Celebrating black-owned restaurants in Los Angeles

People are always asking me how I find the restaurants for this column. The answer is a combination of driving around, following trusted sources, social media and general online probing. It’s time-consuming stuff. If I’m not on my way to try a new restaurant, I’m on my phone trying to find one.

Case in point: I came across the @blackownedfoodla account on Instagram more than a year ago. Tiffany Hinton Jefferson created the account shortly after the pandemic started.

Most of her videos start with Jefferson standing in front of a restaurant, beckoning viewers to follow along. “Who wants some wings?” she says in one voice-over. “I do! Follow me to the eats in these L.A. streets.”

Will do, I thought.

Jefferson’s Instagram account is devoted to highlighting Black-owned restaurants. When she launched the account, she was recently laid off from her job in sales at a funeral home. She was newly divorced and at home with a new baby.

“It was a lot, but I wouldn’t be in this place to help elevate these businesses if all of that didn’t happen,” she said.

Even before the pandemic, Jefferson said, she would use various food television series as guides to help her plan her weekend excursions.

“I coin myself the Black version of Anthony Bourdain and Guy Fieri,” she said. “I wanted to do that in L.A. The foodie thing but covering Black-owned restaurants.”

Now, she’s turned her love of food into a part-time business, helping some of the restaurants she’s featured on Instagram with their social media accounts and other marketing.

I recently met Jefferson for lunch at Joyce Soul and Sea downtown, one of the restaurants she’s highlighted on her social channels. She was on her lunch break from her full-time job in funeral sales.

Nashville hot fried catfish roll and Bring Back Pok Pok at Joyce

The Bring Back Pok Pok chicken sandwich from Joyce Soul and Sea in downtown L.A.

(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

The restaurant, located at the bottom of the Eighth and Grand luxury apartment complex, is a cheerful place. It’s named after co-owner Prince Riley’s mother, who grew up in the South. It’s also the middle name of the daughter he shares with co-owner Athena Riley.

At lunchtime, the dining room is awash in sunlight and buzzing with diners from the nearby office buildings, many feasting on lobster rolls, smashburgers and seafood platters.

Co-owners chef Sammy Monsour and beverage director Kassady Wiggins, who also are married, are behind the menu and cocktails.

Jefferson steered me toward the Nashville hot fried catfish roll.

The sandwich consists of two long fillets crusted and dusted in a Nashville-hot-style seasoning that hums with chile more than it stings. The fish is cooked properly, and as juicy as a piece of dark meat chicken.

“This is the best catfish I’ve had in L.A.,” Jefferson says, still chewing. “This right here. If I do a second bite, you know it’s good.”

The fish is nestled into a buttered and toasted brioche bun, barely visible under the fillets. It takes a bit of maneuvering to keep it all in the bun, which will inevitably split. If you can manage to kind of squeeze the fish into the bread, and shove some of the anchovy remoulade, dill pickle chips and shredded baby iceberg into each bite, you’ll be handsomely rewarded.

Another favorite is the Bring Back Pok Pok, inspired by Monsour’s love of Andy Ricker’s now-shuttered Pok Pok restaurant in Portland, Ore. Ricker opened a location in L.A.’s Chinatown, but it ended up being a short-lived blip in a never-ending sea of L.A. openings. I still miss the fish sauce chicken wings, though, based on a recipe from a Portland employee named Ich Truong. Monsour misses them too.

He lacquers a fried chicken breast in a sweet, pungent glaze punchy with ginger, chile, honey and fish sauce. It’s reminiscent of the Pok Pok wings, only dressed with fresh herbs and sliced jalapeño. But what makes the sandwich is a thick layer of peanut chile crisp, crunchy with nuts, fried bits of what tastes like onion and garlic and plenty of chiles. I’d buy that condiment in a jar.

Garlic noodles with fried catfish and Jollof platter with short rib at Two Hommés

Jollof rice platter with root beer-braised short rib from Two Hommés.

Jollof rice platter with root beer-braised short rib from Two Hommés.

(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

I also have Jefferson to thank for my new favorite restaurant, Two Hommés in Inglewood. It’s rare that every single dish ordered is craveable, and on a menu that’s impossible to define.

Abdoulaye Balde, aka Chef AB, and Marcus Yaw, aka Chef Mando, opened Two Hommés out of the Comfort L.A. space on La Brea Avenue in the fall of 2022. The two describe the restaurant as “an Afro-centric eatery,” but the menu veers into culinary lanes from all over the world.

The honey berbere chicken bites are all juice and crunch, glowing with the Ethiopian spice blend. The ceviche is fresh, tart and sweet, vibrant with pickled onion and the flavor of passion fruit alongside nicely fried tostadas. The za’atar zucchini is tender and blistered, served on top of a crema spiked with shito, the earthy, smoky Ghanaian chile sauce.

Garlic noodles with fried catfish from Two Hommés in Inglewood.

Garlic noodles with fried catfish from Two Hommés in Inglewood.

(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

You can mix and match a base of garlic noodles or jollof rice with various proteins. My garlic noodles arrive in a tangled mountain with a sizable filet of catfish draped over the peak. The garlic noodles are springy, garlicky and a little sweet. They rival the ones everyone went nuts for at Crustacean in the ’90s. And the fried catfish is some of the best in town, with a rugged exterior that’s profoundly crisp around fluffy meat in the center.

I have to recommend the Jollof platter with the root beer-braised short rib too. The slab of short rib is glazed in root beer cooked down until it’s almost caramel. The meat splits easily in two with a spoon. With the Ghanaian jollof rice, a bowl of appropriately named “bomb azz black beans,” some plantains and a heap of arugula salad, it’s a hearty platter you can happily lose yourself in.

I intend to return many times, with a group of people to order the entire menu.

Turkey chops at Soulo’s Kitchen

Turkey chops with rice and gravy, macaroni and cheese and candied yams in an open takeout container

Turkey chops with rice and gravy, macaroni and cheese and candied yams from Soulo’s Kitchen in downtown Los Angeles.

(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

Chef Derrick Bivens is cooking out of half the kitchen space of Lokels Only in downtown Los Angeles. And he’s devoted half of his menu to the burgers he’s known for from his Billionaire Burger Boyz food trucks and restaurants. The other half of the menu features chops (both pork and turkey), wings, blackened or fried seafood, grits and any sides you’d hope to find at a soul food restaurant.

The turkey chops are how all turkey should be prepared, with a fried coating that’s light, peppery and crisp. Juices spill out when you cut away a piece, mixing into the rice and gravy underneath. It’s more satisfying than any Thanksgiving turkey that’s been brined and repeatedly basted.

I opted for the macaroni and cheese, which comes as a scoop of well-seasoned cheesy shells, and also a side of the candied yams. The yams are gorgeously rich, tasting of butter and brown sugar. They’re not too sweet, and the ideal texture of just approaching mushy.

One meal is enough for two. And there most likely will be leftovers.

Where to eat now

Joyce Soul and Sea, 770 S. Grand Ave., #A, Los Angeles, (213) 395-0202, joycela.com

Two Hommés, 902 N. La Brea Ave., Inglewood, (424) 227-6266, twohommes.com

Soulo’s Kitchen, 635 N. Broadway, Los Angeles, (424) 844-7001, chefsoulo.com

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