New Jersey’s culinary expertise is not only delicious — it also exemplifies the Garden State’s diversity. In honor of Black History Month, we’ve decided to put together a guide to some of the best Black-owned restaurants in the state.
That includes soul food, international fare, plant-based options, and eateries both old and new.
Here are 21 New Jersey Black-owned restaurants to try in New Jersey in 2021.
1911 Smokehouse (Trenton)
1911 Smokehouse holds down the BBQ scene in the state’s capital. It’s a laid back spot known for its smoked meats. If you’re in the mood for wings, you may be thrilled (or delightfully overwhelmed) by its selection of more than 20 sauces and seasonings.
A great place for happy hour because at 19:11, each night folks who are 21 and older are offered a shot on the house.
What to try: Ribs and the pulled pork sandwich.
Burger Walla (Newark)
Burger Walla is a South-Asian inspired fast-casual chicken joint located on Downtown Newark’s Halsey Street, close to Military Park. It has a range of chicken sandwiches to chose from and offers Indian staples like samosas and lassi.
There are several vegan and vegetarian options as well, including vegan fries.
What to try: Lamb burger, veggie burger.
Carol’s Creative Chocolatez (Somerville)
Okay, so this isn’t quite a restaurant, but when talking full-blown meals and desserts, it’s all in the family.
Carol’s Creative Chocolatez is a staple in Downtown Somerville and was recently featured in the town’s Black History Month display. The shop specializes in making its own chocolate from cacao imported from Switzerland, France and Belgium.
Some of the chocolates are even infused with CBD.
What to try: Whatever your sweet tooth desires.
Cook’s Kitchn (Rahway)
Cook’s Kitchn is home to some of the best seafood you’ll find in Union County. It’s home to spicy Louisiana gumbo and an array of seafood and rice platters (make sure to try the house butter).
Chef Dashawn Cook started cooking seafood out of his home with no intentions of starting a business. He decided to turn his hobby into a career once he began to grow in popularity on social media, according to the restaurant’s website.
But with a last name like “Cook” maybe it was destiny?
What to try: Crab and rice platter.
Cornbread Newark (Newark)
Cornbread is a recently-opened, casual farm to table soul food restaurant in Newark; home to chicken and waffles, peach cobbler and many other southern comfort favorites.
All of Cornbread’s ingredients are sourced from local farms and shops, according to its website. It also has locations in Maplewood and West Mifflin, Pennsylvania.
What to try: Fried chicken and the turkey wings.
Crabbae is a seafood shop in Maplewood, known for its loaded french fries and seafood macaroni and cheese.
It boasts a robust menu, with seafood boils, rasta pasta and more. The seafood boils in particular are a reason to keep coming back.
When I went, Crabbae only took payment in cash or through cash app.
What to try: The loaded bae fries.
Diva Delights (Teaneck)
Diva Delights opened its new location on Queen Anne Road in Teaneck a few weeks ago.
Featured menu items include southern comfort meals like shrimp jambalaya scampi and steak and potatoes. The restaurant also allows you to build your own platter using a diverse range of grilled or fried meats and savory sides.
What to try: Shrimp jambalaya scampi.
Feed Ya Soul (Avenel)
Feed Ya Soul is a fairly new family-operated soul food joint in Middlesex County. Since opening in October 2019, it specializes in fried seafood and chicken. Like many other places on this list, it’s only open for takeout at the moment. In normal times, the kitchen and dining room are essentially the same space, so don’t be surprised if Chef Barry starts chatting with you as he’s frying your food.
What to try: Red snapper combo and garlic parm fries.
Jerk’d Kitchen (Hackensack)
Explore a modern approach to Caribbean cuisine at Jerk’d Kitchen in Hackensack. After staring at the menu, like it was my first time here (it was), an employee suggested I try a Ready-a-Ready bowl (you choose an entree and three sides).
I did and it did not disappoint.
Jerk’d also has pasta bowls made in coconut creole sauce.
It was opened by Jamaican-born, longtime restauranteur, Marva Layna. She also opened Negril Village in New York City.
What to try: Jerk chicken and the garlic mash potatoes are a great combination.
What started a few years ago as a mobile meal prep delivery service is now one of the newest brick-and-mortar vegan cafes in Camden County. Owner Brennah Lambert said her food is somewhere in the middle of healthy vegan food and junk food guilty pleasures.
The cafe’s name, LesbiVeggies, is a play on her identity as a gay woman. Lambert told NJ Advance Media she wanted to open an inclusive space in Audubon.
What to try: Vegan birria tacos and the LesbiVeggies rissotto.
Montclair Diner (Montclair)
When Chicago native Eliot Mosby bought the Montclair Diner in 2019, he wanted to bring a new flavor to the food at a community staple that had been around for nearly a century, the restaurant’s website said.
The menu keeps many of the diner classics that Montclairians came to love, while adding a touch of southern comfort.
What to try: Bacon jam burger and the brick chicken meal.
Odabro African Restaurant Lounge (Orange)
Odabro is an African restaurant and lounge in Orange. Much of the menu is made up of international staples like jollof rice and goat meat soup.
It’s described by the owners as “lively and kid-friendly.” On a weekend night, pre-coronavirus, it wouldn’t be surprising to find folks scattered along the dance floor.
What to try: Jollof rice.
Papillon 25 (South Orange)
Opened in 2003, Papillon 25 is an established name in the local fine dining scene. Its dimly lit and not too noisy, making it a great place for a date or catching up with coworkers. The restaurant and martini bar spins a healthy mix of old school R&B, soul and jazz.
What to try: Braised oxtail and grilled salmon. The roasted potatoes are a great side.
Shawn’s Table (Jersey City)
Shawn’s Table, located in Jersey City’s Greenville neighborhood, is part comfort food restaurant, part bodega. Open for takeout during the pandemic, it offers a variety of breakfast and lunch options, including seafood breakfast platters and jerk chicken.
What to Try: Crab cake breakfast platter (it comes with eggs and grits) and the fried pork chops.
Sweet T’s Southern Eatery (Montclair)
Sweet T’s, a health-conscious southern comfort restaurant, opened at the beginning of the year on Montclair’s bustling Bloomfield Avenue. It’s the brainchild of Andre Perrin and Tonza Houston. Prior to opening Sweet T’s, Perrin had a street renamed for him in his hometown of Teaneck, where he has run several barbershops over the years.
The kitchen is helmed by Chef Carlos Swepson, whose culinary craftsmanship has been recognized by the New York Times. Beginning Valentine’s Day, Sweet T’s will open for indoor dining.
What to try: The fried catfish. The cornbread. The collard greens (made with smoked turkey).
The Grind Coffee Shop (Jersey City)
A new coffee shop in Jersey City, with a hip and lively atmosphere.
If it was open for indoor dining at the moment, I may have sunk in a chair and poked away at my laptop. It seemed like a nice spot to relieve any pandemic-induced cabin fever and get some work done. The Grind Coffee Shop has a myriad of flavors to enhance your brew, including pistachio, lavender and coconut. It also serves your typical cafe delicacies like croissants, muffins and bagels.
What to try: The lavender latte is pretty good.
Tonnie’s Minis (Newark)
Tonnie Rozier has made cupcakes for Diddy, Jay-Z and a host of other celebrities. He’s a successful entrepreneur who has been an anchor in Downtown Newark for nearly 20 years.
After the initial round of coronavirus lockdown orders in Newark last year, Rozier shifted his bakery’s business model to primarily focus on desserts made-to-order.
His pies and cakes will definitely satisfy your sweet tooth.
What to try: The cupcakes, of course!
Urban Taste NJ (East Orange)
Urban Taste is a small cafe in East Orange that serves soul food and breakfast all day. It also has a variety of plant-based and vegan options.
When it comes to the chicken wings, the chefs here use an array of sauces that are different, yet memorable for the right reasons. I could eat the Hennessy honey BBQ wings every day of the week.
Known in the local arts scene, during non-pandemic times, Urban Taste occasionally hosts private parties and cultural events, featuring live performances.
What to try: The Hennessy honey BBQ wings and the vegan steak combo.
Vegans of Seitan (Linden)
Vegans of Seitan is a vibey comfort food spot located next to the local high school, where the swell of neo soul and a collage of classic soul records, hanging on the wall, will take you back in time.
Everything here is vegan, right down to the brown sugar.
What to try: The empanadas and the buffalo tings (fried cauliflower).
Vibez Juice Cafe (Jersey City)
Vibez Juice Cafe brings a taste of soulful vegan cuisine to The Heights. Located right off of Central Avenue in Jersey City, you’ll find a ton of options here: fresh organic juices, customizable acai bowls and veggie patties are some of the more popular items.
The shop is passionate about health and wellness and hosts various health seminars throughout the year, according to its website.
What to try: Lentil patties and the acai bowl.
This South Jersey gem puts a fried twist on hoagies. A Zoagie is basically a deep fried sandwich enriched with a blend of spices.
You can choose from a plethora of meats: chicken, fish, shrimp, cheesesteak.
The food truck also makes “zalads” and “zacos” (I mean, salads and tacos). And you can even buy a bottle of Zoagies’ now famous seasoning.
Chef Ezell Barnes loves to interact with his customers and will often post his interactions on social media.
What to try: Any zoagie!
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Tennyson Donyèa may be reached at [email protected].