I wasn’t sure if many college students think of a soul food joint when it comes to deciding what to eat on a regular basis, but from the looks of the crowd in Aunt Rosa Lee’s Mississippi Soul Food, quite a few do! I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised because of its proximity to USC. This area is also prime for finding soul food cuisine. What make Aunt Rosa Lee’s better than the rest is the friendly service, the good-for-groups atmosphere and the menu.

Just like the name states, this is Mississippi cooking. You’ve got the obligatory sides and entrees like creamy mac and cheese, barbecued slathered ribs and fried chicken. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about soul food, the dishes may all look the same, but they certainly don’t taste that way. Georgia soul food has a different flavor, as does North Carolina’s, Tennessee’s, etc., and Western Avenue’s soul food joints follow similarly. I find Aunt Rosa Lee’s dishes to be slightly more approachable for first-timers to soul food. Think of them as the gateway, where the spices are lighter and the sauces slightly sweeter than the more heavy-handed approaches of some of the nearby restaurants.

The first item that comes to the table is a plate of corn muffins. This staple of Southern cuisine is eaten with everything. Sometimes it feels like if the cornbread is missing, you’re not having an authentic Southern soul food meal. And no soul food place should be without it, nor should they be missing fried catfish. Across the board, fried catfish should always be uniformly breaded and quickly fried so that it’s crispy, pepper flavored and light. It should never be greasy, as that means it has sat in the batter too long or the oil is not hot enough. Aunt Rosa Lee’s version excels in its rendition, served alongside tart collard greens and black-eyed peas.

I can’t say the same about fried chicken. I think the point is chicken should be greasy and finger-lickin’ good. I haven’t tried the chicken here, but I will say the pieces were huge and the fried coating nice and thick. I can only hope that when biting into the breast, it bursts with tender juices.

You can interchange the sides, including French fries, mashed potatoes, corn and green beans amongst others. One of my favorite meals is a hunk of corn served alongside a spicy hot link with cornbread.

I tried the pork spareribs, and sadly, I was kind of disappointed. The meat was a little too soft for my taste. Usually soft, completely falling off the bone ribs signal that they have been overcooked. A small tug on a bone should yield a small amount of meat, not the entire section. I also found the sauce to be a little too tangy, but I think that’s because I prefer the heavy smokiness that surrounds my own version of ribs. Decidedly, I may be a little biased on the ribs discussion. Nevertheless, the cheddar macaroni and cheese next to the hearty portion of ribs matched well against the barbecue flavor.

Ribs aside, I enjoy almost everything else they serve up. Aunt Rosa Lee’s service is top-notch. My glass of delicious sweet tea is never empty, the condiments always readily available and the genuine smiles from the staff endless. Customer service is a huge part of going out; it can decide whether you will overlook a few missteps in food or walk out feeling disappointed. Aunt Rosa Lee’s is definitely a well-rounded dining experience.

For more information, call (323) 733-8586.