Top Soul Food Restaurants in Atlanta

Southern food isn't the same as soul food. These places get soul food right.

Do you ever wonder what is the difference between soul food and Southern food? Southern food includes the many kinds of cuisine found throughout the South, including Creole, Lowcountry, Appalachian and soul food. Its particularly complex and painful history makes soul food an extraordinary addition to the Southern palate.

The flavors and methods used to create dishes such as fried chicken, grilled liver and chitterlings date back to times of slavery. Slaves were given the poorest quality meats and scraps from the kitchen and creatively reimagined their slim pickings into robust and flavor-packed meals. Today, soul food is one of the most recognizable and beloved cuisines in the United States. Here, we highlight the city’s soul food staples.

Busy Bee Cafe

The always-crowded, family-run restaurant has served down-home cooking since 1947, when Lucy Jackson, a self-taught cook, ventured to open her own restaurant. A favorite with politicos and police officers, Busy Bee’s menu offers a choice of meat (fried chicken smothered in gravy, pork chops, oxtails and meatloaf) served with two fresh vegetables (try the famous broccoli-and-cheese casserole) and superb corn muffins. Cap it off with the delectable red velvet cake or banana pudding. Open M-F 11 am-7pm, Su noon-7 pm.

Busy Bee Cafe, Atlanta, GA
Locals love Busy Bee Cafe, including Atlanta's own Mayor Kasim Reed, who counts the restaurant among his favorites. (Courtesy Busy Bee Cafe)

Mary Mac’s Tea Room

In 1945, Mary McKenzie opened one of 16 tea rooms in Atlanta. Today, Mary Mac’s is the city’s only remaining tea room—and an acclaimed one, at that. Indulge in Southern soul food classics, including fried chicken, country fried steak, grilled liver and onions, and irresistible peach cobbler. Don’t miss one of Goodwill Ambassador Jo Carter’s famous back rubs (which she doles out heartily to each guest). Open daily 11 am-9 pm.

Mary Mac's Tea Room, Atlanta, GA
Mary Mac's is one of Atlanta's most longstanding and beloved restaurants. (Courtesy Mary Mac's Tea Room)

This Is It! BBQ & Seafood

You’ll find rib tips, whole-fried catfish, pork ribs and a famously delicious sweet potato souffle at this Georgia soul-food chain. With locations scattered about the state, This Is It! has come to be revered for its extraordinary food, which is ultra-fresh and packed with flavor. Visit the full-service East Point location just south of Atlanta (which also offers a to-go marketplace) for the authentic experience. Open M-Th 10:30 am-11 pm, F-Sa 10:30 am-midnight.

This Is It!, Atlanta, GA
This Is It! is a hidden gem, known only to Metro Atlanta locals. (Courtesy This Is It!)

Paschal’s Restaurant

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. regularly held strategic meetings about the civil rights movement at the original incarnation of Paschal’s Restaurant. As if that weren’t impressive enough, Paschal’s fried chicken (served in the newer Castleberry Hill location) is considered some of the city’s best thanks to a top-secret recipe of spices. Dig into a menu brimming with mouthwatering soul food dishes including fried green tomatoes, shrimp po boy, fried catfish, candied yams and cornbread dressing. Open M-Th 11 am-9 pm, F&Sa 11 am-11 pm, Su brunch 11 am-4 pm, Su dinner 5 pm-9 pm.

Paschal's Restaurant, Atlanta, GA
Apart from having a rich history, Paschal's offers a menu loaded with flavorful dishes that make it one of the city's best soul food restaurants. (Courtesy Paschal's)

K&K Soul Food

This small counter-service restaurant may not look like much from the outside (or inside), but here you’ll find the kind of authentic soul food you can only find in the South. Lunch lines can get long during the week, the marker of a true locals-only stop. Chicken wings, pork chops, meatloaf, beef stew and oxtails are complemented by tasty sides like creamed corn, steamed cabbage and black-eyed peas. Heaping portions and very affordable prices make this a must stop for any soul food aficionado.

Soul food
This plateful of soul food shows the kinds of items you might find at K&K, although you'll get larger portions served in bare-bones styrofoam at the counter-service restaurant. (©Jennifer Woodard Maderazo/Flickr)

Rib tips, whole-fried catfish, pork ribs and a famously delicious sweet potato souffle are what