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Food for the Soul

10 of Houston's Best Soul Food Restaurants

From smothered pork chops to okra to meatloaf, these Houston-area restaurants are serving up the city's best soul food.

By Shelby Stewart

There's not a dish in the city of Houston that brings a wider smile to my face than the chicken and dumplings at Micheaux's Southern Cooking. (Okay, maybe a bowl of gumbo at The Greasy Spoon...or the Cajun fried catfish at Alfreda's.) Classic flavors like baked chicken smothered in a hearty brown gravy or the sweet and savory combination of mac and cheese and candied yams are like a warm hug. That's the magic of soul food—it provides a sense of comfort, even if you're far from home.

Sprinkled throughout the city, soul food restaurants are the cornerstone of some of Houston's predominantly African American neighborhoods. Whether you like your soul food fried, smothered, or even vegan, the flavors that run throughout this distinct cuisine have been passed down through generations of African Americans and are a key component of our heritage. Below are some of our favorite spots for a savory meal—and don't forget the Coca-Cola cake.

Alfreda's Soul Food

 
Third Ward

A community staple in Third Ward, Alfreda's Soul Food Restaurant has an unmatched legacy. The restaurant opened in 1964, the same year President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. Since opening, Alfreda's has been serving everything from black-eyed peas and smothered turkey wings to Cajun fried catfish, holding the title of the longest-standing soul food restaurant in the area. Though the restaurant has undergone changes in ownership, the Almeda Road storefront's hearty aroma of mac and cheese and candied yams still turn the heads of many a passersby. 

Cupcake Kitchen

 
Third Ward

When Cupcake Kitchen opened in the Third Ward area in 2014, it was just a bakery. Through owner and chef Patrice Farooq's steadfastness, the bake shop expanded into a soul food mainstay just a few years later. The Black woman-led restaurant and bakery broaden the scope of comfort food. You'll find heaping to-go plates of oxtails and chicken dinners here, but you can't overlook the non-traditional offerings like beef enchilada plates and seafood bowls. No meal at Cupcake Kitchen is complete without a sweet finish, and that's where the bakery comes into play. Paying homage to the neighborhood that made the restaurant famous, the dessert menu includes a "Third Ward Classic Cake," an irresistible treat that combines pecan pie, cheesecake, and banana pudding into one ridiculously good dish.

A seafood plate at Cupcake Kitchen in Third Ward. 

Esther's Cajun Cafe & Soul Food

 
Heights / Acres Homes

As Chef Esther Lewis-Bernard's signature restaurant, meals here reflect the culinary history of her family tree. Most of the recipes from dishes found on the menu, like peppered steak and oxtail, come from southern recipes made by her great-grandmother Mary Lewis, as well as Cajun dishes like etouffee and gumbo from her mother, Gladiola Lewis. It's one of the few places in the Houston area serving daily specials like chicken spaghetti and honey-dipped fried chicken. Altogether, the restaurant is a metaphorical gumbo pot of flavor (no, really, try the gumbo!). If it's one of those chilly Houston nights, be sure to order a cocktail off Esther's seasonally update bar menu.

Lucille's

 
Museum District

On Sundays in the Museum District, there's bound to be a traffic jam nearby La Branch and Calumet streets because everyone wants a table at Lucille's. Named after the late great-grandmother of James Beard Award finalist Chris Williams and brother Ben Williams, owner of Highway Vodka, the soul food restaurant pays homage to Lucille B. Smith's valiant efforts to enrich her community. Smith was an educator who started her own food corporation, and the restaurant named in her honor tastefully carries out that same mission. Williams, who works alongside Chef de Cuisine Khang Hoang, replicates some of Smith's iconic recipes, like the famous chili biscuit, while placing modern twists on soul food. The contemporary spins are in entrees like the pork and beans, made with braised pork shank, three bean ragu, grape tomatoes, and agrodolce, or the catfish and grits with cilantro slaw, grape tomatoes, oxtail jus, and stone mill grits. Even with more modern dishes, Lucille's doesn't stray too far from its roots; side dishes like the mac and cheese are plated in mini cast-iron skillets

Micheaux's Southern Cuisine

 
Missouri City

There's something very down-home about Micheaux's Southern Cuisine—perhaps it's because Chef George Micheaux has been cooking from scratch since he was a child or because the Missouri City cafeteria-style restaurant has become a must-stop on Sundays after church. George and wife Janice created their namesake restaurant in 1996 and have since been serving southern classics that you may not find anywhere else. Chicken and dumplings, meatloaf, okra and tomatoes, and cabbage are just a few of the menu items you'll find on display at Micheaux's, accompanied by desserts like peach cobbler, pound cake, and Coca-Cola cake. 

Mikki's Soul Food

 
Meadows Place / Pearland / Food Truck

Inside a West Belfort strip mall, adjacent to a tattoo shop and fitness center, dwells a Houston gem. The lunch counter is made up of heated serving trays that include entrees like baked chicken and hamburger steaks doused in brown gravy. If you're lucky enough to come in on a Friday, you can catch their fried catfish special, demand for which causes lines out the door. A fixture of southwest Houston, Mikki's has served celebrities like Letoya Luckett, Andre Johnson, and even Mayor Sylvester Turner. Though founder Jeanette Williams passed away in 2019, her legacy is carried out through her children, who operate the new location in Pearland and the restaurant's roving food truck. 

Soul Food Vegan

 
Third Ward

Chef Taliek Terry at Soul Food Vegan turns to herbal alternatives to "combat nutritional deficiencies," meaning everything you love about soul food is served vegetarian-friendly here. Located on Emancipation, Soul Food Vegan is a laid-back cafe where you'll hear ‘80s R&B playing in the background. At the restaurant's walk-up counter, you can nab some of the southern specialties you'd expect at a soul food spot but with a plant-based approach. Pea protein is substituted in lieu of pork in the boudin balls and po' boys are made with mushrooms instead of seafood. The vegetarian platter lets you choose from cauliflower steak or fried mushrooms instead of the customary fried chicken. 

Soulfood by Catherine

 
Central Southwest

Chef Catherine Simon's joint has become one of Houston's most popular soul food spots since opening in 2017. Don't let the casual exterior fool you; Catherine's upbringing in Lake Charles, Louisiana, ensures every dish is slow-cooked to perfection. Wearing your stretchy pants here is an absolute must because you're going to eat well. Plates are piled so high it'll feel like you're getting more bang for your buck—expect your smothered pork chops to take up most of the room on your plate, and your bowl of gumbo filled to the brim. Yet, the most exclusive dish you'll find (and what all the customers seem to rave about) is Chef Catherine's crispy fried ribs, battered in her well-spiced mix and served with a side of french fries.

Stuffed turkey leg at The Greasy Spoon. 

The Greasy Spoon Soulfood Bistro

 
North Houston / Pearland

"Some Do, Some Don't; Some Will, Some Won't" is the can't-miss phrase that sits overhead at The Greasy Soul Food Bistro. The mantra is what owner and cancer survivor Max Bozeman II recalls his former mother-in-law always saying, and he uses it as his motto. The Greasy Spoon exudes the ambiance of a family reunion or a cookout that feels vibrant and inviting; it's an environment in which you're meant to share good memories and laughs over delicious food. What to order? We recommend the chicken and sausage gumbo or smoked oxtails with gravy on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes.

Houston This Is It Soul Food

 
Third Ward

For over 50 years, This Is It has melded Southern flavors with country cooking—washed down with a healthy dose of their house-made grape Kool-Aid—on Blodgett Street in Third Ward. Regarded as one of the oldest Black-owned restaurants in Houston, the restaurant started when owners Mattie and Frank Jones would serve food out of their tiny house in Freedmen's Town. At the time, Texas was a part of the segregated South, and legends like Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway would spend the night and get a taste of Mattie's good cooking while stopped in Houston. (Fun fact: Scenes from the 1993 movie Jason's Lyric were filmed at the restaurant.) Today the historic restaurant is owned by Jones' great-grandson, and patrons report the taste remains the same. Dive into a plate of turkey legs with mashed potatoes and a harmonious side of mac and cheese and candied yams. It's authentic soul food loaded with flavor, as bright and vivid as its history. 

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