Ate at Heaven on Seven today for maybe the thousandth time. Jimmy Banos, the owner, was on the line and the food could not have been better. If New Orleans qualifies as "southern" than this restaurant is the best "southern cooking" in Chicago. Southern does not mean soul food neccesarily. Southern can include, creole, cajun, low country and many other cooking styles. Much soul and barbeque style cooking is as much northern as southern.
With regards to the food, here is the following:
Gumbo is as good as anywhere. I lived in New Orleans for 3 years and never found anything measurably better. If you ask someone from Louisiana who makes the best Gumbo they would say "my momma" anyhow, this is great.
Ettoufee is as good as you are ever going to get north of sheveport. He does all styles right, i love mardi gras, even the gator meat etouffee is great.
Chicken Fried steak. See it to believe it
Po'Boys: ALL of the seafood poboys are great. Jimmy fries shrimp and oysters the south louisiana way, which is not greasy. I love the crab cakes which are made out of big lumps of crap rather than cast offs.
Basically everything that he does is authentic with the exception of the pastas, and those arent authentic only because he developed those dishes on his own. I like all of his pasta and especially like the fact that most of it is rooted in a more traditional southern or south louisiana recipe (i.e remoulade, bbq shrimp, etc)
All in all you have to try heaven on Seven more than once and sample more than the Louisiana Soul Deluxe. By the way, the restaurant is anything but touristy. it is on the seventh floor of the Garland bldg where the office coffee shop used to be. This is a businessman's lunch place above all else, the number of regular local dinners that eat there on a daily basis is the surest proof.
Personally, I like Heaven on Seven. I'm not sure how other hounds rate it -- it's obviously not soul food, and is a bit of a tourist trap -- but I like their gumbo and especially enjoy the dinner entrees off of their "specials" list.
Avoid the po'boys and jambalaya and go for the more upscale menu items, and I think you'll find that they do a great job with fish dishes (halibut, tilapia), and different variations of the pork chop.
They also have a decent brunch with many southern breakfast items.
And, there's always Dixie Kitchen and Bait Shop which has a range of southern specialties from fried green tomatoes to catfish po'boys, one in Harper Court and the other at 825 Church Street in Evanston. I've never been to the Evanston branch but I've rarely been disappointed in the original Hyde Park venue. Since they don't take reservations except for groups, be prepared to wait on prime dining hours. Their site's below.
The Slow Food Guide to dining in Chicago is now available in most major bookstores. It's a really great guide with many of the entries written or inspired by pareticipants in the Chowhound and LTH Forums.
It has great sections on both soul food and barbeque with some unique recommendations.
As a native southerner, I asked myself the same thing often when i moved to Chicago. There are some great soul food places on the south side including some of those mentioned.
I'm not a big fan of Wishbone. The food is really overpriced for what it is there. It is also quite inconsistent.
If you're looking for barbeque, there are a number of excellent options on the North side including Merle's in Evanston (excellent) and Fat Willie's of Western Ave. fat Willies makes a kick ass barbeque chicken though I'm not so fond of their ribs.
For southern style food on the North side, I much prefer Stanley's Tap on Armitage with its excellent fried chicken and sides to Wishbone. It''s unfair to call either of these places soul.
On the southside, both barbeque and soul are abundant. Some of the better takeout rib places that I like are Lems on 75th St., Ribs Unlimited on 79th Street, and Barbara Ann's on Cottage Grove.
Good sould food can be found on the west side at OT's on Division at Cicero. Go during lunch when items are fresher and ask them to spice conservatively as they can go overboard with the salt.
Morrisons and Johnson's Soul Food are within a block of each other on Ashland Avenue in the South 80s. Very nice folks fix very good soul food at both places. Johnson's tends to be a bit timid on seasoning. However, they make great greens and candied Sweets.
Down in Dolton, IL, right off of I-57 is Dustie's Soul Food Buffet. Really excellent choices every day including fried chicken, country style steak, ham hocks, sausage, fish, great veggies and salad bar. Its all you can eat for around $10.
There's a good small chain on the south side called BJ's Bakery and Market. They have an excellent mustard fried catfish. Veggies are seasoned with smoked turkey rather than pork.
I heartily endorse the recomendation Edna's on the west side for great biscuits, breakfasts and desserts.
Honey 1 barbeque on the west side is excellent and a favorite of many on this board.
Finally, way down Western Ave at 118th Street, there is an excellent southern style bakery caled AM's Sweet Lil Me Me's. They have awesome pecan pies, excellent caramel cakes, and excellet cobblers.
I've no first-hand experience with any of the following places, except Wishbone years ago, but I've seen mentions on this board of these places which might have Southern-style cooking. You could search using the names of these restaurants. Also try searching for posts by JeffB.
Wishbone--yuppified Southern food, some say
McArthurs--soul food on the West Side
Army & Lou's--soul food on the South Side
And a fond R.I.P. for Savannah's, which once served Low Country food on W. Grand in the space now occupied by Saussy. Does anyone know if this crew is running another restaurant?