09 Sep The Best Black-Owned Southern and Soul Food Restaurants in the U.S.
By Ashleigh Fields
Is all Southern food considered Soul Food? Is all Soul Food from the South?
The two often get conflated — especially when the history of Black American food gets ignored or erased in mainstream culture — but there’s a difference. It might be subtle, but it’s there.
For many chefs and home cooks, the biggest contrast between Southern Cuisine and Soul Food is the presentation and resources that are used to bring the dishes to life. Food prepared at home is often referred to as Soul Food, and almost always includes beans, greens, and cornmeal. In addition to those side dishes, a hefty piece of pork can double as meat for the main course, or it can be chopped and boiled into a seasoning. This differs from what is cited as Southern cuisine, where spices are primarily used to enhance the flavor.
And while Southern cuisine may evoke images of white table cloths and perfectly sized biscuits, Soul Food is more intuitive and almost always leaves juices running down the side of a plate. But both cuisines, whether acknowledged or not, have strong roots in Black culinary culture.
“I ain’t mad at ’em, but in my heart of hearts I know where those ideas and recipes are coming from,” Chef Deborah Vantreece of Atlanta’s Twisted Soul told Southern Kitchen Magazine about the origins of Southern cuisine. “And I do think the type of credit that soul food — traditional African-American Soul Food — deserves, it’s still not coming as quick as it should.”
Check out our roundup below of some of the best Black-owned Southern and Soul Food in the U.S.
7th + Grove – Tampa, FL
7th + Grove calls itself a “culturally immersive space” that serves upscale Southern cuisine with “incredible vibes.” “We believe food is the best storyteller,” they write on their website. “No matter what language you speak or background you are from, food is the universal uniter. It is important to us that we showcase a menu that is rich in flavor but also displays the food pathways of the South.” The culinary creatives at 7th + Grove tell that story with dishes like the Sir Greendown fried green tomatoes, the C.R.E.A.M. jalepeno cornbread with blueberry puree, and the Cry Me a River catfish nuggets. Oh, and the restaurant’s aesthetic is amazing. Clear some space on your camera roll before your next visit.
Soul Bowl – Minneapolis, MN
Soul Bowl describes themselves as “soul food reimagined for the urban millennial.” That’s how a menu with items like the Jill Scott Collard Greens, D’Angelo’s Candied Yams, and the Fantasia Fried Chicken were born. In addition to recreating traditional dishes, the team at Soul Bowl is recreating the feeling of togetherness that Soul Food is all about. They have community seating and lawn games that help the entire experience feel like the backyard at Big Mama’s house.
Comfort LA – Los Angeles, CA
The most exciting thing about ComfortLA is their modern, “clean” approach to traditional Soul Food and Southern cooking. Their use of fresh, organic, locally-sourced ingredients – along with healthier cooking methods – is what allows customers to eat dishes like Cousin Kina’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese and the Clean Mean Greens without the sluggish feeling that used to follow many a Sunday dinner. But that approach to food is only the beginning of the ComfortLA experience. As they say on their website, “it’s the feeling of being at your favorite relative’s house for dinner.”
Ms. Mary’s Southern Kitchen – Coppell, TX
Ms. Mary’s Southern Kitchen is the type of place where you can – and should – just stop by to say “hello.” That is the tradition of old school Southern hospitality that Mary Davis sought to infuse into the atmosphere of her restaurant. “Our food is based on memory,” she says on her website. “It is a cuisine founded in resistance and its main technique is feeling and intuition.” But despite serving up some of the best Soul and Southern cuisine in the region, it’s considered a “hidden gem” because it’s one of only a handful of Black-owned Southern-style restaurants in the Dallas Fort Worth area. “You have to wonder why,” Davis said in an interview with the Dallas Observer. “This is our food, so why don’t we have a lot of restaurants like this around? You even see it on television. You mainly see white male chefs and you go wait a minute, how you gone tell us how to fix macaroni and cheese and greens?” Try Ms. Mary’s meatloaf, fried okra, or the classic potatoes and gravy.
Luella’s – Chicago, IL
It’s no wonder that some of the best Soul and Southern cooking can be found in Chicago. With train routes running from places like Mississippi to Chicago during the Great Migration, Southern culture and it’s food got exported up North by people like Chef Darnell Reed’s great grandmother, Luella. Reed would pick Luella’s brain for recipes and techniques, learning to make classics like cornbread and gumbo. He combined that knowledge with the things he picked up from his travels around the world to create the menu for Luella’s Southern Kitchen. Try their Salmon Croquettes, the Fried Catfish and Shrimp Po’ Boy, or the Buttermilk Fried Chicken. You can also tap in with them on September 16, 2021 over Zoom for a conversation about the past, present, and future of traditional southern cuisine in Chicago.
Mr. B’s Southern Kitchen – Tampa, FL
At Mr. B’s Southern Kitchen, home cooked food is the norm. You can catch them on Saturday and Sunday mornings serving a traditional southern breakfast – with grits, of course – with options for lunch, dinner, and takeout. Check out their Fish n’ Grits, the Turkey Meatloaf, the Smothered Oxtails, or the Hot Honey Fried Chicken.
Blaqhausnoho – Los Angeles, CA
Blaqhausnoho is one of the hottest new restaurants in LA, with a fire theme song to match. Recently featured in our Follow Your Fork series, owner Takela Corbitt said she opened the Southern and Creole restaurant because our culture is badly underrepresented and she wanted to “bring some of the things I enjoyed the most about our food and our culture, and us gathering as people, to my neighborhood.” Check out their Short Rib Grilled Cheese, the Mississippi-Fried Catfish Po’ Boy or the Better Than Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich (click here for the recipe).
Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours – Atlanta, GA
Chef Deborah Vantrece of Twisted Soul has one of the most seasoned resumes in the culinary world. She graduated as valedictorian from the Art Institute, worked as an Executive Chef at the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, and won acclaim for mastering globally-informed techniques and cuisine for foreign dignitaries. Vantrece truly breaks the mold, fueling a global hunger for Soul Food. Check out her Fried Green Tomato Sandwich with sweet read peppers alouette, bacon, and arugula, or the Hoisin Glazed Oxtails with vegetable basmati rice and sautéed garlic ginger bok choy.
Taste Bar + Kitchen – Houston, TX
Breakfast for dinner has won the hearts of many patrons who visit Houston’s Taste Bar + Kitchen. The elevated chicken and waffles are said to be the most savory in town. In addition to the specialty option of Chicken Fried Lobster with Waffles, the unique menu has proven to be a hit. Jerk Lamb Chops, Bacon + Lobster Gouda Mac + Cheese, and the Deep Fried Waffle Bread Pudding are just a few of the appetizing selections.