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Top places to eat Soul Food in Charleston

a tray of food on a plate

Ever heard of the term “Soul Food?” Well, if you want to sample some of the best food in that category, Charleston is the perfect place to visit! Known as made-from-scratch, home-cooked, stick-to-your-ribs traditional dishes prepared in the rural south, this type of food does just what the name implies – it fills your soul and your belly! And, Charleston quite simply hits the ball out of the park when it comes to this style of food.

Coined in the 1960s during the height of the Civil Rights movement, this reference surfaced around the same time as terms such as “soul music,” “soul brother,” and “soul sister.” This was part of an effort by black Americans to reestablish ties with their African ancestry. While the term came about during the 20th century, the food itself came long before.

During the years of slavery, it was common for enslaved Africans to rely on whatever resources were available to prepare meals, which were often humble, simple ingredients such as beans, cornmeal and greens, as well as the leftover or undesirable cuts of meat from their masters. They were able to grow vegetables and to hunt and fish to help supplement meal ingredients. Hunting usually entailed small animals such as squirrel, rabbit or opossum. Even after slavery was abolished in 1865, the formerly enslaved continued to use the basic foods of a laborer.

Over time these humble ingredients began to take on varying regional flavors and to be reinvented into a variety of concoctions. Favorite family recipes were passed down through the generations. Cookbooks abound with some of these historical recipes, as well as new twists on time-honored favorites.

It’s important to note that all soul food is southern food, but not all southern food is soul food as shared by the author of “Soul Food Cookbook,” Bob Jeffries. Some indicate that soul food has a more intense flavor as well, but the differences can be subtle.

So, what dishes epitomize “soul food?”

Like any well-rounded meal, a classic soul food meal would include a main entrée such as fried chicken, fish or pork; a side dish such as some version of sweet potatoes, black-eyed peas or greens; a bread such as cornbread or biscuits; iced tea and dessert such as sweet potato pie or a cobbler.

Of course, the very best way to sample this delectable type of food is to join us on one of our culinary tours! We have a variety of tours to fit your time and tastes. You will not only eat the best that the locals enjoy, but you will rub shoulders with all of our favorite restaurant owners. Your taste buds will thank you! Be sure to book early as our tours often fill up!

And, now, for some of our favorite locations to get the best Soul Food you will ever eat!

Hannibal’s Kitchen
Known as a place where the locals hang out, the name “Hannibal” was the nickname of the family patriarch, Robert Lawrence Huger. Huger says the family-owned and operated restaurant has “been feeding the soul of the city” for more than 40 years because what the restaurant lacks in ambiance, they more than makeup for in taste. Over time the restaurant has become known for seafood dishes such as salmon, shrimp and shark steak (one of their best-sellers!) You can also expect what Huger describes as southern ethnic classics like lima beans, okra soup, fried chicken, pork chops, and collard greens.
Martha Lou’s Kitchen
For 30 years, Martha Lou’s Kitchen has been serving up roll-your-eyes-it’s-so-good soul food in style and their little pink building is worthy to note! Praised by The New York Times, The Travel Channel, and Martha Stewart as pure southern comfort food, this restaurant is enjoyed by locals alike. Expect the classics — fried chicken, lima beans, mac and cheese, fish, pork chops and barbecue ribs all have their place on the menu. Be sure to check the menu as each day offers a slightly different fare.
Born out of a family crisis, Nana’s Seafood and Soul is built on a story of family unity and perseverance as well as a loyal clientele that come back time and again for the delicious food offered in this eatery. Carolyn McNeil was battling breast cancer for the second time when her son decided to invest in a family business in order to be with his mother during her treatments. Serving fresh seafood from the waters of Charleston and surrounding areas, daily specials are also offered so there is always a spread of delectable goodness.
Nigel’s Good Food
The goal for Nigel and Louse Drayton when opening their restaurant was to provide excellent service in an upscale restaurant in North Charleston, where all can enjoy Charleston’s favorite dishes including seafood and soul food. And, most definitely they have achieved that. With Nigel’s experience working at several restaurants and his award-winning recipes (his oyster stew is on his menu), Nigel creates delectable, mouth-watering dishes inspired by the recipes he grew up eating.
EastSide Soul Food
A mom and pop shop frequented by locals and reminiscent of dining in your grandma’s kitchen, you can expect friendly customer service and home-cooked eats. EastSide Soul Food is a staple among locals and serves up favorites like bbq baked chicken, white rice over lima beans, bbq ribs, red rice, greens, Mac and cheese, and meatloaf.
Workmen’s Cafe
Simple and unpretentious buffet-style dining, this little eatery will have you coming back for more. Expect yummy eats such as lima beans, red rice, mac n cheese, fried fish, shrimp, chicken, pork chops, bbq tips, okra and veggie gumbo, cornbread, salads and desserts.
Bertha’s Kitchen
Simple, homebaked goodness in a bright, homey kitchen-style cafe. Look for the lunch special with lima beans over white rice, baked or fried chicken, cornbread and lemonade. Another local favorite!
As you can see, there is no shortage of good eats in Charleston and the soul food is a specialty!
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