Four hundred years ago this month, enslaved Africans arrived in what would become Virginia. Enslaved people were brought to Colorado, too, in the 1840s and 1850s, to work in the mines and as servants—and as cooks. We know that a woman called Charlotte Green made food at Bent’s Old Fort, a trading post in modern-day La Junta named after Green’s former master and New Mexico Governor Charles Bent. After emancipation in 1863, Denver attracted freed culinary professionals, including one Barney Ford, who ran Mile High City restaurants from 1863 to 1872. To honor the legacies of Green, Ford, and countless other cooks of African heritage, give these five local spots a try.

Welton Street Cafe Home of Mona’s | Five Points

In the heart of one of Denver’s historically black neighborhoods, Welton Street Cafe owner Mona Dickerson and her family have dished up spectacular soul food—and some of the city’s best Southern-style fried chicken—since 1999. Accompany your main dish with Dickerson’s fried okra, candied yams, and cabbage. A thick slice of Welton’s potent rum cake is the ultimate sweet finish.

Jamaican Grill in Lincoln Park. Photo by Sarah Boyum

Jamaican Grill | Lincoln Park

Family recipes inspire the dishes at this six-year-old spot on Eighth Avenue. We love the fiery jerk chicken, but you shouldn’t miss the whole fried fish, based on the West African culinary tradition of cooking in hot oil; it comes with rice and peas plus your choice of fried plantains, potato salad, “smothered” (steamed, then sautéed) cabbage, or coconut-milk-infused rice. Also try a glass of “sorrel,” a refreshing drink made from the flowers of the hibiscus plant, which enslaved West Africans brought to Jamaica.

Boney’s Smokehouse BBQ | Downtown

One whiff of the hickory smoke wafting out of 14-year-old Boney’s on Champa Street lets carnivores know they’re close to greatness. Lamont and Trina Lynch (who hail from Florida and Maryland, respectively) share the Southern tradition of slow-cooked barbecue by serving customary smoked meats such as beef brisket, chopped chicken, hot links, and tender, spice-rubbed pork spareribs with flavorful accompaniments like collard greens, hush puppies, macaroni and cheese, and sweet tea.

NOLA Voodoo Tavern and Perks | Cole

The French Quarter vibe is strong at this funky four-year-old restaurant, thanks to New Orleans native and owner Henry Batiste. The menu is full of dishes based on his grandmother’s Creole recipes (which have origins in France, Spain, and Africa). The standout? Batiste’s gumbo, which we adore for its light, chocolate-colored roux loaded with pieces of tender chicken, sausage, okra, and just enough cayenne pepper.

African Grill and Bar owners Theodora and Sylvester Osei-Fordwuo. Photo by Sarah Boyum

African Grill and Bar | Green Valley Ranch and Lakewood

Sylvester and Theodora Osei-Fordwuo operate Denver’s only full-service African restaurants—the original Green Valley Ranch location opened in 2013, and the Lakewood outpost followed this past January. Both cheery spots offer a plethora of traditional dishes from across Africa, with a special emphasis on the Osei-Fordwuos’ native Ghana. We always start with “kelewele,” an addictive mix of fried, ginger-marinated, diced plantains and salted, roasted peanuts. The spinach stew, flavored with ginger, onions, and tomatoes, is rich and comforting, and if you crave a little kick, all you have to do is add some of the Osei-Fordwuos’ fiery house-made habanero-ginger relish.

This article was originally published in 5280 August 2019.
Adrian Miller
Adrian Miller
Adrian Miller is a Denver-based writer, speaker and soul food scholar. He’s the author of Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue.