I think I have found it. I have found The One. True, I have not eaten at every soul food restaurant in LA (yet), but if I had to pick the one to settle down with, Mama’s House would be it. Hidden away in an old-fashioned strip mall on Crenshaw Boulevard, Mama’s House has been quietly gaining fans for the last seven years. The room is comfortable, filled with family photos and bric-a-brac. It almost takes a minute for you to recognize the Japanese windows and realize you are sitting right in the middle of a sushi restaurant, sans sushi. Instead of raw tuna, the glass display case is now brimming with sweet potato pies. Not a bad trade, really.
When “Mama” Juanita Penland reached the age of 68, her kids decided to buy her the restaurant as a present. In the relatively short time since they opened their doors in August of 2000, they have won two prestigious Hoodie Awards as well as the heart of the community.
Mama’s house has a deft hand with meats, turning out succulent short ribs and smothered everything. The sides are also stellar, particularly the yams and the macaroni and cheese. The greens, grits, red beans and black-eyed peas do not disappoint. The banana pudding is the genuine article, made with evaporated milk the Southern way. It dominates the banana pudding playing field, which is not easy around here. To be able to compete with The Cobbler Lady a few doors down, you know their desserts have to be good.
Breakfast may be the most uneven of all meals. Mama’s chicken and waffles are impressive, with chicken wings that are so huge they look like deep-fried bats. The waffle is not quite Roscoe’s but you really can’t complain. The turkey links are also a standout, although on one visit they were cold.
The service is either shockingly fast, or noticeably relaxed; it is just kind of at random. Take-out orders are sometimes left sitting unless you remind them twice, and the friendliness factor can vary. Ride with it. The food is worth it. Especially the catfish.
The first time I ever ate their catfish, a feeling of tranquility and well-being settled upon me. As I realized there was no way I could finish the entire meal and leaned back in my chair, the waitress passed and asked, “How was everything?” I said. “I just found Jesus.”
Mama’s House (323) 290-0657
3864 Crenshaw Boulevard, LA