Famous Southern and Soul Food Restaurants in Atlanta
What’s the difference between Southern food and soul food? All soul food is Southern but not all Southern food is soul food. Soul food embodies a cultural history and experience with foods that were leftover like neckbones, cornbread, pig’s feet, tripe and ham hocks. It is said to have originated during slavery, inspiring and being further adopted by Southern culture. Southern food can consist of barbecue, shrimp and grits, and fried chicken — oftentimes a meat ‘n’ three (choose your meat and add three vegetable sides) — with a sweet tea, of course. Here’s where to find the best of both in Atlanta.
- Mary Mac’s – True Southern favorites served here are fried okra, salmon cakes, fried shrimp, fried green tomatoes, fried chicken tenders, fried crawfish and ribs. Did you know? Mary Mac’s serves about 1,000 people per day. So get there early.
- Milton’s Cuisine and Cocktails – The 150-year-old farmhouse and cottage dating to the 1930s were preserved and restored with classic elements and charming details. Plus, many of the ingredients come from the restaurant’s own on-site garden. Make sure to get the shrimp and potato fritters to start. Steaks here are fantastic, too.
- Paschal’s – What started as a 30-seat restaurant in 1947 has expanded to an upscale Southern restaurant. Begin with the catfish fingers. Then get the fried chicken, a signature dish.
- Pittypat’s Porch – Opened in the 1960s, Pittypat’s has changed very little, down to the Southern favorites on the menu, items like the black-eyed pea cakes, Southern salmon or Rhett’s mixed grill.
- Revival – Establishing roots in a refurbished elegant Southern home, Revival took great care to keep elements such as windows and hardwood floors the same as in the original building. If the Southern chowder is available, go for it. Standouts are the fried catfish and lemon icebox pie.
- South City Kitchen – This is a favorite spot to take out-of-town guests looking for a taste of the South in a fun setting. All your Southern favorites are here, items like shrimp and grits and fried chicken. Choices such as catfish Reuben and Nashville fried chicken sandwiches are available at lunch. Note that it can get quite loud, so it’s not the best choice for a romantic date.
- Southern Art – Located in the Intercontinental Hotel, this is a special-occasion restaurant with its well-appointed decor and ceiling art. The “ham bar” features hams from all over. The menu changes seasonally but features lamb and fish specialties.
- Southern Bistro – Of course, there’s Southern seafood like trout and shrimp and grits for mains at this Sandy Springs restaurant, but I love the starters of fried green tomatoes, Brussels sprouts and my absolute fave, the Southern egg rolls with ham, collards and apricot glaze.
- Sway – You don’t have to travel out of the Hyatt downtown to experience Southern cuisine. Visit Sway and get the deviled eggs (topped with bacon/crab/jalapeño) and fried green tomatoes.
- Sweet Georgia’s Juke Joint – It’s crowded during weekend brunch, so go for a weekday dinner when it is less busy. Start with the sampler of fried green tomatoes, onions and fried okra. The fried catfish (fish and chips) and the pork chop are super.
- Urban Foodie Feed Store – Looking for a spot near the airport? Check out this new Southern restaurant in College Park. Items here have an elegant twist. Try the Southern Fried (goat cheese-stuffed fried green tomatoes with crispy collards) or the Down South (bacon-wrapped quail breast with mango salsa).
- Watershed – At lunch there are daily specials Tuesday through Saturday for $16. These include items like meatloaf and fried chicken and biscuits. Chicken and dumplings, blackened red fish and a truffle chicken salad sandwich are also delicious.
- Wisteria – This Inman Park restaurant is located in a gorgeous historic brick building. It’s romantic and yet perfect for a group outing, too. Get the black-eyed pea hummus and the molasses-rubbed pork tenderloin.
- L Marie’s – If you find yourself in Cobb County with a hankering for Southern food, visit L Marie’s. Get the fried chicken, sweet potato souffle and squash casserole here.
- Beautiful Restaurant – Tip: Try the teamonade (the restaurant’s answer to an Arnold Palmer). The pork chops are a highlight here. Oxtails are a good choice, too. Collards as a side are a must. For dessert, get the strawberry cake or banana pudding.
- Big Daddy’s – There are a couple locations in Atlanta of this cafeteria-style spot. Don’t go here on Sundays as the line is wrapped around the building. Get the dressing, cabbage and broccoli casserole.
- Busy Bee Cafe – Some of the best fried chicken in Atlanta can be found here. Heads up: It’s closed on Saturdays. Sides include fried green tomatoes, mashed potatoes, fried okra, fried corn and, of course, collards.
- Soul Vegetarian – Located in the Poncey-Highland neighborhood, this a a vegetarian’s paradise with its take on soul food. Get the barbecue tofu or cauliflower.
Malika Bowling is the author of Culinary Atlanta: Guide to the Best Restaurants, Markets, Breweries and More!, and founder of Roamilicious. Malika also has served as a judge at various culinary competitions and food festivals, including Taste of Atlanta. Her podcast, Just a Byte, can be downloaded from iTunes. Follow her on Twitter @MalikaBowling and Instagram.
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