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Heart and Soul: Northeast Soul Food Restaurants

soul food restaurants

Although it had been around long before it was given a name, the term “soul food” was first coined in the mid-1960s when “soul” was often used to describe African American culture. Like soul music, it speaks to the hearts of those who consume it, but more than that, it is deeply rooted in tradition and history – an authenticity both soul food restaurants and home cooks strive to convey.

“Soul food/Southern cooking is the storytelling of the Black experience and one of the biggest expressions of Black cooking in America,” said chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson.

Not all Southern food is soul food. Descended from enslaved Africans in the South, soul food is a distinctly African American cuisine. It is one of several traditional Black cultural cooking styles, including Cajun, Creole and low country.

The recipes passed down through generations of African American families are a connection to the resilience and resourcefulness of their ancestors. Chitterlings, fried chicken, candied yams, braised collards and other staples of the soul food repertoire were developed in the kitchens of newly emancipated cooks making the most of what they had. Homegrown crops such as okra, sweet potatoes, greens and beans – most of which were brought to the South during the trans-Atlantic slave trade, were inexpensive and easily accessible, as were game and offal.

”There are a lot of game meats that get forgotten about when it comes to soul food, and they are also a huge part of the experience,” pointed out Samuelsson, who serves classics like pan-fried catfish with black-eyed peas, shrimp and grits and fried yardbird at his restaurant Red Rooster Harlem.” The genius of using neck bones and other parts of the animal is symbolic of a great and creative cook.”

True to the metaphor, you could say that instead of making lemonade from lemons, Black communities made red drink (a soul food essential that also plays a symbolic role in Juneteenth celebrations).

A clear indication of good soul food is the ability to taste the love that goes into it. Delight in everything from cornbread to peach cobbler at these acclaimed Northeast soul food restaurants.

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Sylvia’s Restaurant  

New York

Founded by the late Sylvia Woods, “the Queen of Soul Food,” in 1962, Sylvia’s Restaurant is a Harlem institution. Sylvia’s family continues her legacy, welcoming all walks of life into the restaurant and making them feel at home. Locals, tourists, celebrities, dignitaries and even former President Barack Obama have enjoyed its famous barbecue ribs, Carolina-style fried catfish and fried chicken.

Fellow Harlemite Samuelsson is also a fan. “Since the pandemic, many amazing and historical soul food restaurants have been forced to close,” he said. “A bright example of a soul food restaurant that has survived, and notably one of my favorites, is Sylvia’s in Harlem. Sylvia’s is going on 60 years and is a staple in our community.”

Visit on Gospel Sundays for brunch or Wednesdays for live music.


New Brunswick, N.J.

Delta’s celebrates the food, music and spirit of the South. High ceilings, exposed brick and lounge seating set the vibe.

The menu features soul standards like smothered chicken and pork chops, barbecue ribs and oxtails, mixed in with twists like a Southern-inspired steamed dumpling starter and mac-and-cheese crab rolls. Spinach dip lovers will appreciate Delta’s version made with collard greens. And for dessert, red velvet cake, banana pudding and sweet potato pie will send you off with a smile.

On weekends, the space is amplified by live bands and DJs. Take in the lively atmosphere at night with a signature cocktail or come and relax on Sunday for brunch.

soul food

Sandra’s Next Generation

New Haven, Conn.

While you’ll find all the usual soul foods on the menu at this cozy New Haven restaurant deliciously and lovingly prepared, the fried chicken is said to be among the best in New Haven.

Chef Sandra Pittman, who owns and operates Sandra’s Next Generation with her husband Miguel and family, has perfected her mother’s signature fried chicken recipe. Marinated in spices for fully saturated flavor, crispy and served hot, Colonel Sanders can’t even compete.

Fill up with the church plate, which allows you to choose an entree and four sides. All meals are complemented with cornbread that’s baked fresh each day.

Darryl’s Corner Bar and Kitchen


Come to this neighborhood spot to meet up with friends, hang out, sip on a cocktail and enjoy live music and entertainment.

Through different names and owners, the corner of Columbus Avenue has been a landmark for soul food for over six decades. Owner and Boston native Nia Grace has seen to it that the heritage endures at Darryl’s Corner Bar and Kitchen. As co-founder of the Boston Black Hospitality Coalition, she is also a champion of Black-owned restaurants in the city.

Start with the soul food tacos filled with fried chicken or catfish. For a sampling of all your favorites, get the chicken or catfish “Bob the Chef” meal (named for the location’s original restaurant) with your choice of two sides. On Sundays the restaurant offers a fixed-price, all-you-can eat buffet (reduced price for seniors and kids 6-12).

Based on your suggestions, we also recently visited Kin Southern Table + Bar in Providence, R.I. Check out our video and recommendations.

What soul food restaurants do you love? Tell us in the comments.


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29 Thoughts on “Heart and Soul: Northeast Soul Food Restaurants

  1. Sandra’s Next Generation in New Haven is the best! We drive an hour and a half to eat there. The fried chicken is like my grandma’s.
    If you are in New Haven, go to Sandra’s!

  2. Definitely, The Happy Birthday Kafe, 1076 Main Ave, Clifton Nj. Best Soulfood hands down. I caught a flat in Nj. While waiting to get my tire fixed, I decided to take a stroll through the neighborhood and stumbled upon this place. I ate one meal. And went back for another.

  3. If you’re in Providence Rhode Island you should try KIN Southern Table and Bar, great vibes, Catfish, Chicken and Waffels and specialty drinks with family edge, 71 Washington St, Downtown Providence.

  4. I frequented “Bob the chef” back in the day. A dinner once a month with my fiance now husband. Thank you so much
    for the reminder. As we know sometimes we forget to do what we always have loved. We will be at “Daryls” soon.

    Helena and Ricky

  5. Has anyone been to the Ellington restaurant in Lower Harlem/Morningside Heights? 2745 Broadway at 105th. Not specifically soul food and somewhat upscale but the food is absolutely sumptuous and the service is impeccable. I was there to see a client perform jazz and I would go again, even from where I live almost forty miles north.

  6. Agree with the recommendation for KIN in Providence . Food is delicious and the owner is a young woman who grew up in Providence, saw a gap and is working hard to enhance the community through meaningful events alongside great cooking.

  7. The Bayou, in Bethlehem, PA, is worth driving from LI, NY for-it’s one of the most delicious restaurants we’ve ever eaten at. The best fried chicken (crispy, juicy, flavorful, fall off the bone good!), mouth watering collards, cornbread that I’d rather have than birthday cake, and desserts…even when full, they’re irresistible. Warm, friendly service, generous portions, and good prices. We might move to PA, so we can eat there more often. Don’t miss this, off the beaten path delight.

  8. Carolina Kitchen -several locations in DC and Maryland)

    Maryland Restaurants-
    Ruby’s Soul Food Restaurant-Bowie,MD
    Milk n’ Honey- MD and DC locations
    Kitchen Cray- DC, MD and VA locations

    1. Not in RI, but not too far away, in New Bedford MA: The Soul Food Kitchen, located at the rear of The United House of Prayer for All People. Wonderful folks cooking absolutely delicious (comparable to any I’ve had anywhere) soul food to raise money for the church. It’s a win all around. Open Saturdays and Sundays.

  9. Biscuits & Barbeque in Mineola, NY has great soul food! Best gumbo, jambalaya, smoked bbq, collards and all made from scratch desserts!

  10. Mind Body and Soul Food of Meriden Ct definitely deserves a mention in this article about soul food. They have all the usual comfort foods you’ll find on a menu that serves soul foods. They have great fried chicken and their fish dinner is great too. All of the sides including collard greens and Mac and cheese and yams that I have tried have been great too. It’s a pretty new little place but highly recommended.

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