The pandemic has been brutal to small businesses across the nation, especially to the food and beverage industry. Its impact on Black-owned restaurants has been even more dire, with difficulty accessing capital in addition to the typical systemic barriers Blacks encounter when trying to obtain government backed financial resources.
Yelp’s Economic Impact Report says nearly 24,000 restaurants have closed their doors nationwide since March 1, 2020. Thankfully, amidst that bad news, good news also exists. Our ancestors’ presence continues to be a constant in Black America’s resiliency. We’ve survived the past 400 years and surviving we’ll continue.
Black Chicago’s food scene is an example of that survival spirit. It isn’t as diverse as one would expect, but what it is, is delicious consistency. The restaurants on our list are great destinations for foodies seeking Black excellence in every aspect of a dining experience.
As we approach our six-year anniversary, The Hungry Black Man Media (www.thehungryblackman.com) eagerly tallied the votes of our followers to select Chicago’s Top 10 Black Owned Restaurants of 2021. In addition to the familiar faces are freshman members of newly opened establishments that made this year’s competition exceptionally fierce.
The list also contains true Chicago spots and a couple located in the metro Chicago area about a 15-minute drive outside the city. We limited our reviews to venues within that proximity since anything beyond a 20-minute drive was too far to include for the purposes of this list.
Our team visited and dined at every single eatery on this list, in addition to over 1,000 other Black-owned restaurants throughout the United States. Instead of blasting the awful but popular spots, we chose to focus on the cornerstones of a pleasant, rewarding dining experience – food, quality, and service.
From spirited cocktail programs to chef inspired tastings, Chicago’s Black food entrepreneurs showed up and showed out in 2021 with awesome options for socially distant date nights, opportunities to celebrate milestone family events outdoors, curbside lunch pickups, and even zoom luncheons.
Chicago’s Black restaurant scene is a wonderful reason to visit the windy city. It combines beautiful nostalgia, hometown pride, and cottage culinarians in an incredible tapestry of culinary excellence presented with memorable entrees, culinary sophistication, cultural revival, and interior design.
Here are Chicago’s Top 10 Black-owned restaurants of 2021.
#10 The Burger Point
1900 S State St,
Chicago, IL 60616
Because I’m neither a hamburger nor red meat fan, this review takes on even greater significance. Many chefs, cooks, and restaurateurs tout their burgers as the best or offer them as a default menu item for the indecisive, but most of my burger experiences have been mediocre. I can’t go out like that. If I’m going to eat a hamburger, it was to be worth it, which brings me to a bastion of outstanding burgers in a Southside quaint eatery—The Burger Point. Owner, Michael Strotter, has built a brand where burger skeptics like me can enjoy the unique flavors and perfectly cooked patties without being tough, chewy, grey, and boring. The organic, grass-fed beef is never frozen, and you can taste the difference with your first bite. After watching so many awful documentaries about the beef industry, it was refreshing to learn from Michael that his proteins are hormone, antibiotic, and preservative free. There are many options to choose from, but if you’re undecided, please do yourself a favor and order the “The Classic” as your entry point into burger paradise.
1931 W Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
Do not miss Soule if you are in the mood for soulful creole inspired Black American cuisine. The peach cobbler, the banana pudding, and the simplistic complexity of the fried catfish could easily make the menu of high-end spots like Bayona in New Orleans. The menu includes the essence of grandma’s sage culinary genius, while simultaneously displaying sophisticated creole and soulful preparation. Expect a wave of emotional nostalgia to consume you when you sip from mason jars filled to the brim with perfectly sweetened Kool-Aid. And memories of summer family gatherings and Sunday dinners will flood your mind as you savor as the processional of servers deliver the bold and welcoming flavors permeating from the kitchen.
#8 Garifuna Flava: A Taste of Belize | Jerk Chicken Chicago
2518 W 63rd St.
Chicago, IL 60629
Garifuna Flava is the most unique Latin/Caribbean restaurant on this side of Chicago. The owners are lovely individuals that create a family a homestyle feel in this quaint eatery. One of their most popular items is also quite addictive. The Panades is a Belizean favorite made with corn patties packed with sautéed buffalo fish and garnished with a sweet (or spicy) cabbage slaw. First timers should try the jerk or stewed chicken, rice and peas, cabbage, yams, and of course, their tasty tacos. The entrees embrace a Jamaican-Latin flavor acknowledging the legacy of the Garifuna people who are of African descent with strong indigenous influences who originally lived on the Caribbean Island of Saint Vincent. They speak Garifuna, an Arawakan language, and Vincentian Creole. The food and history are intertwined at this delicious outpost.
#7 Majani Restaurant
7167 S Exchange Ave
Chicago, IL 60649
A flexitarian is a vegetarian that occasionally eats meat or fish. Believe it or not, I’m a flexitarian, very necessary to offset some of the challenges that come with being a restaurant critic, like gaining weight. When conducting our 4th Black Foodie Chicago Tour, we went to our followers and locals to nominate a great vegan spot, and they delivered! Majani Restaurant is the city’s best vegan restaurant. Before you even get into the cuisine, the space has fresh juices and some of the most delicious and filling shakes and even vegan desserts that I found myself eating before my meal. The food is incredibly fresh and organic with just about everything being made in-house. What is particularly special about this space is that it uses real veggies and plant derived ingredients instead of the lab created meat dominating the vegan space. You will not regret this visit. The BBQ Cauliflower WAS OUTSTANDING! So was the fried okra and just about all the delicious burgers. You really cannot go wrong with this health forward eatery with warm and courteous service from the owners and staff.
#6 Batter and Berries
2748 N Lincoln Ave,
Chicago, IL 60614
As a native Miamian, I can tell you that we heard of this restaurant before ever visiting Chicago seven years ago, as its reputation precedes itself. Centrally located and super close to downtown Chicago made this place not only convenient but trendy. As a Black owned establishment, I felt proud to see experienced chefs, managers, hostess, and servers delivering quality service to an extremely diverse clientele. The cuisine is brunch forward with the Caramel French Toast, a brioche bread dipped in house made caramel batter, topped with house-candied walnuts, caramel sauce and their signature maple butter. The Cluck-N-Gaufre is a chicken-stuffed sweet potato waffle topped with a delicious fried chicken breast, drizzled in a nutmeg hot sauce, topped with a sweet maple butter. Talk about a great first impression!
#5 I Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat
1368 E 53rd Street
Chicago, IL 60615
This space was heavily recommended by locals, so we went. Excellent experience. The cuisine is scrumptious and consistent, the service is fast and there’s literally something for everybody. The star here will for me was, uh, EVERYTHING. The Philly Egg rolls were outstanding along with the pizza, and the burger, man, that thing was something serious. It beat out some of the more popular vegan burger spots by far. I have to say that it totally cloaked its plant base roots, because I could have swore that burger was USDA premium ground beef. This spot makes being a vegan easy, along with serving as an outstanding entry point for anyone who has never tried vegan food before. You honestly don’t miss the animal protein varieties. Some of the entrees here even outperformed their meat counterparts, as with the pizza poof’s resembling in taste and appearance the crispy decadence of a chimichanga. In addition to the amazing food, we were pleased with the amazing desserts and juices that are all made in house. The service is kind, attentive and consistent. Even the kitchen staff had smiles as they prepared orders for patrons visible through the open kitchen. From nostalgic classics to chef creations, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat checks all the boxes in giving their customers a positive MEAT FREE experience.
#4 The Park Supper Club
65 E Garfield Blvd,
Chicago, IL 60637
The folks at the Capital Grille have new competition! When you walk through the entrance of The Park Supper Club, a newly opened Chicago restaurant by culinary veterans MaryAnn and Reginal Marsh of M lounge, you can’t help marveling at the nostalgic black and white photos of jazz greats. You’ll also be able to listen to live music while admiring the Roaring Twenties inspired interior design. The long white curtains, velvet couches and polished wooden furniture create a processional that leads to an enlivening bar with just about any spirit you can imagine.
The atmosphere exudes Black American excellence with a portal to an era of prosperity and dissipation, of jazz bands, raccoon coats, bathtub gin, flappers, flagpole sitters, bootleggers, and marathon dancers. The vibrant mental excursion is tempered by our current reality of masks, hand sanitizers, temperature checks, and vaccination cards, but I digress. The food here is outstanding! With unpretentious yet sophisticated options, Chef Banks flavorfully and soulfully interprets genuine classics. Must haves include their Smoked Chicken Wings ($12), which were infused with a robust smokiness and sweet undertow from an Ancho chili dry rub and the Bone-in New York Strip, served with an herb truffle butter with calabrese potatoes, wilted onion and spinach. Do yourself a favor and indulge in their robust and exciting cocktail program. I enjoyed the Hennessey Sidecar with my steak.
#3 Lizzy J Cafe
2205 W Montrose Ave.
Chicago, IL 60618
Our team has eaten over 1,000 Black owned eateries across the country and Lizzy J Cafe has earned a spot in our top 5 brunch venues. Fans of Chef Sammy Davis Jr.’s Atlanta brunch post at The Real Milk and Honey or Chef Chris William’s, Lucille’s in Houston, and of course Chef Rohani Foulkes’ FOLK in Detroit will love Chef Jamie Gilmore’s Lizzy J’s as she is among Black Brunch Royalty! The food is so delicious you think about it for days, smiling involuntarily as you reminisce. The catfish and grits were so good I had to double back for another order before returning to Miami. Lizzy J Café totally captures the nostalgia of Chicago’s food scene. Chef Jamie Gilmore and her Sous chef, Chef “Biggs” have outdone themselves with nearly every entrée on their menu. Her sauces and gravies are exquisite, and the line of teas are flat out delicious. The Catfish and Grits is a good place to start. This plate was pure perfection. The grits were incredibly flavorful with an aged white cheddar cheese nestled at the bottom of the fluffy grits then kissed with a rim of chef’s in house created sweet-hot sauce. The grits interacted agreeably with a perfectly seasoned, golden brown fried floured catfish. You need to get each component on your fork to completely understand the Southern excellence captured in this dish’s out-of-this world flavor. Chef’s catfish is the best fish and grits combo I’ve had in Chicago to date, and it is not to be missed.
#2 Luella’s Southern Kitchen
4609 N Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625
Chicago’s Black chefs are special. This specialness is embodied by the high degree of skill and exemplary ability to create entrees and experiences that are sophisticated and simultaneously respectful of the Black American culinary tradition, culture, and flavor. Chef Darnell Reed Chef/Owner at Luella’s Southern Kitchen embodies this and more. He mills his own damn grits folks. Like, how can you compete with that? The biscuits are out of this world incredible, and his shrimp and grits take you on a low country road trip between New Orleans and Charleston with its bold and robust flavors. Chef Reed’s kitchen is a scratch kitchen, making just about everything from single ingredient combinations even down to many of the condiments. I can’t stop bragging on this restaurant as I continue the quest of eating at every Black owned restaurant in the United States! Out of over 1,000 Black owned restaurants reviewed, Luella’s is a part of that unforgettable stack of Black culinary excellence. Must haves? Everything. I’m dead serious. You literally can’t go wrong with ANYTHING on this brother’s menu.
#1 Virtue Restaurant
1462 E 53rd Street
Chicago, IL 60615
This restaurant is one of the best restaurants in the nation, not just Chicago. Virtue opened in 2018 and I heard its praises being sung all the way back home in Miami. It took me three years to finally fly up and review it, but the space was so impressive I would have walked. I mean, when you create a salad that has you daydreaming about its flavor and texture in the same lustful way you salivate over a juicy marinated ribeye, then you know there’s something special. Restaurants should be judged on whether the healthy options can compete with the more decadent ones. The Snow Peas salad here is an incredibly delicious bold taste with Mediterranean undertones and a slight heat and smokiness with a beautiful crunch for an evolving texture atop loose headed butter lettuce that heightened its companions with its slightly sweet and astringent flavor. The blackened catfish and “Carolina Gold” rice will have you licking your plate. Chef’s mac and cheese is the best in the state, possibly, one of the best in nation. You have to go and prove me and the scores of Chicagoans wrong, but you will probably fail epically because the mac and cheese had to be co-created by some deity unbeknownst to the consumer. At Virtue in the Hyde Park neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, you will find pure excellence from the food, staff, and owner. Chef Eric Williams is a chef’s chef. An Escoffier chef. A Black man with a heart for his community and a passion for Black excellence. Virtue is the most emblematic restaurant of Chicago’s food scene, period.
Make sure you follow us on social @thehungryblackman and subscribe to this blog by inputting your email for Black owned deliciousness around the country! Contact us at [email protected]