The 12 Best Soul Food Restaurants in Atlanta guide image

photo credit: Amy Sinclair

ATLGuide

The 12 Best Soul Food Restaurants in Atlanta

From a classic spot serving incredible fried chicken and whiting to a creative kitchen offering salmon rolls, here’s where to find the city’s finest down-home dishes.

There are some rules you must understand if you’re to fully appreciate Atlanta’s rich soul food scene. For starters, macaroni and cheese is a vegetable. Next, if you order fried fish, you already know that’s a 10- to 15-minute wait. And lastly, the more crust the merrier when it comes to a proper peach cobbler serving. Need a refresher with these laws? No problem. The following comfort food institutions are happy to share their down-home culinary wisdom whenever you’re ready to learn.

THE SPOTS

Paschal's review image
8.0

Paschal's Restaurant

$$$$

180 Northside Dr NW, Atlanta
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With black-and-white images of civil rights pillars like Coretta Scott King towering over the tables and the O’Jays’ “For the Love of Money” coming through the speakers, you think you know what’s in store at this ATL classic—a soul-soothing scene filled with catfish, candied yams, and cornbread. And that’s exactly wh—wait a second, is that Snoop Dogg you hear now? And hold up, is that really a robot dropping off the plates? Yep and yep. Thankfully, this mix of trendy and traditional works because the food is so damn tasty.

We can imagine owner Deborah VanTrece walking a pan of ingredients into her kitchen one day, slipping on something and watching stuff go all over the place. Collard green leaves flew in one direction. Garlic flakes headed in another. Chimichurri floated onto everything. What was left wasn’t so much a mess as it was a new, elevated take on soul that makes for a tremendous night out. While everything pops with flavor, your tastebuds will fall hardest for the apricot cilantro chili salmon rolls, oxtails, and seafood pot pie.

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Sometimes you have to work for what you want. That rings especially true in this tight, Caribbean-tinged take-out spot where long lines and fantastic curry chicken are always on the menu. Honestly, some of the slowness is patrons having a hard time looking at the daily options because of oddly angled windows into the kitchen. To alleviate delays at the cash register, have your “beef tips, rice, green beans, and black-eyed peas” order ready. Say it confidently, and you might get a half-smirk from the check-out clerk. Might.

For a restaurant to get shouted out on Goodie Mob’s 1995 classic song “Soul Food,” it must have been on point. For that same place to still be relevant 25-plus years later, it must be timeless. Yep, Cascade’s all-day-dining cathedral is all of the above. Nary a person—not Cee-Lo Green, not your aunt Jean, nobody—will ever categorize the food here as “overly seasoned” (in fact, we’ve always thought the mac and cheese could use a smidge more butter), but they will say the beef ribs are consistent, the pancakes are divine, and the dining room is always immaculate.

The line of city workers and MARTA bus drivers snaking inside this Westside favorite can be intimidating, but we assure you the wait is worth it. For breakfast, the cafeteria-style lineup of down-home essentials includes beef links, thick-cut bacon and pancakes—all done with equal parts lard and love. As for the meat and two you get at lunch, you’ll choose from meaty turkey wings, spot-on collards, and fried chicken that *whispers* might be better than your granny’s.

With 12 outposts in the metro area, This Is It appears to be on a mission to keep Atlanta full. And we’d like to thank them for their service. At every address (be it one of their dine-in restaurants or a to-go-only stop), you can get smoked meats, seasoned sides and hot-out-the-grease whiting. At the popular Camp Creek location, you’ll also find a bright dining room and a small banquet area. The extra space will come in handy as you preside over an order that loosely resembles last year’s Thanksgiving spread.

A place can be considered a classic eatery based off its tenure, its taste or, in the case of this award-winning ATL icon, a delicious combination of the two. All of that said, the slights you’ve heard about Busy Bee are correct. The (closed-until-further-notice) dining room is too tight. The Saturday take-out line does stretch to Conyers. Yes, your bill will run $50 for two people. Still, no matter how many times we’ve complained under our breath—we’re well over 100 visits by now—we’ve never left unhappy. The best soul food restaurant in the city has its challenges, yes, but cooking excellent fried chicken, fish, and sides isn’t on that list.

This may be an exaggeration, but we don’t think a thing has changed about this 100-percent vegan spot in the West End since the ‘80s. The not-so-great news is that the dining room could use a facelift; the good part, however, is that the daily selection of alternative proteins (seitan, vital wheat gluten) and healthy sides (renowned vegan mac and cheese) is as fresh as ever. Soul Veg’s smoothie bar is still open next door, too, which is great, considering your craving for the Strawberry Redemption (strawberries, papaya juice, mango, orange juice, and sweetener) is stronger now than it ever was.

Don’t let the name fool you—Peach Cobbler Cafe shouldn’t be dismissed as another dessert shop. Does your average bakery serve ribs, fried chicken, collards, and cobbler? Nope, didn’t think so. When hunger comes on hard and fast and a basic sandwich won’t cut it, this Buckhead soul food cafe saves the day with super satisfying, stick-to-your-bones homestyle food served quickly. The entrees, like their oxtails with dark brown gravy or tender ribs drenched with barbecue sauce, will run you a pretty penny (around $16 to $28). But you’ll be happy and you’ll be full.

Sitting in a small strip mall on Cleveland Avenue, Walter’s patrons sometimes contend with other businesses’ customers for parking. The tussle outside proves worth it, though, because the restaurant’s assortment of meats (turkey wings, ribs, Salisbury steak) and traditional sides is consistently good. Order the barbecue chicken, yams, and greens for a soul-soothing meal that reminds you of home. Who cares that you had to park in front of the barber shop to get to it?

photo credit: Amisha Nair for Bites and Bev Media

A1 Soul Food review image
8.0

A1 Soul Food

Folks who frequent this MLK Drive mainstay know that you either come with patience or you don’t come at all. We usually see lines 25 deep at 3:45 in the afternoon. The reason no one ever storms off before their turn is because they know that when they finally make their way to the front and see the pork chops, fried chicken, and gravy-soaked liver, their sacrifice wouldn’t have been in vain. But even with the tasty meats, the best thing about A1 might be its sides. The yams melt in your mouth. The mac and cheese is baked to perfection. If it wasn’t for the 30-minute wait, you’d be tempted to order seconds.

Three or four hair and nail shops share the same tiny West End plaza with Q-Time. This means two things—parking is going to be tight and many of the patrons are going to look right. Of course, any concerns about appearances are forgotten all about once the barbecue sauce starts dribbling down your chin—BBQ? Q-Time? Get it?—or the crust from the famous peach cobbler crumbles onto your lap. The baked chicken is another winner on the daily menu. Just be careful with that gravy. Might be a pain getting it out of your shirt.

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