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Soul-Coaxing Dishes of Delight

Crispy fried chicken, peach cobbler and collard greens are staples, but the heart of Southern cuisine is more diverse than ever at Wanda J’s Next Generation Restaurant.

Donna Leahey
Marc Rains
July 28, 2019

Wanda J. Armstrong has been serving delicious soul food to downtown and north Tulsa since the ‘70s. “I can go anywhere and say, ‘Wanda J.,’ and people will tell me ‘Oh, I love her fried chicken or peach cobbler,” says Alexis Wells, co-owner of Wanda J’s Next Generation Restaurant and one of Wanda’s granddaughters. “She’s one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet. There’s something about her hands that make the food taste good.”

Wanda’s son and her granddaughters opened Wanda J‘s Next Generation Restaurant nearly three years ago on historic Greenwood Avenue. “The owners are all sisters and our dad, Wanda’s son,” says Wells. “It’s our grandmother’s recipes, but we put our spin on it.”

Greenwood is famous as the historical location of Tulsa’s prosperous Black Wall Street. “My Grandma was the first to put a restaurant here,” says Wells. “Right across the street, in fact, where the Fat Guy’s [Burger Bar] is now.”

Chicken-Fried Steak and Fried Chicken (Photo: Marc Rains)
Chicken-Fried Steak and Fried Chicken (Photo: Marc Rains)

The history and culture of the location mean a lot to Wells and her sisters. “Not many people are aware of something so meaningful that happened here. A lot of history is gone. But people come in every day and tell me something I never knew about Black Wall Street. Our food is like home cooking, so we’re bringing our culture back to this area,” she says.

“This is the type of business that was here. We fit right into that culture,” says Wells’ sister and co-owner, Glory Wells. “People like to see a black-owned business here. And a business owned by young people, too.”

Wanda’s personality is evident in everything about the restaurant, including the decor. The space is cozy and as welcoming as grandma’s dining room. Mirrors and a family photo decorate the walls, and the trees outside give the light coming in through the front windows a beautiful, natural, green tint. “Grandma decorated this,” says Alexis. “It’s like she wanted to. You can’t tell her no.”

Wanda J’s serves classic comfort soul food. “Soul food is anything fried,” says Alexis. “Chicken, chicken fry, catfish, even fried corn on the cob. Our family philosophy is to make it as simple as possible. Easy and good.”

Easy and good is the perfect descriptor for Wanda J’s hearty and tasty fare. The website proudly proclaims their fried chicken is “the best in town.” It’s one of the most popular items on the menu for a good reason. The chicken is battered and fried to a perfect, crispy, juicy bite. Generously portioned and seasoned just right, it will bring you back again and again.

Alexis Wells, Tyreiha Walker and Glory Wells (Photo: Marc Rains)
Alexis Wells, Tyreiha Walker and Glory Wells (Photo: Marc Rains)

The fried catfish is another favorite. Coated in light cornmeal, and seasoned so nicely you won’t have to use the tartar sauce unless you want to, the catfish is fried to a delicate crunch. The pieces curl into a golden display almost too pretty to eat. Almost. You won’t be able to resist it for long, no matter how lovely it is.

The chicken-fried steak is a star at Wanda J’s. “The chicken-fried steak sets the tone,” says Alexis. “Crunchy, crispy, and a perfect seasoning.” It’s a generous portion of steak, or chicken if you prefer, cooked to a tender delight. Fans of the traditional Oklahoma meal have got to try Wanda J’s take on it. It will win you over.

The sides are stars in their own right. Try the fried corn on the cob coated in buttermilk batter and fried golden. The coating is crisp and flavorful, while the kernels inside are tender and sweet. The fried cabbage is done in butter on the grill with fresh red pepper. The grill brings out the best flavor in the cabbage. Or try the crispy fried okra, candied yams, collard greens, or the mac and cheese. You can’t possibly make a wrong choice.

The restaurant is also famous for peach cobbler. It’s made with a flaky crust with sugar sprinkled on top. You can get it with ice cream, too. The peach cobbler is a constant on the menu, but sometimes Wanda J’s will mix it up with a 7 Up cake or lemon cake. Maybe you should get two desserts?

If you’re looking for breakfast, Wanda J’s is open at 8 a.m. The Slam Breakfast is a favorite choice, with pancakes or French toast, bacon, sausage, your choice of potato and eggs. The L&L skillet is another popular choice. It’s crispy-fried potatoes with your choice of meat, topped with cheese and served in a skillet.

Be sure to stop by and try one of the daily specials. On Monday, you can get a hearty smothered chicken with two sides. Tuesday is dinner-for-two with not one but two chicken-fried steaks or chicken-fried chickens with sides and a drink. The smothered pork steak is featured Wednesday, and Thursday’s special is beef tips with rice.  

Wanda J’s Next Generation Restaurant
111 N. Greenwood Ave. | Tulsa
Monday-Saturday: 8 a.m.-7 p.m.
Sunday: Closed