Southern by nature, spicy by virtue and delicious by all standards. Soul food is the ultimate comfort food. The depth of flavors in the seemingly innocuous ingredients is an art form that few can master. Ham hocks, chitterlings, smothered oxtails and mac and cheese, catfish, okra and lima beans round out some of the usual soul food suspects. To bring out the best in Houston soul food, enjoying soul food with friends and family is a must. In fact, families run a number of Houston soul food restaurants and some patrons swear you can taste the love in each dish. Below are a few of our favorite restaurants to enjoy hearty home cooking.

Esther’s Soul Food and Cajun Cafe

Esther’s Soul Food and Cajun Café serves up daily specials such as shrimp and crawfish étoufée and smothered Cajun pork chops. Esther also opened a new restaurant, Esther’s Signature boasting a true soul food brunch. Guests will find chicken and waffles and one favorite: fish and cheese grits with buttery toast. Don’t be surprised if you run into someone who is related to “Queen Esther” because most of her family works both the front of the house and the back.

Mikki Cafe

Mikki’s Café Soul Food Restaurant has been serving the Southwest side of Houston since 2000. The family-run restaurant was founded by Jeanette Williams and her children. Menu items include smothered pork chops covered in thick, rich brown gravy and served over white rice. The ox tails are seasoned to perfection and include three sides. Side item choices include collard greens, mac and cheese, candied yams, broccoli cheese rice casserole, green beans, okra and tomatoes, red beans and more. Talk about comfort food. Mikki’s Famous Fried Catfish is served on Friday and Sunday only, so mark your calendars!

Turkey Leg Hut

What’s in a name? For the Turkey Leg Hut, their name is part of their signature dish. Turkey legs reign supreme at this restaurant with slow smoked turkey legs that you can stuff with homemade dirty rice or kick up the flavor with one of their many sauce options. They even offer a Hennessy or Ciroc Mango glaze. Further, there’s the Cajun classic boudin or the deep fried boudin balls, which are not to be missed. Of course, what’s a soul food menu without fried catfish, which is served with their seasoned waffle fries. We think you’ll agree that this is food that’s good for the soul.

Houston’s This Is It Soul Food

This Is It was founded in 1959 in the Freedmen’s Town area of Houston and dishes out delicious soul food to a diverse mix of customers. On any given day, you’ll see the restaurants regulars to politicians and out of town guests who heard about the restaurant’s legendary soul food. Started by over 60 years ago by Frank and Mattie Jones, This Is It is now run by grandson Craig Joseph. Menu specials include fork tender braised ox tails with two-time “People’s Choice” award-winning baked macaroni and cheese, and slightly sweet cornbread muffins. Don’t forget to try the banana pudding!

Punk’s Simple Southern Food

Soul food doesn’t always mean paper plates and counter service. At Punk’s Simple Southern Food, it doesn’t matter if your craving southern staples or Low Country classics, they’ve got it all on the menu in a fun and inviting atmosphere. Located in upscale Rice Village, Punk’s has fried chicken, shrimp and grits, meat loaf, chicken fried steak, deviled eggs and hush puppies, all of which can be paired with a cocktail like the super southern Punk’s julep or hospitali-tea. Watch the game, grab a drink and indulge at this soul food site.

Kulture

Taking soul food and giving it a unique twist, is Kulture, located on Avenidas de las Americas in Downtown Houston. Kulture explores food, spirits, art and music through cultural contributions of the African diaspora, including the southern states and Carribbean. Guests can expect exciting changes to the typical spices and ingredients usually associated with soul food. However, not straying too far, guests can still enjoy shareable plates of fried okra and pork skin cracklin’ or indulge in entrées like the oxtail ragout or chicken with friend crawfish popover. Rounding out the menu are classic desserts like bread pudding and buttermilk pie.