Cities are not usually known for their down home, country style food. But Atlanta is not your typical city. Even though Atlanta has become the southern counterpart of New York City with its multinational, melting pot population, it is still just a big town of transplanted country people at heart. And nothing exemplifies this more than the number of soul food restaurants in the city. If you are in Atlanta and are looking for some down home, countrified, southern fried goodness, you don’t even have to leave the heart of the city.
Son’s Place Restaurant — this little restaurant located in Atlanta’s industrial district is a favorite of the blue collar crowd. Always crowded, Son’s is not only famous for its fried chicken and fried fish, but also for its homemade sausage patties and hoecakes (pancakes) on its breakfast menu. This place is consistently on the city’s “Best of” lists. It hosts a cafeteria-style layout where you can pick and choose your menu items. Small and always crowded, Son’s Place is perfect for a quick in-and-out or takeout, offering only street parking and a couple of spaces at storefront. It’s only open Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., another nod to its working class clientele. And don’t even think about using a credit card; cash only.
Busy Bee Cafe – considered by many to be the best soul food restaurant in Atlanta, the Busy Bee Café is located in Atlanta’s university area. Like the name implies, the Busy Bee is always crowded, busy with on-the-go students and businesspeople. And the Busy Bee seems synonymous with soul food, with a menu that reads: “beelicious” fried chicken, “Joe Lewis” ham hock, chittlins, and ox tails. Located on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, the Busy Bee has a small parking area, but there is plenty of street parking. Open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Mae’s Soul Food Inc. – located on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta and is perhaps the best kept secret dining place in the city. Inexpensive food and heaping portions make this a great place to eat without the crowds of the other restaurants. However, given the three generations of family recipes that infuse the food with southern goodness, this won’t last long. Their specialty? The chicken, of course. Mae’s Soul Food Inc. is open Monday through Friday 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Thelma’s Kitchen and Rib Shack – located on Auburn Avenue in downtown Atlanta, Thelma’s Kitchen is as down home as you can get. Primarily known for their large pieces of fried chicken, Thelma’s also features catfish, ribs, and neck bones. Parking is free but expect a busy, crowded restaurant. Prices are reasonable. Hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, closed on Sunday.
Daddy D’z BBQ Joint – this place is hopping down on Memorial Drive in downtown Atlanta, serving up a lot of chicken and pork, pit cooked, with a touch of blues on the weekends (no cover charge). Daddy D’z boasts the “best bbq in Atlanta,” (Creative Loafing Critics Choice) and a Number One rating by the New York Times. With a varied menu that includes black bean soup and white chicken chili, this place offers homemade menu items to compliment their chicken and pork, whether it be meal-sized portions or slabs. A little more expensive than the other restaurants mentioned here, this place makes up for it in great food and atmosphere.
Mary Mac’s Tea Room – in business for 60 years, Mary Mac’s is a relatively famous local establishment, hosting area and the occasional visiting celebrity. They offer a lunch and dinner menu that seems to differ only in the size of the portions. Mary Mac’s has fried green tomatoes and “mudbugs” (a spicy deep-fried crayfish). Their fried vegetable plate is one of their specialties, along with the fried chicken. Mary Mac’s is open 11 a.m to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Parking is on the street along the storefront.
Roaster’s – considered by several publications in Atlanta and by its massive loyal patronage as having the best rotisserie chicken in the city, Roaster’s is a small place in a strip mall (so there’s plenty of parking space) just minutes from downtown Atlanta on Lenox Road. With menu items like black bean soup and white chicken chili, Roaster’s has a varied menu with reasonable prices. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Expect a crowd, especially during lunch hours.
Now, it bears to mention that all these restaurants are located in downtown Atlanta. There are quite a few more in Atlanta proper and in the greater metropolitan area. There are also a couple of places that offer southern style cuisine with the hint of celebrity, like Justin’s (owned by Sean “P. Diddy” Combs) and Gladys Knight and Ron Winan’s Chicken and Waffles restaurants. And there is even a chain of restaurants called Folks that offer a more stylized version of southern soul food. But nothing beats the atmosphere, the homey feel, and the mouth-watering aromas of a small soul food place…
“Soul Food Restaurant Reviews,” soulfoodandsoutherncooking.com