Tsion Cafe. Photo: Laylah Barrayn
Few places in the world can claim the full spectrum of Blackness that New York City can. From the African continent to Central and South America and the Caribbean, the depth and diversity of the Black diaspora is everywhere, especially in the City’s restaurants. It can be tasted in places that transform plantains into fufu, mofongo and tostones, places where spirited debates and hearty laughter—whether about politics “back home” or the latest football (ahem, soccer) game—can be heard in multiple languages and dialects. The myriad cuisines of the diaspora live here—and you can experience them all without a passport. Check out eight restaurants that exemplify the depth of the Black diaspora in NYC through food.
2041 Davidson Ave., University Heights, Bronx; also, 2065 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd., Harlem, Manhattan
Steam tables full of rice, fragrant stews and soups await at Accra Restaurant, which has served the Ghanaian diaspora in the Bronx—one of the largest in the US—for over a decade. While jollof rice (one of West Africa’s most famous dishes) is here, the waakye is the underrated star. Made with rice and black-eyed peas, waakye gets its deep scarlet hue from the dried leaves of millet, a super grain, and is served with a savory tomato-based stew of your choice and hearty sides. Come hungry—portions are generous. Their homemade ginger drink is the perfect accompaniment, made with a fiery blend of fresh ginger, black pepper and cloves. A second location operates in Harlem.
Courtesy, Tsion Cafe
763 St. Nicholas Ave., Harlem, Manhattan
When Ethiopian-born and Israeli-raised Beejhy Barhany first encountered the space that is Tsion Cafe in Harlem, she had no idea it was the former home of Jimmy’s Chicken Shack, where greats like Billie Holiday performed and Malcolm X worked. Now the art-filled space honors this history and serves as Barhany’s homage to her multicultural upbringing, with standout dishes like the doro tibs (chicken simmered with berbere, a fragrant Ethiopian spice blend). To experience the menu’s Middle Eastern influence, venture over to the dessert options. The malawach—layers of flaky, buttery fried bread from Yemen—is drizzled with honey and topped with toasted coconut. And speaking of honey, no visit to Tsion Cafe is complete without Sheba Tej, Ethiopia’s famous honey wine.
163-07 Baisley Blvd., Jamaica, Queens
Born and raised in Jamaica, West Indies, Joan Lewis and Christopher Roberts wanted to create an authentic and elegant experience centering on Jamaican food. With Queens being home to one of the largest Jamaican enclaves in New York City, the team knew there was one chance to get it right—and they did. Shades of soft coral and peach adorn the walls of this popular restaurant, giving it a tropical feel. Try their oxtail, slowly simmered with carrots and butter beans until tender, or their escovitch snapper topped with lightly pickled vegetables made lively with Scotch bonnet peppers. Don’t miss their fresh, homemade juices either—the sorrel (made with hibiscus) can be spiked with Jamaican rum if you prefer.
858 Tenth Ave., Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan
Rolande Bisserth opened Le Soleil in 1973, and the restaurant stands as one of the last vestiges of Haitian culture in Manhattan. While the Haitian community is mostly concentrated in Brooklyn now, Le Soleil continues to be a haven for Haitians looking for a taste of home. With a small menu and daily specials, Le Soleil concentrates on a few well-rendered Haitian classics. Try the tassot cabrit, goat stewed until tender, then fried and served with a side of green plantain and pikliz (Haitian pickled vegetable relish).
2592 Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, Manhattan
Chef Russell Jackson, a California native, wanted to open a restaurant in Harlem that spoke to his upbringing and defied expectations of what Black chefs should cook. What emerged was Reverence, an ode to California’s ethos of fresh food and Jackson’s decades of experience cooking in multicultural kitchens. The airy, industrial-style restaurant reveals a cozy 16-seat space with an open plan where you can see Jackson create quail egg empanadas or escargot with fermented uni-chili crema. The menu is hyper-seasonal and rotates often, so you’re bound to have a different experience with each visit.
1938 Clove Rd., Concord, Staten Island
A quick ferry ride (followed by a bus ride) will remind you that Staten Island’s culinary offerings shouldn’t be dismissed. Seeing a need to provide healthy foods with familiar flavors, Javonte Thompson opened TRI Lounge and Cafe, where he doles out comforting plant-based soul food and stages occasional live entertainment. Choose from reimagined classics like tofu scramble and buffalo cauliflower “wings,” or go for the restaurant’s Soul Tray, which allows diners to sample multiple dishes like fried “chicken” oyster mushrooms and vegan mac and cheese. To satisfy your sweet tooth, try their vegan milkshakes naturally sweetened with agave.
Courtesy, Puerto Viejo
564 Grand Ave., Crown Heights, Brooklyn
Distressed dark wood walls, homey seating and the vibrant artwork that adorns Puerto Viejo instantly transport you to the Dominican Republic—but instead, you’re inside a Crown Heights mainstay, in business since 1986. The menu—a mix of contemporary and classic items—satisfies old-timers and newcomers alike. The pernil, slow-roasted marinated pork shoulder (served with boiled yuca and pickled red onions), is a must-try, along with the flan de coco, topped with toasted coconut. If you yearn for the nostalgic taste of orange Creamsicles, the morir soñando (a blend of orange juice, milk and a bit of vanilla) may be your next favorite drink.
135 Alexander Ave., Mott Haven, Bronx
The Bronx has long been a home for the Puerto Rican community—and also happens to be the birthplace of hip-hop. Alfredo Angueira wanted to honor this storied history with Beatstro, a love letter to the Bronx’s vibrant hip-hop scene. Outfitted with murals and a wall with 100 golden speaker cones, Beatstro celebrates African and Spanish influences on Puerto Rican culture with dishes like crispy catfish (served with locrio shrimp fried rice and kimchi) and fried green tomatoes with hot papaya mustard. Sample one of their many hip-hop-inspired cocktails; their Method Man-Hattan has a dash of Bénédictine liqueur for an unexpected (and delicious) twist.