Editors' Pick

The 10 Most Stirring Soul Food Spots in Houston

For when you need that fix of oxtails, smothered pork chops and, yes, fried ribs

By Alice Levitt October 24, 2016 Published in the November 2016 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Turkey necks in gravy at Alfreda's

Image: Alice Levitt

As the weather cools down, we're craving some stick-to-your-ribs comfort food. What better way to warm up than with a big plate of rice and gravy?

Alfreda’s Cafeteria

The murals are colorful, as are the regular customers who chew the fat (likely literally) in this resolutely old-school restaurant. The gravy on the turkey necks might look thin, but don’t be fooled. The tender meat drops from the bone in thick, rich ribbons.

Best Soul Food in Town

Daily specials include enchiladas and chitterlings, but everyday diners can rely on barbecue sandwiches, burgers and home-style classics like crisp-skinned baked chicken and tender turkey wings. If there’s moist, pecan-laden Sock It to Me coffeecake on offer, ask them to sock it to you.

Big Sarg’s Soul Food Home Cookin’

It might face away from the street in a North Houston strip mall, but the home cooking here is worth seeking out. Smothered pork chops are served over rice with cornbread and a choice of two sides, but it’s tough to pick only two.

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Fried chicken at Esther's Cajun Cafe

Image: Alice Levitt

Esther’s Cajun Café & Soul Food

When the lady at the counter told us the fried chicken was “it,” we had to try it. But as much as we liked the crunch of the bird, we couldn’t help but think the yams are actually “it.” A fat cinnamon stick protrudes from the pile of the hot, melting tuber, leaving the whole bowl tasting like the Thanksgiving you wish you’d been invited to.

Josie’s Place

The first lady you meet at the counter will offer you fried fish before you even look at the menu; take her up on it. The crunchy cornmeal coating, in a jacket around the moist catch of the day, is remarkably well-seasoned. Soul food restaurants are friendly by default, but this may be the only one where every staff member asks how your day is going with genuine interest.

Just Oxtails

Okay, it’s a misnomer to say that all this restaurant has to offer is oxtails—the turkey wings and meatloaf are worth a try, too. But take the name as a reminder not to miss the peppery, collagenous stew spooned over rice. Skip the watery mac ‘n’ cheese, and save room for flaky peach cobbler.

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A plate of oxtails at Just Oxtails

Image: Alice Levitt

Mama’s Oven

The salty smothered pork chops pack a slap of heat courtesy of a dash of cayenne pepper. Perhaps that’s evidence of the slogan posted on the menu board, “taking you all the way back to grandma’s house.” Grandma wouldn’t be pleased with the canned green beans, but she would approve of heading next door to Hank’s Ice Cream for a post-lunch scoop.

Mikki’s Café Soul Food

Judging by the photos on the wall, a who’s-who of Houstonians have eaten here. The moist chicken-fried chicken may be the draw—it covers an entire plate, and every millimeter bursts with the flavor of herbs. Save room for the strangely appealing (but highly unnatural) strawberry cake.

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This Is It

Soul Food by Catherine

Two words: fried ribs. Moist, tender and crisped in well-spiced batter, they’re somehow even better than they sound. But it’s worth braving the barred windows and doors here for the bargains, too. Weekdays, there’s a $4.99 lunch special; Mondays and Tuesdays, spaghetti and a roll costs $2.99.

This Is It

The flavors are as big as the aquarium-sized fish tanks in this soul food palace. The crunchy-topped mac ‘n’ cheese is the best we’ve tried on any cafeteria line, and the cooks have a way with gravy, whether it’s dressing oxtails, pork chops with red and green peppers, or just a pile of white rice. Not sure which to choose? You can taste a bite before you decide.

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