When enslaved people adapted recipes from their home countries to the ingredients available in the developing United States, they were creating fusion cuisine long before the term or culinary niche existed. Southern comfort food also mixed several cooking traditions. Learn about both styles of cuisine by digging in at these spots.
Many diners skip the history lesson when it comes to soul food, but it’s important to note that a lot of the dishes we enjoy today were developed on Southern plantations. Enslaved Africans worked to use undesirable cuts of meat and vegetable scraps, crafting recipes that kept their families fed. Thin meals were made hearty by stewing meats and greens, making gravies, and cooking with animal fats to provide enough sustenance to labor in the ﬁelds. Preparing meals was communal, with older generations orally sharing recipes to connect their children to the food of their ancestors. Their tenacity and will to survive meant the food was cooked with soul.
In North Carolina, multigenerational recipes are integral to soul food restaurants. Hanan Shabazz ran her own restaurant in Asheville in the ’70s before becoming a mentor to Benne on Eagle chef de cuisine Ashleigh Shanti and executive chef John Fleer, who aspire to follow the ethos of Sankofa: looking back to move forward with reclaimed traditions. The restaurant’s innovative takes on soul food include the braised beef cheeks with sticky rice and kimchi. Wash it down with a refreshing cocktail.
Appalachian cuisine (bring on the butter) and low-country favorites (seafood all the way) join forces to create a palate-pleasing blend of dining experiences at these restaurants across the state.
1 Ilda and Meatballs in Jackson County
1 Ilda and Meatballs in Jackson CountySylvaSee on map
The unique marriage of Italian and Southern Appalachian flavors is the foundation of Ilda, where husband-and-wife duo Santiago and Crystal recreate comfort food you used to savor at your grandmother’s house. Be sure to order the meatballs; it's a special recipe passed down from Crystal’s stepmom, Karen, who used to own a beloved pizzeria called Meatballs in the exact same building where Ilda now resides. To make these meals even more heartwarming, Santiago and Crystal re-established Meatballs Pizzeria in downtown Sylva in 2023, ensuring Karen’s legacy lives on.
2 Circa 1800 Restaurant & Bar
3 Mayberry Restaurant
4 Bout Thyme Kitchen
5 Bay Sire Bistro
Comfort food is a universal language, as proven by this duo of deliciousness.
7 The Chef and the Frog
7 The Chef and the FrogWhitevilleSee on map
Chef Sokun Nuon-Slama and her husband, Guillaume Slama, pour their hearts – and their respective Cambodian and French heritage – into every dish. Local ingredients get boosts from Thai chilies, rice vinegar and ginger. Try Cambodian beef for dinner, and the tartelette du jour (tart of the day) for dessert.
8 Jamaica Cuisine Cafe
8 Jamaica Cuisine CafeSnow HillSee on map
Enjoy traditional Jamaican dishes like snapper escovitch, spicy curry goat, stewed oxtails and jerk chicken. Chef and owner Viviene Buckley-Ball travels to and from her home island to bring the spices and herbs of her childhood to this inner coastal town.
Feed your imagination with more mouth-watering dining ideas at The Official 2023 North Carolina Travel Guide.