From coffee shops that double as community spaces to trendy soul food restaurants with an eye on uplifting the neighborhood, the areas of Leimert Park, Inglewood and Crenshaw have been on the cutting edge of Los Angeles' cultural zeitgeist for years.
About a half-hour from the Hollywood sign, these historically overlooked neighborhoods serve as the backdrop to shows like the HBO series Insecure and are attracting visitors from all over the country.
These historically Black neighborhoods and the businesses that populate them are the scene-makers and trend-setters that you don't want to miss.
Here’s our list of the best places that highlight the Black culture in LA.
Best Black-owned restaurants
Cecilia’s Caribbean Cuisine
A large picture of Jamaica’s beloved son – Bob Marley – greets you when you walk into Cecilia’s Caribbean Cuisine. Located on the corner of 11th street in downtown Los Angeles, this is the kind of unassuming eatery you might just walk by. And that would be a mistake.
The vibe is relaxed with simple wooden tables, vinyl booths, artificial grass and bamboo lining the walls, and of course, reggae music pumping through the speakers. It’s a small location, but that just means the air is thick with the smell of spices coming from the kitchen.
Go for the oxtails. It's the ultimate test in deciding if a Caribbean restaurant is worth telling friends about – and Cecilia’s passed the test.
The oxtails are well seasoned, tender and conjure memories of many home-cooked plates at grandma’s house (if you were lucky). The oxtails are served with rice and peas, stir-fried vegetables and plantains.
Other items on owner and chef Sean Romeo’s menu include jerk chicken, ackee and saltfish (Jamaica’s national dish) and pan-seared lemon butter salmon.
And since this is LA, there are vegan options like jerk tofu and curry jack fruit. For drinks, always grab a bottle of Ting, a carbonated grapefruit-flavored drink popular throughout the Caribbean.
There's a stunning mural of a little girl throwing up a "W" for West Coast on the side of the Alta Adams restaurant on West Adams Blvd.
The patrons are beautiful, hip and stylish. But don't let the trendy outfits, R&B music and the overall cool scene fool you. Folks don't come here just to see and be seen, they go to Alta Adams to dine on some of the best soul food in the city.
Start with the cornbread with honey butter, or if you're really up to it, the old-fashioned deviled eggs dusted with paprika.
For the main dishes ... OK, here's where you're going to run into a problem: too many choices. Fried chicken with Fresno hot sauce, California gumbo, shrimp and grits, fried fish with spicy tartar sauce, home-smoked brisket, and their most-popular item – oxtails and rice?
Good luck deciding.
Sides include collard greens, candied yams, seasonal vegetables, red beans and rice and, always a crowd-pleaser, mac and cheese.
Dessert (hope you saved room) includes classics like banana pudding and pineapple – coconut upside-down cake. But the real showstopper is the Classic Southern 7 Up Cake; a moist pound cake with a slightly crunchy crust that's made by Winter Fate Bakes – a one-woman small-batch bakery in Playa Vista.
Alta offers a wide selection of beverages, including wine, inventive cocktails like Melissa's Revenge (gin, honey, raspberry, lemon and egg white) or non-alcoholic options like ginger limeade.
Los Angeles' growing Black coffee scene
From a Harry Potter-themed coffee house to shops that offer vegan fare with a herbal latte, LA's Black coffee scene is highlighting the many facets of Black American culture.
So many of these cafes are more than just eateries. In an industry with a reputation for gatekeeping, these Black coffee shops are community spaces, polling stations and art galleries for local artists. Here are a few favorites:
Hot and Cool Cafe
Hot and Cool Cafe is the kind of place where a cup of water or a hot meal is extended to a person in need. It's where community members hold business meetings and where neighborhood kids go to do their homework. There are community events like watch parties and musical performances. Hot and Cool Cafe even served as a voting location during the 2020 elections.
Opened in 2018 and located in the heart of Leimert Park Village, this Black-owned, family-run cafe has a mission to promote plant-based food to those with limited access to it.
The menu is filled with animal-friendly dishes like cauliflower wings, vegan breakfast burritos stuffed with vegan Italian sausage, sauteed onions and peppers, garbanzo bean scramble, fried potatoes and salsa and vegan sliders made with beyond meat, sauteed onions, mixed greens and a homemade burger sauce.
A personal favorite is the vegan soul bowl made with BBQ "chicken," collard greens, rice and mac and cheese.
Of course, since it's a cafe, there's a host of lattes (try the Hot Cinnful with espresso, vanilla, milk and cinnamon), herbal teas and pastries like the vegan pecan blondie.
The Hilltop Cafe
Co-owned by actress, writer, and producer Issa Rae, The Hilltop Cafe is poised to make noise in the coffee world.
The expansive, vibrantly colored two-story spot is located in the heart of Inglewood and offers everything from a short rib grilled cheese to a bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich to lavender lattes and matcha chata (cinnamon, matcha tea, vanilla, honey and ice oat milk).
The sheer size means there are more than enough cozy spots to escape the crowds and get lost in a good book or have a chat with friends.
There are two other Hilltop Cafe locations in Slauson and Eagle Rock.
Sip & Sonder
Owned and operated by a pair of attorneys Amanda-Jame Thomas and Shanita Nicholas, Sip & Sonder opened in April 2019. The Inglewood coffee shop and roaster not only serves up delicious cups of classic lattes and tasty sweet treats but serves as a multi-use and community event space for fireside chats about issues in the Black community, entrepreneur programs and jazz shows.
A Harry Potter-themed coffee shop located on South Hope St in LA. Popular "elixirs" include the Notorious Black (charcoal rosemary latte), Witches Cold Brew (a blend of oat milk, condensed milk and spices) and cafe classics like cappuccinos, americanos and white mocha are also on the menu.
Best Black-owned shops
Leimert Park is filled with a slew of Black-owned businesses. Visitors can purchase everything from handcrafted earrings to African-inspired paintings or clothing.
No bit of space goes unused in Sika's Jewelry shop in Lemeirt Park. The walls are lined with African masks and artwork, the small shelves stacked with African-print blankets and the floor covered with drums of varying sizes.
But it's the jewelry, the delicate nose rings in particular, that Sika Jewelry is known for. Intricately designed and handcrafted by Sika Dwimfo and his daughter Milan, the gold pieces come in star, heart and flower shapes.
Opening its doors in the fall of 2018, Nappily Naturals in Lemeirt Park is committed to providing holistic options through herbs, teas and oils. Owned by husband and wife duo Umaar Askia and Sharon Williams-Askia, Nappily Naturals aims to provide an access point to natural and organic products like body scrubs and ginger root powder.
Eso Won Books
Simply put, Eso Won Books is a LA institution. The independent Black-owned bookstore, run by co-owner James Fugate, has been around for over 30 years. It's welcomed everyone from President Barack Obama to critically acclaimed American author – Toni Morrison to heavyweight champion boxer Muhammad Ali through its doors. The book store, which showcases Black authors and Black literature, also serves as a gathering space for the Leimert Park community.
Best places to enjoy Black art
California African American Museum (CAAM)
CAAM was the first state-supported African American museum of history, culture and art in California. Located in Exposition Park in South LA alongside the Natural History Museum, California Science Center and the Los Angeles Coliseum, CAAM showcases art from the African diaspora.
Over 5000 pieces of objects like photographs, paintings and even a bronze bust of Civil Rights legend Dr. Mary Mcleod Bethune make up CAAM's permanent collection.
Past exhibition topics dealt with Black Fashion, slavery, Black metalworking and Black military portraits.
Band of Vices
There's little chance of missing Band of Vices. The hot pink building on West Adams Blvd screams for you to come inside. This creative Black-owned company, founded in 2015, aims to open up the art world to those still undervalued, underappreciated and underrepresented.
The artwork ranges from oil paintings to sculptures to interactive showcases. The works are typically bold statements or beautiful depictions of everyday life.