Preservation with Pride

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Soul Taco interior

In and around the Jackson Ward corridor of Richmond, a historically African-American neighborhood, a group of restaurateurs is preserving, and adding to, the tradition of locally owned businesses. Theses restaurants — all within minutes of each other—  are also proud participants in the Richmond Black Restaurant Experience, a weeklong series of events March 1-8 showcasing black-owned restaurants and businesses and the diversity of the Richmond dining scene.

Urban Hang Suite

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Kelli Lemon at Urban Hang Suite

Kelli Lemon, co-founder of the Richmond Black Restaurant Experience, is a community powerhouse in the city. She is known for her vivacious personality, the podcast Coffee With Strangers, and now, her coffee spot meets social hotspot, Urban Hang Suite. Touting the phrase, “This Ain’t Maxwell’s House,” the community-oriented cafe complete with a Vibe-lined magazine wall, opened in late 2018. Partnering with local purveyors like Lamplighter Coffee and Rostov’s Coffee & Tea, UHS offers daily food and coffee specials. Guests can peep the biodynamic and natural wine selections curated by RichWine, including a number of bottles from African-American vintners. Lemon says she imagines her ancestors looking down proud that she opened a black-owned business on the historically black side of Jackson Ward, a part of town that was once racially divided by sides of the street. 

304 E. Broad St. 804-325-9089

Africanne on Main

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Africanne on Main’s Vegetable Medley

Chef-owner Ida MaMusu of the intimate eatery Africanne on Main, has gained a devout following over the years, blending the role of chef and matriarch for her diners. On the corner of Main and Second Streets, hugs are common greetings. The Liberian native knows customers by name and often sends them back to her buffet if she doesn’t thinks they need more veggies. MaMusu’s pay-by-the-pound smattering of West African, Caribbean & Southern fare includes fluffy akara bean cakes, jollof rice and veggies, oxtail in cabbage stew and her famed greens. Pro-tip: Be sure to check out her housemade juices and teas, including one for detox.

200 E. Main St., 804-343-1233

Mama J’s

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Mama J’s chicken, mac and cheese, green beans and corn muffin

Garnering a James Beard Foundation Award nomination for outstanding service in 2019, Mama J’s has been making customers feel like family for the past decade. Co-owner Lester Johnson, along with his mother, Velma (aka “Mama J”) operate on the motto “Welcome Home”. While hospitality is a large draw, it’s their take on Southern comfort food that keeps diners happy. Entrees from fried chicken to succulent catfish are served with pillowy corn muffins, and sides like mac and cheese and collards. You would be foolish to leave without a slice of Mama’s famous cake — especially if it’s rum cake.

415 N. 1st St., 804-225-7449

Soul Taco

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Carnitas Taco from Soul Taco

The walls at Soul Taco are barely visible beneath colorful prints of Frida Kahlo, cacti and taco puns. Ari Augenbaum, Nar Hovnanian and Trey Owens opened Soul Taco in late 2018. They added a second location less than a year later in Shockoe Slip. The fast-casual concept marries the flavors of the South with baja influences and a Latin American twist. Creations include an al pastor taco with root beer-braised oxtail, pineapple-jalapeño salsa and chicharrones, and a low country camarones studded with Old bay sautéed shrimp, chorizo, elote salad, potato salsa and Old Bay crema. Side note: Food Network recently featured Soul Taco on “Diners, Drive ins, and Dives.”

321 N 2nd St. 804-308-1010

Big Herm’s Kitchen 

Owner Herman “Big Herm” Baskerville, can often be found chatting up regulars at his bustling takeout space that’s been open since 2005. Open from 11 a.m. to 5:30 and closed on weekend, a fried catfish basket with a hunk of sweet cornbread make for a prime weekday lunch or early dinner. Pro tip: Thursdays are half-price desert day where a buck fifty gets you a buy-in for a sweet treat. Sweet potato pie and bread pudding are my go-to. 

315 N. 2nd St., 804-643-0202

Follow food editor and CurEat contributor Eileen Mellon on CurEat for the full list of restaurants that are part of the Richmond Black Restaurant Experience. The CurEat App is available for iOS and Android.

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