In honor of Black History Month I want to highlight five delicious Chicago soul food restaurants. Soul food, of course, is the delectable Southern cooking tradition associated with the African-American community. Ever since the Great Migration, when millions of African-Americans fled the Jim Crow South, soul food has become a culinary highlight of Chicago’s food scene. I’ll admit to not having tried a ton of soul food myself. I got rather obsessed with jerk chicken when I lived in Hyde Park, so this research is as much for me as anyone else. So join me in discovering some soul food restaurants to chow down in!
Pearl’s Place holds a special place in our hearts at Chicago Detours. We frequently stop in with plenty of guests during our Jazz, Blues, and Beyond Bus Tour. Private groups can choose to add on a visit so they can feast on the family-style offering at this beloved soul food restaurant in Bronzeville. It’s such an awesome experience for people to come here, especially international travelers who have really never had anything like soul food before.
You’ll find all the soul food staples here, from black-eyed peas to fried chicken or catfish. Personally, the shrimp and cheesy grits dish caught my eye. Grits are coarsely-ground corn kernels that are boiled with water or milk. Also, keep in mind that Pearl’s Place has delectable soul food desserts. I especially love the banana pudding or peach cobbler – a la mode of course.
Located on South Halsted in Auburn Gresham, Three Chefs is a Chicago soul food restaurant that serves down-home food with flair. Classics like breakfast platters or turkey sandwiches can be found on the menu. Online reviews take pains to call out less common selections like the smothered salmon. Multiple Yelpers said that the gumbo was a “straight out of New Orleans” masterpiece. Sounds like some high praise. Maybe you should check it out for yourself?
Daley’s is not one of those pop-up soul food restaurants. It’s just the opposite, in fact! Daley’s is the oldest restaurant in the entire city of Chicago, since Schaller’s closed last year. Daley’s has been serving South Side patrons since 1892. And no, they have nothing to do with the Richard Daley’s at all! The original owner, John Daley, opened the restaurant to serve workers constructing the city’s first ‘L’ trains on 63rd Street for the nearby 1893 World’s Fair. The mind wobbles. (By the way, be sure to check out our Spring Break 1893 World’s Fair Tour for Families in March.) Over time, the Greek-owned restaurant transitioned easily from serving up classic American dishes to being one of the South Side’s finest soul food restaurants.
Don’t let longevity be the only draw, though. The menu at Daley’s has some real depth – in fact, they serve over a half-dozen specials every single day. Personally, I’m making an appointment to try out the braised ox tail stew or BBQ Texas beef ribs. The servings are ginormous. On top of the massive plate they give you, you get an entire bowl of home-made soup. I ended up bringing home an entire meals worth of soul food leftovers.
Though Chicago is famously the “hog-butcher to the world,” the city has a long and proud vegetarian tradition as well. The Chicago Diner, in Boystown, is probably the most famous vegetarian spot in town. Soul food lovers need not fear, though. Soul Vegetarian, in Greater Grand Crossing, has been a South Side institution for over 30 years. Many patrons show up for the daily specials, which are announced by the chef. But you can probably make a date to try out the black-eyed peas burger no matter the date. Fun fact about this joint: it’s connected to a religious sect called Hebrew Israelite Community of Jerusalem.
Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles
Chicken and waffles may be the most famous soul food creation. The pleasure of crisp, freshly-made waffles and the crackly delights of fried chicken needs no explanation. Serving the two dishes together probably didn’t start until the Great Migration got underway a century ago. Today they come together like peanut butter and jelly. Chicago’s House of Chicken and Waffles devotes themselves to the title dish, understandably, but offer other soul food favorites, like smothered potatoes or grilled salmon, as well. You can find this soul food restaurant in two spots: Bronzeville and Oak Park.
The Bronzeville location is on the King Drive, with really beautiful 19th-century buildings all around. When you visit, keep your eyes peeled for the remains of the ‘L’ train that took workers from Bronzeville to the Union Stock Yards.
Enjoy your eating of some Chicago soul food and keep an eye out for the history and architecture in the neighborhoods you visit.
– Alex Bean, Content Manager and Tour Guide