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Nothing says down home cooking quite like soul food. For anyone confused about the term, soul food references a kind of cuisine inspired by regional foods in the Southeastern part of the United States. Specifically, soul food gets its roots from traditional African-American cuisine, which is also where it gets its name.

Soul food is big on flavor and proud to use some uncommon, but traditionally affordable, ingredients. Some of the traditional components of soul food are imported from Africa by slaves desperate to hold on to their culture. Other aspects were borrowed from Native American dishes, including the use of corn, grits and smoked meats. For many, the iconic soul food meal is likely homemade fried chicken, pasta salad (or macaroni and cheese), collard greens, black-eyed peas, fried okra and cornbread.

Other common soul food dishes include chicken fried steak, fatback (a cured, fatty pork that is heavily salted and slow-cooked), fried fish, turkey necks, pork ribs, ham hocks (smoked, pickled or boiled pigs; feet), hog jowl (pork cheeks) and chitterlings, which are slow-cooked pig intestines. Popular side dishes include Hoppin; John (rice and black-eyed peas or field peas), mustard greens, sweet potatoes, turnip greens, grits, hushpuppies (deep fried cornmeal balls) and cobbler or pie for dessert.

Soul food is warming, filling and earthy. It typically has a range of flavors, thanks to heavy seasoning and lots of pork used in side dishes. There are several excellent Soul Food restaurants around San Diego, if you know where to look.

The Best Spot for Chicken and Waffles

StreetCar Merchants of Fried Chicken, Doughnuts &  Coffee
Location: 4002 30th Street
Hours: Monday-Thursday: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Price: $$

Craving amazing fried chicken or another soul food dish? StreetCar Merchants of
Fried Chicken Doughnuts & Coffee in North Park is serving up crave-able dishes every day of the week! You can order up original fried chicken and waffles, with everything from plain waffles to sweet potato, cornbread or red velvet waffles. They also offer massive buttermilk biscuits and some creative and flavorful sandwiches, like the Nashvillian Po Boy, featuring coleslaw, pickles and, of course, hot popcorn chicken.

Their chicken is free range and cooked to order, so it comes out piping hot and full of flavor. You can order traditional Southern fried chicken, from gizzards and fried chicken skins on up to whole chickens. There’s also Nashville Hot Chicken, which is seasoned to be flaming hot and served with pickle chips. They even offer whole wings, served Southern style, Nashville hot or twice fried with salt and pepper. Their 7 Deadly Sins wings are so spicy that a waiver is required when you order them. They’ll also provide you with a small glass of milk.

StreetCar Merchants offers house sodas and floats, as well as side dishes such as fried green tomatoes, collard greens, mac and cheese and Creole sausage gravy. You won’t be leaving this place hungry!

Seafood Gumbo and Veggie Jambalaya at Cane Patch

Cane Patch Kitchen
Location: 2820 Historic Decatur Rd.
Hours: Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday: 8 a.m. to 8
p.m., Sunday: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Price: $$

If you want both soul food and Creole/Cajun dishes, then Cane Patch Kitchen; located in the Liberty Public Market, should be your first destination! They offer several traditional Cajun dishes, like seafood gumbo and either chicken and sausage or veggie jambalaya. You can also find some great soul food flavors on their menu.

There is an assortment of Po Boy sandwiches, featuring plenty of fun and unique options for protein. Served on a six-inch roll with lettuce, tomato and pickles and topped with sauce, these sandwiches will make you feel anything but poor. Order with your choice of crispy fried or grilled chicken, fish, alligator, shrimp or oysters.

If you’re in the mood for salad, Cane Patch Kitchen has you covered! There’s chicken salad, fish salad, shrimp salad and a garden salad on the menu, all served with lettuce, tomato, onion and cucumber. They also serve baskets with hot links, chicken, fish, shrimp, oysters or alligator, along with a side dish or bread. Their sides are definitely soul food inspired! You can pick from red beans and rice, macaroni and cheese, steak fries, collard greens, potato salad and sweet potato fries. Finish your meal off with a slice of sweet potato pie and a sweet tea or strawberry lemonade.

Soul Food Like Mama Used to Make

Sister Pee Wee’s Soul Food
Location: 2971 Imperial Avenue
Hours: Monday-Saturday: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Closed Sunday
Price: $

Whether you’re craving some homestyle fried chicken or smothered pork chops, Sister Pee Wee’s can take care of you. The menu changes every day, so you need to be flexible about the dishes you’re looking for. This is a small place, so although they do have a few seats, you will probably want to take your food to go, especially if you’re with your family or friends. The small space has a vintage feel, with an old Coke machine and a collection of art and bumper stickers.

You should plan to stop by an ATM before your visit, because Sister Pee Wee’s Soul Food doesn’t take credit cards or any kind of mobile payments. You won’t even mind the extra stop, once you stock up on her daily offerings.

The rotating menu includes such staples as fried catfish, fried or smothered steak and pork chops, and, of course, fried chicken. For really affordable prices, you’ll get a plate overflowing with a flavorful, probably fried, protein and several sides. Rice with gravy, macaroni and cheese, collard greens and cornbread are frequently available. Drink offerings are limited to Kool-Aid and water, but sugary punch pairs well with the savory, flavorful foods here.

Schoolboy Q "Collard Greens" on repeat. Thanks Sister Pee Wee!

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Catch this SoulCal Stop if You Can!

Soul Cal Pit Stop
Location: Food truck around Golden Hill
Hours: Varies, generally early morning through late evening (5 a.m. to 11 p.m.)
Price: $$

The Soul Cal Pit Stop isn’t always where you’d expect it to be, but when you find it, you’ve found flavor! This food truck is definitely worth hunting down. You can often find it at special events, as well as at local breweries and businesses. It offers Southern dishes and some Jamaican-inspired flavors as well. There’s BBQ chicken, BBQ beef, baked beans, potato salad and cooked collard greens on the menu. You can also order up a side of tater tots or even deep fried pickles.

If you’d prefer something a little more tropical, you can try a Jerk Chicken Sandwich or a Jerk Burger. Both are smothered with a sauce and mango salsa. Other options include Jerk chicken drumettes, a BBQ chicken sandwich, fire fried chicken tenders, a bacon wrapped hot dog or cole slaw. This truck also does breakfast. You can start your day with a burrito stuffed with hash browns, eggs, cheese and your choice of bacon, sausage, chorizo or steak. They do cater special events, and you can request BBQ veggie burgers for catering to ensure vegetarians have a flavorful option.