pretty incredible, with a delightful seasoned crunch and tender meat. This fast casual spot keeps it simple; order at a counter, get seated by staff and then wait for your order to arrive.
Tip: Ordering the sweet watermelon tea is an absolute must!

Brown Sugar Kitchen – Located on Broadway Ave. in Oakland’s bustling Uptown neighborhood, Brown Sugar Kitchen serves up soul-filling “new style down home” dishes like BBQ Shrimp, Gumbo, Cast-iron Skillet Cornbread and my absolute favorite, Beignets. Originally calling West Oakland home, Brown Sugar Kitchen relocated to this bigger, snazzier and tasteful space just over a year ago. Chef/Owner Tanya Holland, who you’ll often find walking around and greeting guests, shared that it’s been her dream for more than 15 years to finally be in the space she’s in now. So happy it finally came true for her!
Tip: Brown Sugar Kitchen currently doesn't take reservations currently, so get ready to wait, wait and wait for weekend brunch, unless you go super early or during the week. 

Eko Kitchen (San Francisco) – So Eko Kitchen *technically* isn’t in Oakland — it’s in San Francisco’s SOMA district — but still gets an honorable mention. First opening its doors in 2019, this modest one-roomed restaurant whips up Nigerian cuisine, all to the backdrop of Afrobeats. Dinner service runs Friday,  Saturday and Sunday, and you can also sign up for wonderful two-hour cooking lessons through AirBnB Experiences.
Tip: Eko Kitchen’s schedule can change frequently; check out its Instagram to find out the most up-to-date happenings.

Everett and Jones – Since the ‘70s, Everett and Jones has been dishing out BBQ to the masses. Smoked meats come slathered in Everett and Jones’ famous barbeque sauce, and can be accompanied by sides like candied yams, cornbread and Mom’s collard greens. The best entrée to order for groups, IMHO, is the Four-Way Combination Plate. It gives you two side choices and ribs, chicken, brisket and links. While advertised for two people, it can easily fill up four people. Everett and Jones has a Jack London Square address, with five additional locations throughout the Bay Area.
Tip: On select nights, stick around to hear live music including the blues and jazz at the adjacent Dotha’s Juke Joint.

Home of Chicken & Waffles – Even though it opened in 2004, Home of Chicken & Waffles in Jack London Square pays homage to the past, thanks to a brightly retro interior bathed in pastel yellows and blues, and mid-century modern lighting fixtures. This casual dining establishment's menu pairs fried chicken in every imaginable way possible — with waffles (original and buckwheat), eggs, smothered potatoes, potato salad and two of my top choices, collard greens and candied yams. There’s also a full bar, where mimosas are literally made with like 99% champagne and 1% juice (with options including OJ and pineapple). Historic fun fact: Home of Chicken & Waffles initially got its start as a franchise of the OG chicken & waffles joint, L.A.’s Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles.
Tip: If the wait seems to be long for a table, opt to sit at the bar; it’s first come, first served.

Kingston 11 – What initially started as a pop-up in Berkeley is now a cornerstone on Uptown’s Telegraph Ave. Marked by a colossal Jamaican flag on the exterior, Kingston 11 offers Jamaican cuisine, all within the colorful backdrop of painted murals and massive vibrant photos. Here you’ll find staples like jerk chicken, oxtail stew and of course, patties. Plus, Kingston has quite a collection of tropical cocktails — like rum punch and Cuba libres — to pick and choose. The restaurant is ran by owner/chef Nigel Jones and his partner Adrian Henderson.
Tip: Head over on Wednesdays and Thursdays when there’s live bands or on Fridays, when there’s a DJ on the 1s and 2s.

Oakland’s Very OwnOakland’s Very Own, affectionately coined “OVO,” is a no frills restaurant / lounge in North Oakland with a laid-back vibe and some of the most unique, brilliantly colorful cocktails I’ve ever seen. Gummy worms, dried ice and fresh fruit are all fair game when it comes to the garnishes that adorn libations. And while I haven’t eaten here, the food menu looks to be as creative as the drinks, with options like the Henny wings special, “Asian style” garlic noodles and various prawn / fried fish / veggies plates. Rounding out what OVO has to offer, there are DJs spinning the latest and greatest R&B / hip-hop, and also complimentary games to borrow, including a larger-than-life Jenga set and playing cards.
Tip: Don’t forget to check out the outdoor patio in the back!

Oeste Bar & Restaurant – Launched by three women entrepreneurs, Oeste Bar & Restaurant is a two-story destination in the heart of Old Oakland. It’s got all the right ingredients to make for a must-visit lounge: a competitive happy hour menu, a swanky décor that includes exposed bricks and sultry lighting, a lovely rooftop patio and a DJ playing a mix of R&B / hip-hop / rap classics. It’s often packed to the brim on weekend nights, with hundreds of well-dressed patrons in their 20s, 30s and 40s filling every nook and cranny possible.
Tip: Right next door is Oeste Café, serving up coffee and pastries, Tuesdays through Sundays in the mornings and early afternoons.

Red Bay Coffee Public Roastery, Coffee Bar & Garden – The Red Bay Coffee flagship in Fruitvale is much more than a coffee shop. It’s a gathering space for not-to-be-missed events like Jidenna’s listening party, and an oasis amongst coffee machinery and burlap sacks to simply plug away on work for a few hours on the weekend. In addition to having Afro-centric merchandise and décor (think shirts that say “Coffee: Africa’s gift to the world” and a gigantic living plant on the wall that’s shaped like Africa), Red Bay has your given coffee standards — like lattes, espressos and more. It also features seasonal beverages, like one of my all-time faves, the candied yam latte.
Tip: Can’t make it to the Fruitvale flagship? Red Bay also has to-go stand in Uptown, off Broadway Ave. and Grand Ave.

Smokin Woods – At Smokin Woods, you’ll find well seasoned, falling-off-the-bone BBQ that’s perfectly complemented by sides like potato salad, sweet BBQ baked beans and collard greens (with pork). Nestled in between a handful of other restaurants on Temescal’s main culinary hub, Temescal Ave., Smokin Woods tastefully blends a fast casual dining concept with laidback bar vibes, all under the backdrop of rich, earthy wooden fixtures. Order at a counter outside before entering to pick your seat anywhere to your liking and then wait for your food to arrive. The bar makes very stiff drinks and also streams sporting events, like basketball and football games.
Tip: While the meat comes “dry,” Smokin Woods also has its very own delicious BBQ sauces to sample in two flavors: Original and Sweet Heat.

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