If you’re looking for something flavorful and filling, there are plenty of American soul food restaurants you should try.
While the term “Soul Food” came about in the 60s and 70s from key actors in the Civil Rights Movement, like Malcolm X, soul food is a cultural invention rooted in the struggles of slavery.
Using a combination of West African cooking techniques and an incredible ingenuity born from their strong will to live, enslaved peoples in the deep South cooked calorie-rich foods out of what slaveowners gave them.
Breading and frying meats and vegetables and using meat, bones, and fat to add flavor are two key techniques in ensuring that enslaved people could replenish the calories lost during a long day working the cotton and sugar fields.
Today, soul food is a beloved cuisine that most of us relate with Southern comfort food.
Soul Food restaurants in the US are a popular culinary trend nationwide, and you can find the best soul food restaurants in the US on the list below.
Willie Mae’s Scotch House
Established in 1957 in the Treme Lafite neighborhood of New Orleans, Willie Mae’s Scotch House began as a beauty salon, barbershop, and bar.
While the beauty salon and barbershop closed two decades later, Willie Mae’s Scotch House expanded to include an award-winning menu of incredible Louisiana and Mississippi home cooking menu.
Owner and founder Ms. Willie Mae received a James Beard Foundation Award for her classic Southern American cooking, while Food Network and the Travel Channel deem Willie Mae’s fried chicken the best in America.
I had a fried chicken platter with a side of NOLA famous red beans and rice and a buttery, sweet, and a savory cornbread muffin.
Located in Jackson, Mississippi, Bully’s Restaurant has been featured in Thrillist, Eater, USA Today, and Culture Trip as some of the best, most authentic Mississippi Delta-style soul food in the nation.
The exterior is an unassuming, hole-in-the-wall brick building with a homey, old-school southern dining room.
While they serve crowd pleasures like fried chicken, catfish, and fried green tomatoes, Bully’s also serves more obscure and adventurous delta classics.
Real soul food is about preservation and using every part of the animal so that nothing goes to waste.
Bully’s Restaurant continues this tradition with its offerings of oxtail, pig’s feet, and ham hocks, to name a few.
While this may put you off, they are all as flavorful, tender, and delicious as any mainstream meal, proving the artistry and creativity inherent in soul food.
Named for owner Carl S. Redding’s beloved grandmother, Amy Ruth’s is a friendly Southern soul food restaurant in New York’s famous Black neighborhood of Harlem.
Carl S. Redding and his cousins would spend the summers in Alabama helping their grandparents with household chores, which is where Redding learned from his grandmother Amy Ruth’s famous down-home cooking.
Today you can taste the authentic generations-old Alabama family recipes in a colorful, jazzy café.
The daily menu has specials, a whole list of breakfast waffles, omelets, and southern breakfast plates, and a lunch and dinner menu.
You’ll want to try the Rev. Thomas Johnson waffle with fried catfish for a perfect combination of sweet and savory.
Florida Avenue Grill
Located on Washington DC’s Florida Avenue, Florida Avenue Grill self-proclaims to be the oldest Soul Food restaurant in the world.
Opened in 1944 by Lacy Williams and his wife Bertha, Florida Avenue Grill has become a Washington DC staple that has survived the 1968 riots, the crack epidemic of the 80s and 90s, and the neighborhood’s gentrification.
The Florida Grill offers the same tried and true menu that it’s had for over 70 years, featuring all-day breakfast and homestyle dinners.
Try the amazing smothered fried pork chops, lightly breaded and fried pork chops smothered in onion gravy with a side of candied yams, collard greens, and a cornbread muffin.
Appropriately located on Malcolm X Blvd. in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, Sylvia’s Queen of Soul Food Restaurant is a historic cultural haunt owned and operated by Sylvia Woods and her family since 1962.
Sylvia’s refined yet inviting dining space offers unique daily events like a world-famous gospel brunch on Sundays and live jazz, soul, and blues music on6 Wednesdays.
Their gospel brunch on Sundays is amazing, with delicious Southern and New York-inspired cocktails, like peachtree mimosas or their signature Waiting to Exhale cocktail that was featured in the New York Times.
You can soak it up with a heaping plate of eggs over easy, salmon croquettes, grits, and a buttermilk biscuit.
Located in the heart of downtown Memphis, Alcenia’s is a classic, family-friendly Soul Food eatery with citywide and national acclaim.
Alcenia’s very own Chef BJ competed on the popular Food Network show Chopped, while Oprah Magazine, The Travel Channel, and NBC have praised Alcenia’s as the best Southern cooking in Tennessee.
Their sensational sweet potato cobbler was a centerpiece dish in Food Network’s show The Best Thing I Ever Ate.
Alcenia’s also accommodates health-conscious and vegetarian diets, although the best platters of down-home southern cooking are meant to put some meat on your bones.
Their fried green tomatoes and biscuits are the most decadent I’ve tried.
Mikki’s Soulfood Cafe
Mikki’s Soul Food Café is a family-owned and budget-friendly Southern comfort café in Houston, Texas.
They have a cocktail bar and welcoming service for a dine-in or dinner, while their daily lunch specials and take-out business makes them especially popular for midday meals.
Weekday specials are Texas-sized plates of the main course, two sides, and a large slice of cornbread.
They also have other classic American comfort foods like fettuccini Alfredo and meatloaf.
I recommend heading there on Fridays and Saturdays to sample their seafood gumbo with a side of black-eyed peas and Cajun corn.
Busy Bee Cafe
Located in Atlanta, Georgia, in Vine City, Busy Bee Café opened in 1947 when talented, self-taught southern Chef Lucy Jackson opened a humble, welcoming eatery for the surrounding neighborhood to enjoy a home-cooked meal.
Busy Bee Café has since gone on to receive national acclaim and a James Beard Award for America’s Classics.
The quaint storefront retains its late 40s to early 50s appeal in a red brick diner space with an old-school soda fountain.
Their signature dish is their brined and breaded fried chicken, which you can get as a plate, over rice, or on Belgian waffles.
I also loved their slow-cooked ham hocks with collard greens, carrot souffle, and a yeasty dinner roll.
Kountry Kitchen Soul Food Place
Featured in Food Network, Thrillist, and The Daily Meal, Kountry Kitchen Soul Food Place is Indianapolis’ favorite southern comfort diner.
Opened over 20 years ago by Ms. Jessie, who later ran it with the help of her daughter Nell, Kountry Kitchen Soul Food Place continues to offer welcoming, scratch-made meals under the leadership of Isaac and Cynthia Wilson.
You can still get Ms. Jessie’s favorite family recipes along with an expanded menu of more Southern dishes from the Wilson family’s upbringing.
You can find classic platters alongside more contemporary offerings like meatloaf sandwiches and roast beef Manhattans.
They also serve an individual Thanksgiving meal year-round, with mashed potatoes, gravy, turkey and dressing, cranberry sauce, and dinner rolls.
This Is It
Another beloved Houston haunt, This Is It, opened in the Third Ward in 1959 and has been proudly black-owned and operated for over 70 years.
Featured in the Houston Chronicle, Texas Monthly, This Is It has been a family business in its fourth generation of ownership with current owner Craig Joseph upholding his grandparent’s principles and family recipes as he, in turn, passes the torch to his daughters and sons.
Their mac and cheese won Houston’s diners choice award for Best Mac and Cheese in Houston.
They also have some Texas famous sides like pinto beans and black-eyed peas. Their fried fish and chicken and dumplings were two comforting dishes executed to perfection.
Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room
Originating as a 40s boarding house kitchen owned and operated by Ms. Sema Wilkes, Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room still resides in its original country home inn in one of the most charming Southern cities in the US, Savannah, Georgia.
Today, Mrs. Wilkes granddaughter Marcia Thompson runs the business.
The classic country chic dining space with exposed brick walls and dainty white table clothes is a quintessential Savannah dining experience.
The menu at Mrs. Wilkes relies on local farmers and seasonal availability.
Dishes are served in shareable, family-style portions to be passed around the table in historic boardinghouse fashion.