In a city that uses sensors and cameras at the supermarket to track what customers are buying in order to avoid any human interaction, simple can be hard to come by. And while we might let ChatGPT write our wedding vows and robots drive our cars, it seems like we can all agree on one thing: technology won't be touching fried chicken. Even as it stands underneath some new-construction apartments attached to a sterile Amazon Fresh store in the Central District, Simply Soulful is a refuge of deep-fried, slow-cooked simplicity.
This soul food spot, once a staple of Madison Valley, moved to the Central District in 2022 and the menu hasn't changed a bit. Here, the best option is to order family-style. Get a couple of entrees, lots of sides, and let the mixing-and-matching commence. The gumbo is a must-order—sipping this thick and smoky broth makes for a carefree experience up there with taking a midday nap and being one of Oprah’s dogs. The fried catfish has a resounding crunch, with flakes of salt seemingly placed strategically in every bite. And while the sides are small and the mac and cheese is more dense than creamy, the yams are fantastic, tender with vanilla hints and a brown sugar sauce that grazes everything else on the plate.
Simply Soulful’s new digs are bright and modernized, with huge garage door windows that bring in sunlight, and gallery walls with art created by BIPOC artists in the community. The display case of desserts, like banana pudding and sweet potato pie, is a masterpiece in its own right. If the bread pudding is available, grab one—it’s as if monkey bread and pound cake eloped and then honeymooned in a vat of caramel.
While we’d sooner suggest Lil Red or Communion for truly exceptional soul food, Simply Soulful has its place here. It's proof that meat and sides don't need to be complicated to be good. And in 20 years when the president is R2-D2, grocery clerks are folklore, and your friend still wont shut up about seeing Frank Ocean at Coachella, that simplicity will stand the test of time.
With crispy breading that snaps to reveal a flaky filet, this catfish is juicy, well-seasoned, and tastes even better when topped with a few squirts of louisiana hot sauce.
Mac And Cheese
All mac and cheese is not created equal, and what this one lacks in creaminess, it makes up for in the form of dense cheddary glue that holds the elbow noodles in place. A bubbling baked top seals the deal.
When sharing this meal with friends, get two orders of these yams—one for the meal, and one for when those dessert cravings come at midnight.
Don’t be surprised if you end up ripping off the peppery, crispy skin to eat by itself.
Red Beans And Rice
Rice and beans are a perfect pair, but this version is dry, and although it has the smoky flavor we want, it tastes more like tobacco than anything else.
These bite-sized cornbread muffins lack moisture on their own, but when used to sop up gumbo or eaten alongside a piece of catfish, they do the job of a side dish very well.
There are some problems only a bowl of soup can fix, and this gumbo will cure all of them. With a glossy broth and hearty pieces of chicken and shrimp, it blows us away every time. Our only qualm is that for $17, we wish there was more of it.