The recent protests have sparked a nationwide conversation about the meaning of Black Lives Matter and how best to move forward and effect change. One recommended action is to support Black-owned businesses, and an enjoyable way to do that is to eat one’s way through the varied cuisines found in our city’s myriad Black-owned restaurants, such as sampling the “California Soul Food” found at Alta Adams.
Executive Chef Keith Corbin had an unlikely path to restaurant success. Hailing from the circa-1955 Jordan Downs housing project in Watts, Corbin ran with a tough crowd and served 10 years in prison. Upon release, it was difficult to find employment until Corbin applied at LocoL, then a newly opened restaurant in South Los Angeles, whose mission was to bring affordable, healthy food to the neighborhood and provide opportunities for the chronically underemployed local residents. Corbin was hired as a line chef and quickly caught the attention of Daniel Patterson, the Michelin-starred chef who co-founded the restaurant.
When LocoL closed a few years later to become catering only, Patterson took Corbin under his wing, trained him in his San Francisco restaurants and then partnered with him to open Alta Adams.
Mindful of his own inauspicious start, Corbin is paying it forward at Alta Adams by hiring and training others with prison records. Additionally, at least during this COVID takeout time, he offers two food options: a three-course dinner for two for $78 and a one-course main with sides on a sliding scale. Those who pay the $20 full fee underwrite a meal for someone else. Those for whom $20 is a hardship can pay a percentage or nothing at all.
My husband and I decided to try the fried chicken dinner. Each $20 plate came with a generous portion of delicious red beans and rice, tender, vinegary collard greens, and a plump and juicy chicken leg and thigh. The chicken was shatteringly crisp, even after a car ride home, and was loaded with flavor and just the right touch of heat. It was one of the most flavorful and satisfying fried chicken dinners we’ve had. We also bought two $10 pints of their homemade ice cream. Not as rich and creamy as Salt & Straw’s, yet satisfying. Strawberry tasted fresh and authentic; butter pecan was loaded with nuts and buttery afternotes. Some other meals on their biweekly rotation have featured ribs or oxtail, and there’s always a vegetarian option.
Alta Adams, 5359 W. Adams Blvd., 323-571-4999.
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A Black-owned restaurant with exceedingly bad timing, Flavors from Afar opened in March, days before the stay-at-home order hit. It had been a catering operation and market previously, but this expansion into full-service dining came at a risky time. Nevertheless, they persisted with takeout and a unique concept.
Owner Meymuna Hussein-Cattan is a refugee from Ethiopia, having fled civil unrest in 1975. Once in Southern California, she started the Tiyya Foundation to help other refugees navigate and adjust to a new home. The foundation is credited with helping over 250 families to date.
A catering operation was established to fund the nonprofit, and refugees from around the world were hired as chefs and trained to translate the flavors of their homelands into food worthy of a paying crowd. The logical next step was to open a sit-down restaurant.
Overseen by co-founder Christian Davis and program instructor Jalen Bannet, an Eataly alum, Flavors from
Afar features a different chef and cuisine each month. As of this writing, eight chefs are on rotation; we experienced Chef Sonia’s Guatemalan food in July, and August will feature flavors from either Somalia or Kenya.
Wednesday through Sunday, a short list of selections is posted. We decided to plan on leftovers and order one of everything. Besides, the prices are more than fair: the chicken entrée was $12; the other items were $5 or $6 each. Not only does ordering support the foundation, but a percentage of all sales goes to providing nonperishable foods to a needy family.
The pollo en recado de tamales was the Guatemalan equivalent of a homey midweek dinner. White rice was the bed for two chicken pieces in a moderately spicy thick red sauce cooked with peppers, potatoes and carrots. We also loved the ground beef and onion sambusas. The four triangular pastries were flaky and well-seasoned; the accompanying mild green chili sauce enhanced the dish.
Not everything was equally successful. The corn slaw would have benefitted from a pungent dressing, and the fried potato pancakes were mushy. I’ve had more flavorful taquitos, but crunchy rolled tortillas, crema and pico de gallo always satisfy even if the chicken filling didn’t sing — but for food at that price and with such a big heart, how can one resist?
Flavors from Afar, 1046 S. Fairfax Ave., 714-623-9420.
To support more Black-owned restaurants try Kat Hong’s neighborhood-by-neighborhood list at https://tinyurl.com/y7z2542q.