If you’ve ever been to the southern United States, you’ll know that, there, tastes lean towards natural states. Boots are made of leather, tables are made of wood, and food – which aims to soothe the soul – is often cooked on grills. Soul Food House delivers that peaceful healing to the busy metropolis of Tokyo. Time slows down as you savor their flavors and, for a moment, you forget the outside world.
The restaurant got part of its start in the owners’ home. Receiving abundant praise for the Thanksgiving dinners they hosted for over ten years, David and LaTonya Whitaker were encouraged to open a restaurant of their own. David had also been hosting two open mics but, eventually, both of them shut down. The need for an outlet for both the music and the food fused and gave birth to a music café. Their first attempt failed but, from the ashes, they had learned all they needed to conjure up success. The final motivation came when LaTonya was pregnant, and realized that she constantly craved food she could not find in Tokyo.
Soul Food House’s menu boasts an extensive array of mouth-watering southern staples, but David recommends their catfish. He explains that it’s a fickle creature, one that requires careful selection, seasoning and cooking – a process that many fail to grasp. Soul Food House has it down to a science, using their very own cornmeal batter that they prepare and sell in-house. LaTonya extols their vegetarian fare, explaining that most people don’t realize that soul food can be meat-free. “A lot of people who have invested in us are vegetarian, and we wanted to make sure they were well taken care of. Some of their favorites are dishes that are vegan as well.” A quick sampling of a few of these options proves that they are not the bland meat substitutes so common in western cuisine. Their Spicy Eggplant Blue Slider explodes in your mouth with a refreshing twist. Blue cheese, tomato and red wine flavors mingle with a bit of home-made hot sauce, and are crowned with lettuce and a bun. Their Mac ’n Cheese sits in a lovely creamy sauce, capped by a full-flavored, baked cheddar crust.
LaTonya also says that David is a master drink mixer, praising his sweet tea cocktails. His Sangria Sweet Tea must be tasted to be believed, and his Bottom Shelf Superior packs a kick with floral flair. “How is their meat?!” a carnivore might cry. Their ribs melt in your mouth like a fine barbecue, a feat David attributes to their home-made rub, slow oven-roasting, and finishing on a grill. When asked if they plan on branching out, David confesses that Soul Food House is focused on creating strong relationships with its current clientele. They also plan to sell products that will allow customers to make Soul Food House meals at home. For now, however, enjoy their oasis in Azabu-Jūban, or have UberEATS deliver to wherever you are.
Photos by E.H. Tiernan