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.