Soul food is a big part of the food scene in Detroit, with bistros, restaurants, and carry-out places spread across the city’s neighborhoods. Steeped in tradition and authenticity, these 10 spots all feature recipes handed down from generation to generation, so if it’s catfish, collards, and cornbread you’re after, you need look no further.
Steve’s has over 30 years of history, first opened in 1986 by former Detroit police officer Steve Radden. In a historic building in the Warehouse District, it serves up generous portions of chicken, pork, beef and seafood alongside all the sides and a long list of desserts. It also has a lounge and bar, the Key Club, upstairs.
Savannahblue's famous Braised Oxtail | Courtesy of Savannahblue
Promising Southern flavors presented with Detroit style, Savannahblue is a high-end restaurant with a “contemporary northern soul food” menu. Its entrées, including braised oxtail, shrimp and grits and Motor City boil (mussels steamed in cajun broth), are on the pricey side, but the service and setting make it a must-try.
Over on the west side of the city, Sterling’s promises “the sweetest and most sultry taste around,” with its menu developed from old family recipes and Southern tradition. Specialities include the St. Louis-style ribs, beef brisket, and the Southern fried chicken, all of which are best enjoyed with all the fixins.
You can’t argue with anywhere that promises to cook the same way your grandmother did, and J’s specializes in “real down-home Southern-style soul food.” It’s been around since 1983, and this little café with a big menu offers soul food dinners including turkey chops, perch, baked ham, salmon patties, and neck bones.
This modest takeout counter is walk-in only but worth the wait because, as Ms. E-Vee’s says, “fast food ain’t good & good food ain’t fast!” Its “All Time Favorites” specials menu includes huge combos of meat or fish loaded with mac and cheese, greens, yams and more, and almost everything comes with cornbread.
Another carry-out-only place with locations in Detroit and Oak Park, Motor City Soul Food was started by George and Martha Clay, who brought their authentic cooking to the city from Mississippi. It featured on Andrew Zimmern’s Travel Channel show Bizarre Foods in 2012 when he tried the oxtails, chitlins, and okra.
“Vegan soul food?” That’s right. Though vegan food isn’t often thought of as comfort food, and soul food isn’t thought of as healthy food, Detroit Vegan Soul has merged the two with tasty results. There are two locations—one east and one west—with menus featuring vegan versions of staples such as hush puppies, cornbread muffins, “catfish” tofu, and okra stew.
Is there any better name for a soul food restaurant than Beans & Cornbread? Since opening in 1997 in Southfield, it has been regularly named among the best Southern food in the city. A local favorite that’s not on the menu is the Swamp Thing, which is fried catfish, collard greens, and gumbo over rice, with two jumbo shrimp to top it all off.
Adding a signature twist to recipes that have been passed down for generations, Uptown BBQ & Soulfood has been serving up some of the city’s best BBQ for over 25 years. House favorites include the rib & shrimp combo, the BBQ Chicken featuring the house BBQ sauce which has not changed since it opened, and the smothered pork chops.
Up on 8 Mile, Detroit Soul’s specialties include fried or smothered pork chops, meatloaf, and turkey wings, all served with two of 12 available sides and a cornbread muffin. Weekend specials include a variety of fried fish and slabs of ribs. Call ahead to avoid a wait.