In better times, customers enjoy the music-filled dining room of Bowlegged BBQ.
I’m witnessing something this week I never imagined I’d see: local restaurants, already hurting due to the covid-19 shutdown, are openly promoting other restaurants.
It’s due to the fact that injustice against African-Americans is on everyone’s mind right now. And while the demonstrations calling attention to the issue have dominated the news, local restaurant owners and social media activists have begun circulating lists of black-owned restaurants in San Diego, encouraging diners to patronize these businesses, as a show of solidarity.
A graphic making the rounds on social media, listing black owned restaurants in San Diego
There are dozens of such restaurants throughout the county, and I’ll include some of the circulating lists below. I intend to go out and properly feature the few I haven’t yet tried myself. However, in case you’re not sure where to start, here are five of the best black owned restaurants I’ve tried, guaranteed not to disappoint.
Please note that none of these restaurants have yet re-opened to dine-in service, so plan your take-out or delivery accordingly.
4255 Market Street, San Diego
I tried more than 200 new restaurants last year and can tell you without reservation Bowlegged BBQ was among the best of them. The siblings who operate the restaurant are warm and friendly, and when dine-in service is available, fill their Mt. Hope dining room with music, joy, and a prideful expression of black culture. During the pandemic, Bowlegged has only been open for take-out and delivery, but that only more pointedly highlights the family’s by-way-of-Texas recipes, including a sumptuous house BBQ sauce that makes everything better — no small feat considering the ribs, brisket, and hot links already taste great without it. Don’t sleep on the chicken though; that’s the best saucy bird in town.
2625 Lemon Grove Avenue, Lemon Grove
Coop’s West Texas BBQ
I’m not giving anything away to tell you Brad Cooper’s Lemon Grove restaurant serves arguably the entire county’s best BBQ. The pulled pork makes it a must-try destination, and I’m not even sure a crispy pile of breakfast bacon could compete for my affections. I should probably mention that Cooper’s fried chicken and waffle restaurant, Da Chicken Coop, is right next door. However, chef Coop might be his own toughest competition here, because it’s genuinely tough to maintain a fried chicken craving when you get a whiff of the smoker next door. Both are open for take-out and delivery only for the moment, and if I’ve learned just one thing from their proximity, it’s that between pork ribs and fried chicken, I choose ribs.
4651 Park Boulevard, San Diego
Muzita Abyssinian Bistro
In my experience, there are two types of people: those who love Ethiopian food, and those who have never tried it. To the latter I say: don’t waste any more of your life missing out. We can’t dine in the University Heights mainstay right now, which is a shame, because the spicy, stewed meats and vegetables that highlight the North African cuisine set the table for some of the world’s greatest family-style feasting. The individual dishes are served together on a large sheet of injera, a spongy, sourdough flatbread (think savory pancake). Rather than utensils, you tear off a piece of injera, and use it to pinch off a piece of tender braised beef, chicken, lamb, or seafood, then pop it in your mouth like a miniature taco. Muzita is an excellent vegetarian or vegan choice, featuring chick peas, mushrooms, fava beans, stewed tomatoes, and braised leafy greens.
4225 K Oceanside Boulevard, Oceanside
One Love Island Cuisine
You need to go about five miles inland from the Oceanside pier to find what has become my favorite Jamaican restaurant in the county. The colorful little strip mall restaurant stays true to its owners’ Jamaican roots, including the authentic island heat of Scotch bonnet peppers, which burn hotter than habañeros, and bring more distinctive fruitiness. But of course, the top draw here has to be the jerk chicken, which (and I may be biased) is the top regularly served example of the dish in all So Cal. If you feel like deviating, try the also spicy jerk beef, dip into the succulent braised oxtail, or sink into the more complex spices of curry goat, or coconut curry chicken.
7229 El Cajon Boulevard, San Diego
Surf & Soul Spot
It’s only a few weeks since I wrote about the new La Mesa location of this So Cal-styled soul food restaurant opened by a local football star and his talented chef partner, Sarajevo Petty. But it bears repeating: the tiny business brings two excellent eateries to the neighborhood. Monday to Wednesday, it’s a fish shack specializing in popcorn shrimp and grits and a blackened shrimp and crab roll. You’ll want to return Friday or Saturday for fried pork chops and side dishes such as baked mac and cheese and smoked turkey collard greens. Ask for fried chicken wings all week long.