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Thu Feb 25, 2021, 01:23 AM

At These Black-Owned Restaurants, the Food Comes With a Side of History

Community, consistency, and culture: that’s how a restaurant thrives, according to Lewis Rudd, co-founder of the nearly 40-year-old brand Ezell’s Famous Chicken. Those values are echoed at many of the oldest Black-owned restaurants in the U.S.; they’re part of what has sustained these businesses, despite being some of the most at-risk during the pandemic. More than places to count on for a home-cooked meal, these restaurants are also cultural centers that anchor their neighborhoods. Dining at one of them supports a small business that has persevered—and risen—through decades of social, political, and financial inequality. Here are eight spots we hope to enjoy for years to come.

Hawkins House of Burgers, Los Angeles
The Hawkins family has been feeding the Watts neighborhood of Southeast Los Angeles, where founder Yancey Hawkins first opened up shop in 1939, for more than 80 years. While many storefronts were destroyed during the Watts Rebellion of 1965 and again in the 1992 Uprising, Hawkins House of Burgers, a respected community dining table, went untouched. If you want to challenge your appetite, order the Leaning Tower of Watts—a precarious stack of three half-pound patties, a hot link, chili, pastrami, eggs, and bacon.

Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, New Orleans
It was Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr. and his wife Leah who transformed the sandwich stand opened by Chase Sr. in 1939 into one of the country’s first upscale African American restaurants. In the ’40s, it was the only place where Black New Orleanians could cash checks; in the ’60s, its Upper Room, a private second-floor space, became a meeting place for Civil Rights leaders like Thurgood Marshall and Reverend Abraham Lincoln Davis. Now run by Edgar and Leah's grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the restaurant houses what many consider the greatest African American art collection in the city, with over 120 pieces from 50 Black artists; it lives on not only because it serves mouthwatering food (Leah's signature Creole gumbo is a fan favorite), but because it continues to adapt to the needs of its community.

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