If I had to choose a single cuisine for my final meal, soul food would be a top contender. I don't much care that the medical establishment says it's not so great for my health, and actually, I don't much believe them either. How can what makes my soul (and my stomach) sing not in some way help my body? Fools. Here are five places I know I can find good soul food in Houston:
5. Esther's Cajun Cafe and Soul Food. Like most soul food joints, Esther's offers cafeteria-style dining, oxtails and all the usual suspects (macaroni and cheese, collard greens, yams, etc.) in terms of sides. What sets it apart is the inclusion of NOLA favorites such as po-boys, étouffée and dirty rice served comfort-food style (read: mild seasonings and large portions). It's a delightful and delicious fusion of Southern styles.
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4. Alfreda's Cafeteria. When the Houston Press recommended 10 restaurants to visit in the Third Ward, Alfreda's unsurprisingly earned a place on the list. Regulars know to go early in the day to get prime portions of baked chicken, oxtails, ribs and green beans; latecomers, never fear: Whatever's left is still good.
3. Just Oxtails Soul Food. This restaurant would probably be just as successful if they sold oxtails -- and the ones here are fantastic -- and nothing else, but it certainly doesn't hurt that their chicken and dumplings and their pork chops are also terrific. Equally appealing is the staff's exuberant, attentive service; you're guaranteed to leave smiling as well as full.
2. This Is It Soul Food. The restaurant's snazzy updated Web site and detailed descriptions have caused some to speculate that This Is It is becoming a bit too fancy to be a true soul food place, but anyone who has stopped by recently for some chitterlings, mac and cheese or banana pudding knows (at least from the bare-bones, no-nonsense ambience) that This Is It is still all about hot, fresh and straightforward Southern grub.
1. Mikki's Soul Food Cafe. One of my strongest motivations to renew my vows is the thought of Mikki's catering my (second) wedding reception via large vats of fried cabbage with turkey, mashed potatoes made from scratch, and candied yams. Of course, I would be forced to negotiate to have their smothered fried chicken (Monday special) available on a weekend night, but maybe they'd accommodate me if I asked nicely. Or begged.