When it comes to Southern cuisine in Los Angeles, the lion’s share of attention goes to barbecue: long-winded debates comparing the soot-covered barrel smokers of Bludso’s or Phillip’s, or the proper peppery tang of Big Mista’s secret sauce. And if barbecue isn’t the topic, then perhaps someone will bring up Roscoe’s Chicken n’ Waffles, a southern-style greasy spoon that is by any measure a Los Angeles institution know for it’s half-hour waits and celebrity endorsements as much as it’s food. The truth is Los Angeles is home to an impressive collection of traditional Southern Soul Food restaurants that extend well beyond the BBQ shacks or the heavy-treaded diner chains slinging plates of chicken and waffles. Though soul food can trace it’s origins to African-American culture, it has undoubtedly woven itself into the national palette as nostalgia-inducing comfort cuisine: crunchy fried chicken smothered in onions and brown gravy, stewed greens seasoned with tender pits of pork, cloyingly sweet pieces of peach cobbler topped with ice cream. Dishes are cooked low and slow and, as any southern chef will insist, rely on care, patience and heart in order to be called true soul food.
Marked by a large red awning in downtown Inglewood, Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen bristles with the constant traffic of locals. Adolf Dulan and his extended family work the kitchen; moving back and forth to ladle large vats of black-eyed peas, or slices of brick-red meatloaf just pulled from the oven, into a length of steam tables that line the restaurant. Food here is served cafeteria style. As a rule of thumb, eating out of steam trays may not be the preferred option, but soul food lends it self well to the preparation. The fried chicken and fried fish, though made to order, but still fall a bit short of some of the other deep-fry specialists found in the area. If you do order chicken, or better yet the inch-thick roasted pork chop, it is best to ask for them smothered in Dulan’s dense peppery gravy which if let cool overnight will serve as a suitable replacement for spackling paste. Collard greens are an absolute necessity here, and the sole reason why you see a bottle of garlic-spiked vinegar on every table. They are cooked to the perfect level of tenderness, releasing their rich, mineral flavor cut by the addition of fatty flecks of pork. The candied yams, steeped with liberal does of brown sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon, yield easily when split by a fork and give off that pungent spice smell reminiscent of a family holiday. Regardless though, you will probably end up choosing whatever arrives hot from the kitchen as you step to the counter. Order a dinner and for a little over $10 you can get a box overflowing with food, including 3 sides and two softball-sized piece of moist cornbread wrapped tightly in tin foil. A few tables are available, but the emphasis here seems to be on taking food to-go. Not surprising when you consider that the meals here often could send a small family reeling.
In the sprawling South Bay city of Carson, not far from home field of the LA Galaxy, lies R&R Soul Food. Wedged between a KFC (God Forbid!) and a donut shop, R&R Soul Food used to be an outpost of the popular chain M&M Soul Food before it was bought out by the the restaurant’s cooks; after which the M’s were quickly swapped for R’s on the sign out front. In stark contrast to Dulan’s, the waitresses here advise you to get comfy at a table once you arrive. They make no bones about the food taking a while to come out of the kitchen. After all, great soul food should always be unapologetic. Luckily, tall glasses of molasses tinged sweet tea and fine-crumbed corn muffins arrive first to help bide the time. The oxtails here are glorious: roasted until the meat separates from the bone and the savory gobs of marrow melt indistinguishably into the dark gravy. The baked chicken comes submerged in a smokey and spicy sauce, slow cooked until the juicy bits of chicken peel off in large chunks. The sides are exceptional as well: molten, creamy scoops of mac n’ cheese, sweet buttered corn, smoky greens, and candied yams that taste heavenly for those with a sweet tooth. If you’re not in a rush, R&R should be your top choice for a laid-back southern meal, if only for the fact that this is one of the few places in the city to find chitterlings, crispy tubes of deep-fried pig intestine. A gross out for some, but a godsend for others. Whatever the case, the soul food here is spot-on in flavor and philosophy. Soul food may come from the heart, but after a sample of what LA has to offer it’s fair to say: “Tastes So Good, Make You Wanna Slap Yo Mama.”
Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen
202 E Manchester Blvd
Inglewood, CA 90312
R&R Soul Food Restaurant
18427 Avalon Blvd
Carson, CA 90746