Oregon’s culinary scene shines thanks to a wide range of fresh ingredients and a diverse and talented roster of food-focused creatives whose flavors are anchored in heritage and tradition. For Black History Month and year-round, you can find everything from soul food to African fritters and Caribbean-inspired cocktails. Here are some of the state’s Black-owned restaurants, food carts and other businesses with unforgettable eats.
Caribbean Flavors in Southern Oregon
Cook and musician Rafijah Siano hails from the Virgin Islands — St. Thomas, to be exact — and his Siano’s Karibbean CookHouse brings those warm flavors and passion to Medford. His fare tends to be a fusion of Latin and Caribbean cuisines that are given extra oomph with locally grown herbs and spices, as well as meats and seafood procured close to the source. “It’s a melting pot down there — Spanish food, Carribean food, a little bit of Asian food, everything,” Siano told filmmakers from BASE, a group that champions the advancement of Black people in Southern Oregon.
Of course there’s jerk chicken, but Siano also offers creole shrimp, goat fricassee and slow-cooked oxtail. For plant-based dining, try the Vegan Delight with coconut peas and rice. While you’re there, swing over to Ashland for specialty pizzas like the Siskiyou Summit with a five-cheese blend at Northwest Pizza. Owner Morgan George also does burgers, salads and wings with Angry sauce (read: very hot).
Global Eats in the Willamette Valley
Chef Michael Landsberg spent years studying at the Culinary Institute of America before working his way up to executive chef at places like King Estate Winery in Eugene. These days he and his wife, Tobi Sovak — an accomplished culinary fixture herself — head up one of Eugene’s most delectable bakeries, Noisette Pastry Kitchen. The chocolate-chip scones fly out the door, while the mozzarella, tomato and basil sandwiches pack in the flavor. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, the bakery transforms into Salt & Sweet Wine Bar, where Landsberg shows off his charcuterie skills.
If you’ve ever had Ethiopian food, chances are good you’ve been on a quest to find it again. That’s where Paolos and Eden Kid come in. The couple created Makeda’s Cuisine, a food truck that has now pivoted to catering events, and then recently launched their newest venture, Zagwe’s, Eugene’s only restaurant dedicated to Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine. Don’t miss the doro wat, a spicy chicken stew served with injera, the tangy, spongy fermented bread. Vegetarians aren’t left out with dishes like alecha, a mix of cabbage, potatoes and carrots.
For soul food featuring local produce, Isaiah Martinez is your guy. The chef and founder of Yardy Eugene studied at the Institute of Culinary Arts and brings his Afro-Caribbean roots to this food truck next to Eugene’s ColdFire Brewing Company. The fare here blends traditions with skillet-fried chicken and “doubles,” the Trinidadian specialty that includes a turmeric flatbread, curried chickpeas and chutney.
In nearby Salem, try Epilogue Kitchen & Cocktails, the creation of chef Jonathan Jones, a James Beard Award nominee for Best Chef in the Northwest. Not only does he design trophy-worthy meals like elk tenderloin with buttermilk turnips and mustard greens, but he also encourages reading a diverse array of authors at the on-site library. He also co-owns Icarus Wings & Things, which doubles as a sports bar dedicated to showing women’s sports.
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Soul Food, Chocolate and More in Portland
When in Portland, you’ll find plenty of Black-owned businesses to support. Wake up with an espresso from Deadstock Coffee Roasters, the sneaker-themed cafe with cool merch. After a day’s explorations, enjoy happy hour at Assembly Brewing, which has a location in Southeast and one in Northeast Portland. Oregon’s first Black-owned and Black-operated brewery bills itself as a place to “come together one beer at a time.” The Detroit-style pizza makes that even easier. Kee’s Loaded Kitchen sells out of everything quickly, so get there early for soul food like the loaded fried pork chops with sides like garlic-butter green beans. Akâdi specializes in food from the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, including akara fritters (think falafel but with spicy black-eyed peas) and peanut stews. For fine dining with a Haitian twist, try James Beard Award-winning Kann and its underground swanky cocktail bar Sousòl.
Do save room for dessert at the Portland Chocolate Laboratory, one of the most unique sweet shops around. Ayomide Nikzi and her partner, Kian, opened a brick-and-mortar shop in 2018 after years of running a successful online operation. Now they offer subscription boxes as well as a “taste of the world” collection that includes treats from Iran, Senegal and Oaxaca, Mexico, among others.