Special Report

The 35 Best Restaurants in the South

Courtesy of Husk Restaurant

The U.S. Census Bureau defines the American South as encompassing some 16 states and the District of Columbia. That includes a vast swath of the nation, from the northeastern border of Delaware (almost on the edge of the indisputably Yankee capital of Philadelphia) all the way down to the tip of the Florida Keys and west to El Paso, Texas.

The cooking of the South varies as much from place to place as the region’s landscape does, but in general it adds up to what is arguably the country’s most identifiable and richest indigenous cuisine, and arguably the most influential — a case that could be made on the basis of the popularity of fried chicken alone. (These are the 30 best fried chicken places in America.)

Of course, like America itself, it draws from many cultures — Native American, English and Scottish, Spanish and French — and above all by the foodstuffs and techniques introduced to these shores or adapted here by enslaved Africans and, later, African-American servants.  

In addition to Southern food, though, the South today has become a treasury of other cuisines, brought by more recent newcomers, from Mexico, Central America, and various corners of Asia.

In fact, the contemporary South, collectively, is now home to some of the best chefs and most innovative (or traditionally authentic) restaurants in the nation. (Check the one can’t-miss restaurant in every state.)

To assemble a list of the best restaurants in the South, 24/7 Tempo consulted reviews and ratings on a wide range of websites, including Southern Living, Garden & Gun, Food & Wine, The Daily Meal, Gayot, Thrillist, and Eater, as well as numerous local and regional sites. In order to come up with a manageable list that included as many of the region’s top restaurants as possible, we limited our entries to 11 states, eliminating Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia from consideration. 

Many of the places on this list serve Southern food, either traditional or contemporary in style, but some are more national or international in tone. All are worth trying.

Click here to see the 35 best restaurants in the South

Source: Courtesy of SpringHouse

1. SpringHouse
> Location: Alexander City, Alabama

Pimento cheese-stuffed peppadews, shrimp and grits, and a very Southern vegetable plate (pink eye peas, corn ribs, heirloom tomatoes, squash casserole, and smoked cheddar cornbread) are among the expressions of the “modern version of Southern classical cuisine” at this wood-and-stone-framed restaurant on Lake Martin, northeast of Montgomery.


Source: Courtesy of Acre

2. Acre
> Location: Auburn, Alabama

Expect house-cured charcuterie, locally raised meats sourced in collaboration with the Auburn University Meat Lab, Gulf Coast seafood, and such menu offerings as “chicken fried” bacon with barbecue pecans and grilled flat iron steak with butterbean orzo salad in this rustic-chic place in eastern Alabama, about 30 miles from Columbus, Georgia.

3. Highlands Bar & Grill
> Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Chef Frank Stitt was a true pioneer of contemporary Southern cooking, opening this Alabama restaurant in 1982. Such dishes as oysters “Old Mobile Style,” Gulf black grouper with Carolina Gold rice and crawfish tails, and lamb porterhouse chops with collard greens and Tuscan kale gratin have set the standard for melding Southern ingredients and food traditions with modern European cuisine.

Source: Courtesy of Hot and Hot Fish Club

4. Hot and Hot Fish Club
> Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Imaginatively blending Southern, French, and Californian cuisines into an idiom of its own, Hot and Hot Fish Club comes up with such original fare as smoked sea bass rillettes, tripletail minestrone, and “Iron Chef” rabbit roulade with sausage.


Source: Courtesy of The Hive

5. The Hive
> Location: Bentonville, Arkansas

Bentonville is Walton (as in Walmart) country, and a major cultural destination thanks to the Moshe Safdie-designed Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, opened in 2011 by Alice Walton, daughter of the massive retail chain’s founder, Sam Walton. There’s a smaller contemporary art museum nearby at the 21c Museum Hotel — which is also the home of this proudly Southern restaurant. Look for such fare as shell bean hummus, crispy pork belly with compressed watermelon and pickled sweet peppers, and pan-roasted chicken with purple hull peas and grits on chef Matthew McClure’s menu.

Source: Courtesy of Joe's Stone Crab

6. Joe’s Stone Crab
> Location: Miami, Florida

The sweet, meaty claws of the stone crab are Florida’s most famous seafood offering, and Joe’s founder Joseph Weiss was the first restaurateur to serve them, starting in 1921. There’s a full menu of other fish and shellfish now (the snapper po’boy is a customer favorite), as well as a selection of meats and poultry, but in stone crab season — mid-October to mid-May — those claws are what people come here for.


Source: Courtesy of The Bazaar by José Andrés, South Beach

7. The Bazaar by José Andrés
> Location: Miami Beach, Florida

This South Beach outpost of chef-humanitarian José Andrés’s culinary empire features the food not of the lower right-hand corner of the United States but of Spain. The far-ranging menu incorporates some of the classic dishes of both traditional and contemporary Spanish cuisine as well as inventions of the chef. Sample classic jamón ibérico (Iberian ham) or sautéed shrimp in spicy tomato sauce with garlic and parsley, or go modern with dragon fruit and tuna ceviche or liquid-center conch fritters “Café Atlantico.”

Source: Photo by Mark Y. via Yelp

8. Rosy Tomorrows Heritage Farm
> Location: North Fort Myers, Florida

Call it a more rustic, less expensive, simpler Southwestern Florida equivalent to the famed Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York State. Rosy Tomorrows is a working farm, raising not just a vast array of produce but also grass-fed Longhorn cattle and pastured Black Australorp chickens and Red Wattle pigs, and then serving what it grows and raises in various forms in a big screened-in dining room. The menu changes often, but might include such things as organic gazpacho with citrus-poached shrimp, thick-cut Red Wattle pork chop with salad dressed in mango vinaigrette, and candied calabaza squash and cinnamon ice cream. The wine list is small but unexpectedly well-chosen and fairly priced.

Source: Courtesy of The Surf Club Restaurant via Yelp

9. The Surf Club Restaurant
> Location: Surfside, Florida

Chef Thomas Keller, whose French Laundry in the Napa Valley and Per Se in Manhattan are considered among the best restaurants in America for their innovative contemporary French-influenced cuisine, goes in another direction at this glamorous establishment at the Four Seasons Hotel. The food served in the beautiful coral- and blue-hued dining room is old-style “Continental.” That means classic Caesar salad prepared tableside, Dover sole meunière, filet mignon, and such sides as buttermilk whipped potatoes, creamed corn, and green beans amandine.


Source: Courtesy of Five and Ten

10. Five & Ten
> Location: Athens, Georgia

Award-winning chef Hugh Acheson’s flagship restaurant features what he describes as “an open interpretation of Southern food, melding Georgia cookery with French and Italian influences.” That translates to such fare as cured duck ham with corn purée and figs, Frogmore stew (with shrimp, andouille sausage, potatoes, and corn), and cornmeal-fried catfish with “Limpin’ Susan” (a variation on the traditional rice and cowpea dish called Hoppin’ John, substituting okra for the peas).

Source: Courtesy of Bacchanalia

11. Bacchanalia
> Location: Atlanta, Georgia

Considered at the pinnacle of Atlanta dining since it opened almost 30 years ago, Bacchanalia — adjacent to the popular Star Provisions market, kitchen shop, and café — turns out internationally inspired food based on regional products. The four-course fixed-price menu offers six choices for each course. A sample meal might include a crab fritter with Thai spices, pasture-raised lamb with broccolini and mint, Red Cow parmigiano with dates and black garlic, and a peach and blueberry soufflé with black pepper.


Source: Courtesy of Miller Union

12. Miller Union
> Location: Atlanta, Georgia

Named for Atlanta’s 19th-century Miller Union Stockyards, chef Steven Satterfield’s and sommelier Neal McCarthy’s modern Southern restaurant offers everything from cornmeal fritters with pecan butter and peach and chile marmalade to grilled pork loin with corn and butter bean succotash and roasted figs to blueberry-lavender tart with shortbread crumble and coconut-lime sorbet. The multi-national wine list is particularly well-chosen.

Source: Courtesy of Southern Soul Barbeque

13. Southern Soul Barbecue
> Location: Saint Simons Island, Georgia

The menu at this popular establishment on one of the so-called Golden Isles of Georgia off the port town of Brunswick reads like an anthology of barbecue. Pulled pork, ribs, smoke sausage, beef brisket, smoked chicken or turkey, an array of sandwiches, and more are offered, and nightly specials include a jerk chicken burrito (Monday), house-cured and -smoked pastrami (Thursday), and pit-fired prime rib (Friday). Southern Living once hailed the place as “the best smokehouse in the South.”

Source: Courtesy of The Grey

14. The Grey
> Location: Savannah, Georgia

Chef Mashama Bailey, a veteran of Aquagrill and Prune in Manhattan, became an instant star of the Southern restaurant scene when she opened her sleek establishment in an abandoned once-segregated Greyhound Bus station. Her imaginative creations include such things as peach and melon salad with Surryano ham, mackerel with summer squash caponata and mixed grains, and rabbit mortadella with carrot and cucumber.


Source: Courtesy of Leigh W. via Yelp

15. 610 Magnolia
> Location: Louisville, Kentucky

Brooklyn-born Korean-American chef Edward Lee has established himself as one of the most respected restaurateurs in the South, not only through his Louisville eateries and award-winning cookbooks but also for his LEE (Let’s Empower Employment) initiative, dedicated to programs promoting diversity and jobs in the food service industry. Meanwhile, diners here at his Louisville tasting-menu flagship enjoy such dishes as halibut with squash terrine and roasted corn, duck breast with dirty Carolina gold rice and napa cabbage, and fig tart with salted white chocolate and sherry vinegar caramel.

16. Commander’s Palace
> Location: New Orleans, Louisiana

This “haute Creole” establishment has been owned by the Brennan family — local restaurant royalty — since 1974, but it’s been around for almost 130 years. Among the chefs during the Brennan era have been Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse, so you know the standards are high. Expect classic gumbo and other traditional fare but also such inventions as duck confit with smoky tomato preserves and cornbread and Gulf tuna with watermelon and pecan pesto couscous.


17. Dooky Chase
> Location: New Orleans, Louisiana

A restaurant so iconic it’s mentioned in an old Ray Charles song (“Early in the Morning”), and a ’60s gathering place for the Freedom Riders and Martin Luther King and his supporters, Dooky Chase serves authentic Creole cuisine — BBQ shrimp, crab soup, shrimp Clemenceau, grillades, and more. Dooky died in 2016 and his widow, Leah, continued running the place until her own demise three years later at the age of 96 — but the place is still going strong, and is a New Orleans essential.

Source: Photo by Shannon S. via Yelp

18. Galatoire’s
> Location: New Orleans, Louisiana

This legendary Bourbon Street classic, founded in 1905 by French immigrant Jean Galatoire, upholds the highest standards of Creole cuisine. Specialties include fried oysters en brochette, duck and andouille gumbo, crab-and-shrimp-stuffed eggplant, and sweet potato cheesecake with banana praline sauce. (For those with simpler appetites, there are also very good steaks.)

Source: Photo by Linda V. via Yelp

19. Pêche Seafood Grill
> Location: New Orleans, Louisiana

One of the estimable Donald Link’s restaurants (the others include Herbsaint, Cochon, and Cochon Butcher), this one focuses — as its name suggests — on fish and shellfish, especially varieties for which the region is known. Gulf shrimp, catfish with pickled greens, seafood gumbo, baked drum with corn and zucchini, and a whole grilled fish of the day are among the staples of the menu.


Source: Courtesy of Doe's Eat Place - The Original

20. Doe’s Eat Place
> Location: Greenville, Mississippi

There are 13 other locations of this legendary steak-centric eatery, most of them franchises, ranging from Baton Rouge Little Rock to Claremore, Oklahoma, but this Mississippi Delta original is the place to be, for its lived-and-eaten-in atmosphere (it opened in 1941 in what had been Dominick “Doe” Signa’s family grocery store) and its short, uncompromising menu of Mississippi-style tamales and thick-cut pan-fried steaks.

Source: Courtesy of City Grocery

21. City Grocery
> Location: Oxford, Mississippi

The flagship of James Beard Award-winning chef John Currence’s mini-empire of Oxford restaurants (which also includes Big Bad Breakfast, Bouré, The Main Event, and Snackbar — the last of whose chef has also won a Beard Award), City Grocery is a casual but serious place with a menu that’s undeniable Southern but with international accents. Pan-fried quail with savory bread pudding stuffing, Nashville hot chicken panzanella, and Sea Island vegetable curry with Carolina Gold rice are typical offerings.


Source: Photo by Richard R. via Yelp

22. Cúrate
> Location: Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville is becoming a destination restaurant city, due at least in part to the efforts of husband-and-wife team of Félix Meana and chef Katie Button — both veterans of Ferran Adrià’s famed elBulli in Catalonia. They offer Asheville a menu of just-like-in-Spain tapas, including such essentials as patatas bravas, chicken croquettes, stuffed piquillo peppers, and octopus Galician style. The selection of Spanish wines is superb.

Source: Courtesy of Chef & the Farmer

23. Chef & the Farmer
> Location: Kinston, North Carolina

Cookbook author, TV personality, and chef-restaurateur Vivian Howard’s “progressive eatery” draws on local products and traditional Southern recipes, but often gives them an international twist. Peel & eat shrimp come with lemon aïoli, pork shoulder is accompanied by red-curry-braised watermelon, and the “dirty” Carolina Gold rice is prepared paella style with the addition of “quirky furikake” (a variation on a traditional Japanese condiment for rice).

Source: Photo by Mynam V. via Yelp

24. The Fearrington House Restaurant
> Location: Pittsboro, North Carolina

This destination dining location in Fearrington Village, a development outside Chapel Hill, is known for its rustic-elegant environment and modern American (which means internationally accented) seasonal fixed-price menus. Sample dishes include house-cured bacon with lobster, peach, corn, and cucumber; center-cut beef ribeye with lion’s mane mushrooms and basil; and warm sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch and Medjool dates.


Source: Photo by Nika B. via Yelp

25. The Lantern
> Location: Chapel Hill, North Carolina

North Carolina ingredients and Asian dishes are featured at Andrea Reusing’s restaurant, a longtime Chapel Hill favorite. Crab and pork spring rolls, tea- and spice-smoked chicken, and crispy whole wild-caught North Carolina fish with garlic, chiles, tamarind, and fresh lime leaf are typical offerings.

Source: Courtesy of Poole's Diner

26. Poole’s Diner
> Location: Raleigh, North Carolina

Opened in the mid-1940s as Poole’s Pie Shop, this modern diner, now in the hands of noted Raleigh-area chef-restaurateur Ashleigh Christensen, tempts customers with a blackboard menu listing things like fennel soup, braised chicken leg, and lemon custard pie. The place remains diner-casual but the quality of the cooking elevates it to serious-restaurant level.


Source: Courtesy of FIG Charleston

27. F.I.G.
> Location: Charleston, South Carolina

A would-be neighborhood restaurant that nonetheless draws diners from far and wide, F.I.G. is known for its straightforward Southern fare with occasional detours over towards the Mediterranean (you might find such traditional pasta dishes as ricotta gnocchi with bolognese sauce, for instance). Unusual fish like triggerfish, mutton snapper, and snowy grouper are often featured.

Source: Courtesy of Husk Restaurant

28. Husk
> Location: Charleston, South Carolina

Launched in 2010 by Sean Brock, one of the most talented and influential modern Southern chefs, Husk — which now has offshoots in Nashville and Savannah — established the standard for turning first-rate Southern ingredients into imaginative elaborations of basic local dishes. Brock is no longer involved with the restaurant, but his style and sensibility live on. Sample fare: slow-smoked pork ribs with pepper jelly and toasted peanuts; cornmeal-fried catfish with baby summer squash, fennel, and green tomato; and North Carolina chicken with house-made pasta, fairytale eggplant, okra, and shishito peppers.

Source: Photo by Chrissy F. via Yelp

29. Peninsula Grill
> Location: Charleston, South Carolina

Charlestonian elegance infuses this romantic dining room, the city’s only Relais & Châteaux restaurant. The menu is short and to the point, offering such things as she-crab soup with sherry, pan-roasted jumbo sea scallops with braised butter lettuce and lobster medallions, and a selection of excellent steaks.


Source: Photo by Lauren P. via Yelp

30. Motor Supply Co. Bistro
> Location: Columbia, South Carolina

The building now occupied by this energetic, eclectic restaurant was once — guess what? — a motor supply shop (the structure is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places). Chef Wesley Fulmer now sells not engine parts but things like locally grown Asian pear salad with Mindoro blue cheese, crispy fried quail with grilled cornbread cake, and a bone-in pork chop with cider-braised greens and pecan butter.

Source: Photo by Yolan via Yelp

31. Yolan
> Location: Nashville, Tennessee

For 37 years, until it announced its permanent pandemic-related closing this year, Spiaggia was the go-to restaurant in Chicago for high-end Italian cuisine — and for 35 of those years, Tony Mantuano was the chef, winning a Michelin star, James Beard Awards, and many other accolades. Lucky Nashville: He has moved there, and now runs this superlative Italian place. The fare is authentic and often unusual — for instance, fried squash flowers with ricotta and pesto, ravioli-like pansotti with summer greens and walnuts, and rabbit with pancetta and crêpe-like testaroli pasta.


Source: Photo by Jae V. via Yelp

32. The Barn at Blackberry Farm
> Location: Walland, Tennessee

The elegantly set dining room in a turn-of-the-century barn at this renowned resort property serves multi-course menus of “Foothills Cuisine” based on Appalachian ingredients. Chef Cassidee Dabney’s creations might include crab with crispy Carolina brown rice, North Carolina mountain trout with charred zucchini purée, and smoked pork short rib with charred cabbage and pickled garlic. The extensive wine list is justly renowned.

Source: Photo by James M. via Yelp

33. Mama Chang
> Location: Fairfax, Virginia

Legendary Chinese chef Peter Chang has Sichuan-focused restaurants in a number of locations around Virginia and Maryland (plus one in Stamford, Connecticut). His latest, Mama Chang, is more upscale than usual and features home-style recipes inspired by his grandmother, mother, wife, and daughter, with an emphasis on Sichuan, Hunan, and Hubei cuisines. Traditional dim sum are offered, as are seldom-seen dishes like lychee-flavored black pepper chicken, stir-fried shiitake with smoked pork belly, and lamb and fish ball stew with Chinese yam.

Source: Photo by Rodock W. via Yelp

34. Shagbark
> Location: Richmond, Virginia

For years, Walter Bundy remained comparatively under the radar cooking at Lemaire, the dining room at Richmond’s Jefferson Hotel. Now he’s front and center at his own place, named for the region’s shagbark hickory tree — accents of which appear throughout the dining room. Among the things Bundy’s Southern- and Tidewater-leaning menu might offer are chicken-fried Chesapeake Bay oysters, fried oven-cured green tomatoes with creamy grits, and a slow-grilled molasses-glazed pork chop with Vidalia onion rings.


Source: BackyardProduction / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

35. The Inn at Little Washington
> Location: Washington, Virginia

The restaurant at chef Patrick O’Connell’s elegant little luxury hotel is the only establishment in the metropolitan D.C. area to have earned a coveted three stars from the Guide Michelin. The self-taught O’Connell has earned a reputation as one of the most original chefs in the country — he’s been called “the Pope of American Cuisine” — for creations like carpaccio of herb-crusted baby lamb loin with Caesar salad ice cream, fennel-dusted Pacific halibut with garden vegetables and tarragon-shrimp dumplings, and pepper-crusted Long Island duck breast with brandy-roasted peaches and pain perdu.

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