Whether you've got a family member that keeps a mac and cheese recipe on lockdown like Rihanna’s next album, or making a bowl of fish tea is the only way you get through a cold night, food plays such a key role in bringing people together and providing a connection that transcends language and celebrates cultures.
That's evidently clear when thinking about the African Diaspora—a group of communities descended from native Africans or people from Africa. Although the recipes have changed throughout the years, some of the ingredients and flavors share great similarities (for example, every spot on this list has plantains on the menu). Just like most major cities, Philly has several African, Afro-Latinx, Afro-Caribbean, and Southern restaurants that showcase the intertwined links within these cultures while honoring their sole and distinct traditions.
Head to one of these spots whether you're celebrating Black History Month, you just watched Soul Food or High on the Hog and need to eat, or you’re grabbing a meal with your uncle who never takes off his Bluetooth. This guide, full of places not just connected in taste but in heritage, includes Jamaican restaurants, African places, and soul food spots, serving everything from macaroni pie to fried okra.
Abyssinia in Spruce Hill serves Ethiopian platters that get us more excited than hearing the food is ready on Thanksgiving night. Their stewed lentils, oniony sauteed greens, spicy beef tibs, and warm injera on their own are great, but when you want a nice big spread, their combination platters are the way to go–especially the Abyssinia Special 1. It’s under $14, large enough for two people, and the peppery kick from the berbere sauce has us thinking about it even in the late hours (thankfully, they’re open until 2am).
We once got a bunch of cornbread from this West African spot for game night, and after our first bite, we stole the orders back while everyone clowned our friend who didn’t know the rules to Spades. Outside of having buttery, fluffy, and sweet cornbread that’s worth some light tableside robbery, we love the custom bowls at this Northern Liberties spot that come topped with mounds of jollof rice with dry-rubbed blackened chicken, yaji-seasoned steak, or lightly charred brussels sprouts.
The Infatuation Celebrates Black History Month
With seafood mac and cheese, blackened catfish, and stewed collard greens swimming alongside shreds of smoked turkey, this Baltimore Ave. spot cooks up a dinner spread significantly better than those coveted after-church platters. But for us, a trip to the Southern-inspired restaurant usually comes during their brunch hours (Wednesday-Sunday from 10am-2:30pm). The creamy shrimp and grits, which come with spicy and nutty etouffee sauce, a sunny-side-up egg, and a bunch of shrimp, make for one of the best brunch meals in the city.
Like Jim Gardner and Iverson, the curry goat at Irie deserves the next shoutout on Abbott Elementary. The tender cubes of lamb come floating in curry sauce that’s oniony, peppery, and has a subtle ginger flavor. The portions are also so big that you can expect every main and side dish to spill over the edges inside of the takeout tray (they don’t have a dine-in option). But we’re not complaining—a curry goat, jerk chicken, mac and cheese, or rice mashup might be the greatest Philly combination since Julius Erving and Moses Malone.
Parada Maimon can be a little inconsistent. Sometimes we stop by and are met by closed doors during their open hours or can’t get a call through on their phones. But when you’re lucky enough to get an order of their deep-fried red snapper, plantains, yellow rice and beans, and a fresh-squeezed mango juice, it’s always worth the effort. The breading on the fish has a great crunch, not to mention the batter has a ton of fiery peppers mixed in—so you might need to have one of those juices, by the gallon, on standby.
If you want to eat Hatian food that’s tasty but also bound to have you reaching for a blanket and pillow after your last bite, head to Lawndale’s Fritay Lakay. Opening as early as 8:30am daily, start your day here with a plantain porridge, a yam mash mixed with nuts and dried fruit, or breakfast spaghetti that tosses in bell peppers, onions, and sausage in a tomato sauce. On days where it’s cold enough that you’d need Gritty’s fur to keep you warm, go for the bouillon. It’s a stew that blends thick cuts of beef with carrots, noodles, plantains, and a broth that’ll fill you with more warmth than that blanket and pillow combo ever could.
Sometimes you start planning your day around your next sip of sopa de camarones, or catch yourself thinking about biting into a slab of seasoned yuca at a red light. Mixto, a Washington Square Pan-Latin and Caribbean spot, not only has us daydreaming about those dishes, but there are a few other menu items that we have in a steady rotation there. For example, you can bite into a maduro relleno that’s stuffed with spiced ground sausage and coated with a layer of gooey mozzarella cheese. It’s also a great place to grab a drink when you’re rooting for Bryce Harper since they have a large bar with a big TV.
One bite into the island wings at 48th Street Grille has us feeling better than the first time we look in the mirror after a fresh cut—the wings come in an order of 10 and have a smoky and charred taste highlighted by the orangey glaze. And they aren’t the only shareable thing on the Caribbean spot’s menu. The West Philly restaurant has braised oxtails and jumbo shrimp curry that can be passed around the table with a big group, and they even have a catering menu that’s longer than Kelly Drive for special occasions. Use it the next time you don’t feel like making another batch of deviled eggs for your cousin’s baby shower.
Spring Garden’s SOUTH is the place to go for an incredible brunch, or when you want to try some catfish that’s as good as the live jazz coming from the stage. Out of all the Cajun and Creole dishes, though, the buttermilk fried chicken is our favorite thing on the menu. The three pieces of chicken have a honey drizzle and come with creamy turkey collards, doughy drop biscuits, and a sweet and silky potato au gratin.
With colorful island art on the wall, hanging chandeliers, and mannequins decked out in Trini carnival costumes, you would think Flambo is putting on a production you might find across the street at The Met. But unlike the opera house, you won’t have to keep reloading the Ticketmaster page to get your hands on an order of blackened shrimp sauteed in a buttery peppery sauce and stewed chicken drenched in a tomato sauce—they’re pretty open when it comes to reservations. When you stop by, go for the curry chicken dhalpuri. The takari dish wraps strips of chicken, chickpeas, and onions in a warm flatbread, and the first bite into the warm pouch is so good that you might start playing mas.
This neighborhood African spot on Lancaster Ave. has a menu with everything from egusi soup to jollof rice. But when we pull up to one of their red booths or take something home (and definitely sneak bites between stop signs), we go with their beef in spicy red sauce. It’s a chunky mix of red peppers, habanero, curry, and tomato that you should order with a side of their softball-sized banku. Make sure you put a nice portion of the cassava dough dumpling in each spoonful, as it adds a little sweetness to the roasted beef and mildly spicy stew.
Sometimes we need to hit our rotation of comforting things: Minnie Riperton's “Lovin’ You,” old episodes of Martin that we know word-for-word, and the goat and fufu soup from this Liberian spot in Elmwood Park that’s like a Christmas gift in gumbo form. A stew of goat chunks, braised okra, and a whole mess of habanero peppers, it’s both savory and earthy and comes with round fufu for dipping or sopping-up purposes.
The crowd outside of Southwest Philly’s Kingston 11 may be bigger than any dance floor when “Candy” by Cameo drops at a wedding. When you do get to the counter, though, make sure you grab an order of oxtails and a side of mac and cheese. The oxtails have a bit of sweetness from the tamarind and a flicker of tanginess from the pimento berries, thyme sticks, and ginger they’re cooked in. As for the mac and cheese, it’s flowing with six mystery cheeses that we’re making it our life mission to uncover. Until then, we can tell you that this dish is creamy, smooth, and has us crossing a few parkways whenever we want some.
For the picky eaters, or the “who made the potato salad?” crew, we want you to know that you won’t find a bad dish on Jamaican D’s menu. And even though the wait at this Chelten Ave. spot can get longer than a braiding shop on a busy day, a platter of jerk chicken, rice and peas, and cabbage is worth sticking around for. Plus, once you’ve ordered, they’re quick, so you don’t have to wait too long before biting into their chicken that’s dripping with jerk sauce. And to cool your mouth down, get their cinnamony sweet potatoes. They’re mashed, and after your first pillowy spoonful, you won’t want to eat anything else.