The Ultimate Guide to Atlanta's Top Soul Food Restaurants - Newport Paper House


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The Ultimate Guide to Atlanta's Top Soul Food Restaurants

Soul food is a beloved staple of Southern cuisine, known for its hearty, flavorful dishes like fried chicken, mac and cheese, collard greens, and sweet potato pie. Atlanta has a vibrant soul food scene, with many restaurants that excel at serving up comforting classics. This guide will highlight the top soul food restaurants in Atlanta and what makes each one a standout.

A Brief History of Soul Food

Soul food originated during slavery in the American South. Enslaved African Americans were given rations of inexpensive ingredients like pork scraps, cornmeal, greens, and offal. They transformed these simple ingredients into delicious, filling meals that became known as "soul food." After emancipation, soul food remained an important part of African-American culture and heritage. The cuisine emphasizes using every part of the ingredient, wasting nothing.

Common soul food dishes like cornbread, fried chicken, black-eyed peas, and sweet potato pie have deep cultural significance. They reflect the resilience and ingenuity of African Americans throughout history. Today, soul food is beloved by many for its familiar flavors that evoke memories of home cooking and celebration.

What Makes a Great Soul Food Restaurant in Atlanta

When looking for outstanding soul food in Atlanta, there are a few key factors that distinguish the very best restaurants:

  • Authentic recipes: The restaurant should serve classic soul food dishes made according to traditional recipes. Cornbread, fried chicken, collard greens, mac and cheese, candied yams, and other staples should taste homemade and made with care.
  • Southern hospitality: Warm, welcoming service is an essential part of the soul food experience. The best restaurants have friendly staff who make you feel right at home.
  • Down-home atmosphere: From red-checkered tablecloths to murals of famous African Americans, the restaurant's decor should complement the heritage of soul food. Music from Motown, jazz, blues, and gospel also adds to the ambiance.
  • Local ingredients: The South has iconic soul food ingredients like Vidalia onions, pecans, peaches, and grits. Restaurants that highlight regional producers put a distinctly local spin on soul food.
  • Family recipes: Restaurants cherished for generations, passed down within families, offer a uniquely authentic soul food experience. Their time-honored recipes reflect the past while also evolving with the times.
  • Community fixture: The best soul food joints are hubs of the local community, where both long-time regulars and curious newcomers feel equally welcome. They're worth coming back to again and again.

Top Soul Food Restaurants in Atlanta

Gladys Knight's Chicken and Waffles

Gladys Knight, the legendary "Empress of Soul," lends her name to this perennially popular Atlanta soul food restaurant. Known for its namesake dish of crispy fried chicken served with fluffy waffles, Gladys Knight's also impresses with its melt-in-your-mouth fried pork chops, velvety mac and cheese, collard greens simmered with smoked turkey, decadent peach cobbler, and old-fashioned lemon pound cake. Go for the Gospel Brunch on Sundays to experience soul food with live gospel music and singing. With its vintage Motown aesthetic and dishes based on Knight's family recipes, Gladys Knight's offers an authentic soul food experience.

Mary Mac's Tea Room

A beloved Atlanta institution since 1945, Mary Mac's Tea Room has been run by the same family for three generations. It serves up flawless Southern classics like fried green tomatoes, baked chicken and dressing, shrimp and grits, and divine bread pudding. The vegetables here taste like they were pulled straight from a backyard garden. Extensive Soul Food and Southern Favorites menus cover all the comfort food cravings. Known for its warm hospitality and decadent food, Mary Mac's is a must-visit when seeking old-fashioned Southern fare. The vintage interior with its pink walls, chandeliers, and red carpet makes you feel like you're dining in a genteel Southern home.

Busy Bee Cafe

For delicious fried chicken, Busy Bee Cafe is a go-to spot. Its chicken is crispy on the outside while retaining impressive juiciness. Other standouts include the smoky beef ribs, turkey wings braised until falling off the bone, cornbread that achieves the perfect balance of moist and crumbly, and red velvet cake that should be named the official state dessert of Georgia. Opened in 1947, Busy Bee is still run by the same family who greets regulars by name. Its worn wooden benches and scuffed tile floors only add to the charm. For delicious fried chicken in an unpretentious setting with loads of history, Busy Bee is a soul food gem.

Southern Art and Bourbon Bar

For a contemporary take on soul food, Southern Art and Bourbon Bar skillfully blends Southern cuisine with international influences. Dishes like jerk barbecue pork ribs, shrimp and scallop étouffée, and duck confit fried rice put creative spins on regional ingredients. The extensive craft cocktail menu pairs especially well with the food. Housed in a chic exposed brick building, Southern Art's vibe is hipper than your typical soul food joint. Jazz nights, bourbon tastings, and Local Artist Salons make it a modern community gathering space. The reinvented soul food classics and artsy ambiance draw trendier crowds.

Colonnade Restaurant

Running strong since 1927, Colonnade Restaurant prides itself on old-school charm and quality. Known for its crispy fried chicken and pork chops, Colonnade also impresses with its flawless cornbread dressing, turnip greens, fried okra, and coconut cream pie. Its reputation for delicious Sunday dinners and an elegant Southern setting continues to attract crowds today. With white tablecloths, golden chandeliers, and mahogany booths, Colonnade feels upscale yet welcoming. This special-occasion restaurant maintains beloved traditions while also advancing with the times. From scratch-made biscuits to four generations of family ownership, Colonnade is a cherished Atlanta staple.

Sweet Auburn BBQ

For smoked meats and barbecue classics done right, Sweet Auburn BBQ hits the spot. Tender pulled pork, perfectly smoked wings and ribs, and melt-in-your-mouth brisket will leave you longing for more. Don't miss their take on barbecue nachos loaded with pulled chicken and house-made cheese sauce. Brunch brings shrimp and grit bowls, chicken and waffles, and fluffy biscuits dripping with gravy. Housed in a former warehouse, Sweet Auburn's industrial chic digs match the bold flavors. The bar stocks an extensive bourbon selection to pair with your meal. For smoky barbecue done the Atlanta way, Sweet Auburn is a go-to.

Soul Food Dishes You Have to Try in Atlanta

Beyond the restaurants, there are a few iconic soul food dishes that you have to seek out when visiting Atlanta:

  • Fried green tomatoes - Tart green tomatoes coated in crisp cornmeal and fried, often served with buttermilk ranch or remoulade.
  • Chicken and waffles - Fried chicken served with maple syrup-drizzled waffles is a cherished soul food specialty.
  • Collard greens - Slow-cooked greens braised with ham hocks or turkey have an irresistible smoky flavor.
  • Mac and cheese - Elbow macaroni baked in a rich and creamy cheese sauce, ideally with a touch of spice.
  • Peach cobbler - Georgia's juicy peaches baked under a golden crust - perfect with ice cream.
  • Pecan pie - Toasted pecans in decadent custard, enclosed in pastry - rich yet addictive.
  • Sweet potato pie - Silky sweet potato filling in a flaky pie crust, often spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg.

Be sure to try these iconic Atlanta soul food dishes during your visit!

5 Frequently Asked Questions About Soul Food in Atlanta

  1. What restaurants serve the best-fried chicken in Atlanta? Gladys Knight's Chicken and Waffles, Busy Bee Cafe, and The Colonnade are all renowned for their crispy, juicy fried chicken. Mary Mac's Tea Room and Paschal's are also excellent choices.
  2. Where can I find authentic cornbread in Atlanta? Busy Bee Cafe, Mary Mac's Tea Room, and The Colonnade all serve moist, delicious cornbread made from scratch. Their recipes reflect soul food tradition.
  3. What Atlanta restaurants offer Sunday soul food dinners? The Colonnade, Mary Mac's Tea Room, and Paschal's are all excellent choices for Sunday soul food meals, featuring favorites like fried chicken, mac and cheese, greens, yams, cornbread, and cobblers.
  4. Where can I find Southern food with a modern twist? Head to restaurants like Southern Art and Bourbon Bar, Gunshow, and Staplehouse for creative takes on Southern soul food with international flair.
  5. What classic soul food desserts should I look for in Atlanta? Peach cobbler, sweet potato pie, bread pudding, red velvet cake, and pecan pie are iconic Southern soul food desserts. Try them at Paschal's, Mary Mac's Tea Room, and other favorites.


With its deep heritage and dedication to preserving culinary traditions, Atlanta offers some of the country's best soul food. From fried green tomatoes and chicken and waffles to collard greens and sweet potato pie, savoring these specialties allows you to taste history. Restaurants like Gladys Knight's, Mary Mac's, and The Colonnade balance time-honored cooking with warm hospitality. Newer spots like Southern Art inventively riff on regional flavors too. When seeking comfort, community, and iconic Southern cuisine in Atlanta, be sure to visit these remarkable soul food institutions.

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