Checked the board for discussions of Mama Joan’s Soul Food and found about a half dozen references to MJs in threads regarding best fried chicken or food near the airport or comfort food, but no dedicated thread for Mama Joan herself.
I actually don’t know of Mama Joan is a real person. I’d like to think she is real.
Mama Joan’s is on Centinela, west of Derrick’s/Pann’s, east of Sepulveda and more or less next door to an Italian spot called Compari’s. It’s in the same parking lot as a 7-11 and, since you’re wondering, there’s also a lot of street parking nearby. I’m pretty sure that at one time MJs was just a single storefront but now it’s two. The expansion is understandable as the food is good and the place seems to do good business, both in person and via take out.
Before I go any further, let me caution that I’m not a soul food expert. If authenticity is essential for you, if you’re looking for a replication of something you’ve had in some other city or perhaps your grandmother’s kitchen, stop reading now as I’m unable to make that type of comparison.
I can tell you that my family really digs the food at MJs. My son even chose it for his birthday dinner last week. And, look, anyone whose read one of my rare contributions to the board might recall that we seek out the small, family-run spots and the neighborhood gems.
That’s what MJs is in my opinion: a well-run, neighborhood spot that offers good meals at a reasonable price. Best soul food in L.A.? I don’t know. Best soul food near my house? I dare say, yes.
As to the food:
On our most recent visit, I had the fried chicken dinner, my son the baked chicken dinner and my wife the gumbo. The fried chicken was the way I like it, juicy and meaty with a crispy skin. The skin isn’t that real battery skin, it’s lightly coated, I guess. That’s my preference. It’s a tiny bit greasy, if you eat that drumstick with your fingers you’ll go through a few napkins. With the dinner you get three pieces and that’s plenty. You get to choose dark or white meat, I chose dark. You can get it naked or smothered – or ask for the gravy on the side, which is what I did. The gravy was good, but I didn’t need it.
The dinners come with three sides. (The lunch menu is the same, but you only get two sides). I had red beans and rice (the rice is optional), black eyed peas and collard greens. Both the BEP and the RB&R had that amazing creaminess that I am incapable of replicating at home. Do know that vegans and vegetarians should stay away as the sides are definitely flavored with animal fat and the red beans come with some nice pieces of sausage. The collard greens have that great salty-but-not-too salty taste. Everything tastes like home. (Not my home, but someone else’s home.) The portions are large – the sides are more than sides, they are almost a meal by themselves. Everything comes with corn bread muffins.
My son vouched for the baked chicken, but I didn’t try any.
As for the gumbo – well … it’s really something. I noted you need a miner’s helmet to really get into it. There’s crab shells and chunks of chicken and sausage, you need to pause a minute before eating it because it’s not clear at first how to attack the overflowing bowl. Somehow, one does. I personally don’t dig working that hard for my meal, but that’s just me. My wife attacked it with gusto and I tried the broth and can report a well balanced spoonful of deliciousness. Lots of spices, a bit of pepper … lots of flavor.
There’s a lot on the menu – happy to vouch for the red snapper, as a matter of fact. There’s meatloaf, turkey chops, breakfast until noon.
As I typically do, I’ll note that this might not be the place for you if you live in DTLA or Long Beach or Northridge. But if you’re close enough to the Fox Hills Mall to shop there sometimes, then Mama Joan’s is worth a try. If nothing else, you’ll get a big meal for a reasonable price.
There are other online reviews if you’re interested, one in the LA Weekly for one and another in the Argonaut, too – both love the fried chicken. (Other threads on FTC note the chicken as well). Service is friendly. There’s sports and sitcoms on the TV (no sound though).
Worth a try, I think, if you’re in the neighborhood.