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Taste the Nation: A foodie’s road trip through the South

Forget the car snacks! Hit the road with us and discover the most authentic soul food across the South. | By Matt Villano | March 2, 2023

The heart of soul food is alive and well in the American South. Each state in the region is known for a different dish, utilizes different ingredients and has restaurants with standout takes on Southern food classics. Here’s a look at the specialties of five regions in the South, as well as a deep dive into some of the best spots for authentic soul food in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas.

  • Florida: Generations-old recipes are on the menu in the Sunshine State

  • Mississippi: Grab a spot at a communal table for a family-style soul food buffet

  • Texas: Go big with Texas-sized portions of soul food favorites like macaroni and cheese

South Carolina

Start your soul food road trip in South Carolina, where most restaurants specialize in Lowcountry cuisine, which includes gumbos, shrimp and grits, roasted local oysters and other iconic favorites like she-crab soup, a bisque-like concoction brimming with fresh crabmeat and roe.

One of the most legendary restaurants in the region is Bertha’s Kitchen in North Charleston. Founded in 1979, the no-frills eatery specializes in red rice with sausage, fried chicken, pork chops and macaroni and cheese.

For even more of a meat-focused experience, head to Big Bull’s Banging BBQ & Southern Comfort Food in Columbia, where you’ll feast on smoked chicken, smoked sausage, smoked ribs and pulled pork. Be sure to try the collard-green-and-smoked-chicken egg rolls.

Have a sweet tooth? Make your way to Embassy Suites by Hilton Greenville Downtown Riverplace, where no meal is complete without the sweet potato casserole from Ruth’s Chris Steak House. The combination of magical ingredients, including silky-sweet potatoes and crunchy pecan crust hits all the right notes.


Crank up the volume of your country music favorites as you drive south to Florida. Surrounded by water, the Sunshine State has soul food specialties that tend to revolve around fried fish and seafood — shrimp, catfish, tilapia and more.

Chef Stephanie Reaves runs the kitchen at Steph’s Southern Soul Restaurant in Dade City, and guests regularly line up around the block to get their fill. Among the favorites: Fried catfish, beef tips and chicken and dumplings.

Farmers Market Restaurant in Fort Myers has been serving big portions of homestyle dishes like slow-braised collard greens, ham hocks and meatloaf for 70 years, using recipes passed down from generation to generation.

Discover a truly Southern treat at Waldorf Astoria Orlando’s Bull & Bear. The award-winning steakhouse’s fried chicken is brined for 24 hours and cooked sous-vide before being flash fried with the skin on and fried again with cornmeal, cornflakes and buttermilk batter. The result is a mouthwatering dish that’s as tender and juicy on the inside as it is crispy on the outside.


Cross the border as you head up to Alabama. Perhaps most famous for its barbecue (it even has its own unique white barbecue sauce), this Southern state is also well known for many other soul food favorites like fried green tomatoes, classic smothered pork chops and tomato pie.

In Mobile, check out Mary’s Southern Cooking, a cafeteria-style eatery with classic dishes such as smothered pork chops and baked chicken, as well as turkey necks and chitterlings, which are cooked pig intestines.

Granny’s Fish ‘N Grits, in Birmingham, is a food truck, and people queue up for hours to sample fried catfish, hush puppies and cheesy grits slathered with bacon, sausage and shrimp.

For a more refined experience, head to CO/OP Community Table Bar inside Embassy Suites by Hilton Huntsville. You'll enjoy elevated Southern-styled dishes with a modern twist like a creamy and spicy pimento cheese appetizer and house-made bread and butter pickles by chef Luke Hawke.


Driving west, you’ll arrive in the Deep South state of Mississippi, where soul food is everywhere. Main courses are generally fried chicken and fried catfish, but the state is also famous for its enticing sides — fried okra, collard greens, black-eyed peas and cornbread, to name a few.

Ms. Audrey’s Southern Kitchen & Catering is in Gulfport on the Gulf of Mexico, which explains why the restaurant specializes in fried whole catfish, fried catfish strips, and fried shrimp. Chef Audrey Duncan also cooks up a famous gumbo.

Soul food is served buffet-style at Mama Hamil’s Southern Cookin’ & BBQ in Madison, north of Jackson. Options change daily but often include chicken and dumplings, turnip greens, pulled pork and fried oxtail. One of the best parts of dining at Mama Hamil’s is the communal tables, which means each meal comes with a side of new friends and good conversation.


On the final stretch of your Southern road trip, you’ll arrive in the Lone Star State. Soul food in Texas is big — literally. Portion sizes here are usually large enough to share. Many places specialize in fried chicken and the side dish-staple, macaroni and cheese.

Mikki’s Soul Food Cafe in Pearland is often ranked as the best soul food in Texas. Guests of this modest family-owned eatery swear by the smothered fried chicken, ham hocks, stuffed bell peppers baked tilapia and more.

In the heart of Texas, Canon and Belle, the restaurant at Hilton Austin, serves an unforgettable Pig and Biscuits made with crispy pork belly glazed with bourbon maple syrup. Warm and flavorful cheddar biscuits accompany the dish.

Dessert lovers flock to Yardbird restaurant in Dallas. Here, the Southern favorite banana pudding is transformed into a cheesecake, complete with chocolate cookie crust, whipped cream and chocolate sauce.

There are literally thousands of soul food offerings to sample across the South. Our advice? Go early, as most soul food restaurants only offer dishes until they sell out, and you’ll want to have your choice of the best.

Freelance writer and editor Matt Villano has covered Las Vegas for more than 20 years — he has authored and co-authored 13 guidebooks about the city.

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