Monday, March 25, 2019

Wilson’s Words of Wisdom: March Round Up (Exploring Oakland!)



In the few months I’ve now called the Bay home, I’ve been trying to explore as much as possible. Specifically in Oakland, I’ve gone on a “black-owned bars” bar crawl, sipped cocktails at bars in Uptown and Downtown, indulged in multiple weekend brunches and joined half of the Town exercising at Lake Merritt whenever the sun has decided to grace us with its presence (which hadn’t been much these past two months).

Of course, there’s still so much for me to see, eat and do, but in the meantime, I’ve compiled a short list of places that have piqued my interest so far. From outdoor havens to delicious Indian street food and cocktails on the lake, here are five points of interest to bookmark.


Where to Be Merry: Lake Merritt



I haven’t been to Lake Merritt nearly as frequent as I’d like (I blame the nonstop rain in January/February), but going there always reminds of why I love going whenever I get the chance. The lake unites all residents, who come to run/walk/jog the three-mile loop around the lake, lounge on blankets in the grass, play with dogs or simply bask in the outdoors. It doesn’t matter your age, where you’re from or what you look like; everyone is welcome here. The views are absolutely spectacular, too — you’ll catch glimpses of sprawling hills dotted with houses, the wide, glistening lake in the middle and the downtown cityscape.

For more information


Where to Drink: Lake Chalet @ Lake Merritt


Tucked away in the historic Oakland Boathouse you’ll find Lake Chalet, a multi-level restaurant with outdoor seating on a deck jutting directly onto Lake Merritt. On bright sunny days, you come here to sit back, relax on the lake and leisurely admire the views, all with a cocktail in hand. While I’ve only (for now) had drinks here, there’s also an expansive menu of American fare — including Dungeness Crab Cakes and Chalet Beignets — that looked quite appetizing as they were whisked to other diners’ tables. Without advanced reservations, snagging a table directly on the deck can be a wait, but a lounge area with couches and tables right behind the deck are up for grabs on a first-come-first-serve basis — you’d just have to order at the bar.

For more information





Uptown’s dosa by DOSA, which serves up Indian street food, can be initially deceiving. At first glance, you’d think it’s a fast casual dining establishment. It has a very laid-back atmosphere and a moderate price point — and you order at a counter, take a number and sit down, before your food is brought out to you. But, I’d argue that dosa is truly so much more; it’s offering a quite steal for the quality and creativity packed into its menu options. The lamb dosa, pictured below, is somewhat like the South Indian version of a French crepe, but with a thin, crispy shell. It bursts with all kinds of flavors, intense herbs and layered textures. The butter chicken street wrap, enveloped in grilled roti (a type of bread), is big enough for two people to share, and the stuffed Bombay potato naan is a nice way to kick off any meal as an appetizer. Plus, dosa has these alcoholic slushies that’s like a tropical party in a champagne saucer, with ingredients like passionfruit, coconut, lime and more.

For more information





Where to Drink: The Payback



Named for James Brown’s 1973 song, The Payback is a downtown bar that recently opened this past Fall 2018. The long, rectangular space has soaring ceilings, two-toned blue/green walls and a commanding black bar smack in the middle of it. The few times I’ve been here, it’s had an easygoing vibe, never too crowded, and sometimes with a DJ spinning R&B and rap hits from throughout the decades. Order specialty cocktails, beers and wines, plus resident chef Terry Braggs is busy in the back, whipping up soul food classics like shrimp and grits. One of the bar’s best selling points is a tiny arcade in the back that has old school games, including a classic skee ball machine. Nothing like friendly competition to round out the night!

For more information





Where to Eat, Drink and Be Merry: Jack London Square



Jack London Square proper is a pedestrian-friendly cluster of blocks hugging the estuary that comprises waterfront stores, restaurants and outdoor areas. What’s great about the square is that there’s something to do for everyone, at every price range. On Sundays, a farmer’s market sets up shop, offering everything from organic produce to Oakland-branded threads and snacks from food stands. On any given day, have a drink at Oakland’s oldest drinking establishment, Heinold’s (pictured above), which also happens to be one of only two U.S. bars that has a slanted floor, according to a bartender’s tale. Farmhouse Kitchen always appears to be packed, not surprisingly, thanks to its deliciously vibrant, upscale Thai food. And, don’t forget to take a leisurely stroll on the Bay Trail, to catch stunning views of the water and colorful houseboats across the estuary, on the Alameda side.

For more information

Monday, March 11, 2019

Happy Anniversary: The #WilsonsGuide Blog Turns Nine and Celebrates New Beginnings!


Each and every March officially marks another #WilsonsGuide blog anniversary, and this year I’m excited to announce that it’s been nine years in this blogging game!

Had you told me back in 2010 that I’d still be chugging along, spewing out posts about the places around L.A. that capture my attention, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. A lot has changed since those early years — from my own personal experiences (more about that later!) to the general landscape (less bloggers, the rise of Instagram and social media overall). Quite candidly, it’s sometimes been more than enough to want to throw in the towel, especially as I still have a full-time career. But now, with more than 250 posts, thousands of visitors from around the world and countless memorable experiences, I’ve never been more excited and committed to the possibilities that lay ahead.

Part of what’s on the horizon includes a brand new personal experience I’m eager to share:
I’ve moved to the Bay! 

Yes, this Angeleno — who loves nothing more than beaches and year-round perfect weather and palm trees — has officially moved to the home of fog, the coldest summers ever and hella grey skies. Although L.A. will always have my heart and I’ll still touch down there frequently, I’m also looking forward to exploring another region. I plan to share my NorCal adventures on an ongoing basis, so stay tuned for recommendations in and around Oakland/San Francisco, and put the Bay on your list of places to visit soon, too.

Here’s to another nine years and to expanding within the West Coast. I hope you’ll continue with me on the #WilsonsGuide journey as we embark on adventures in L.A., the Bay and beyond!

Have you ever lived and/or visited the Bay? Where are some of your “must-visit” suggestions? Drop them in the comments section below!

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Where to Eat, Drink & Be Merry: Top Black-Owned Restaurants, Bars, Lounges & Eateries @ Los Angeles (Updated for 2019)


Four years ago, I launched a list featuring the Top Black-Owned Restaurants, Bars, Lounges & Eateries in Los Angeles in honor of Black History Month, which runs the entire month of February. 

The list grew to 28 in 2017 and 38 in 2018. And while I haven't been able to get around town to explore new locations as much as I typically like to these past few months, I'm still super excited to add one more phenomenal place to the list this year: Alta Adams

Now, 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 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!

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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 reight. 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 is fairly new to the L.A. scene, opening in 2017 on the trendy Melrose Ave. near the Fairfax district. It’s been located on the back patios of two other dining establishments — first in the Melrose Umbrella Company and now in Vinoteque. 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!





Brownstone Bistro – This West L.A. restaurant offers an amazing Sunday brunch buffet that rotates 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. Highly recommended for large parties and special occasions as well.




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.




Hal's Bar & Grill by Primitivo – I know I wasn’t the only one who was disappointed when Hal’s quietly closed its doors a few years back. 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. Now, Hal’s is back in motion, opening not one but two locations: one right back on Abbot Kinney in Primitivo, and another more casual location in Playa Vista that’s open for both lunch and dinner. What to order: the Seafood Grill, which has been a Hal’s Classic for decades, and features scrumptious Ahi tuna, scallops, shrimp and salmon, all served with creamy spinach and onion rings.



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.




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, like music ("If I Ruled the World" is such a classic) and movies (Belly is everything). 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.



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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:

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, Jussie Smollet, 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 is bringing 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. 


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*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
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