8 of the South's Best Foodie Cities
Wondering where to venture on your next culinary excursion? If you’re looking for good eats and Southern charm crossed with an international vibe, we’ve got the perfect list for you. These restaurants, markets, food trucks and breweries — some in cities you might be surprised to hear touted for their culinary prowess — are adding food to their already burgeoning cultural offerings and ensuring visitors don’t leave hungry.
When you think of Atlanta, Brazilian-style dining and Chinese dim sum don’t ordinarily come to mind. Chef Kevin Gillespie combines the two concepts at his new restaurant Gunshow downtown, creating a unique dining experience where dishes are presented on rolling carts and visiting chefs compete for diners’ attention. Another delectable upscale option is Lusca, which includes a seafood-centric menu of sea urchin farm eggs and North Carolina trout. If you’re looking for something more low-key, try some of the city’s notorious food trucks like Fry Guy, Bomb Squad Pizza and King of Pops, all of which can be found in Atlanta’s Food Truck Park downtown. Read Getaways for Grownups review of Gunshow here.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Situated in between New Orleans and Lafayette, Baton Rouge can get overlooked for its food scene, but this capital city has a lot more to offer than just late-night dives for college students. Several classic New Orleans restaurants, like Galatoire’s and Acme Oyster House, have opened up Baton Rouge locations, joining popular spots Beausoleil, Le Creole and Blend in taking the city’s dining scene to the next level. Add in food-centric businesses like Red Stick Spice Co. and Tony’s Seafood Market, an active food truck scene and a food-focused walking tour downtown, and you’ve got all the ingredients needed for a weekend of good eats in Louisiana’s capital.
If the Birmingham Public Library’s recent Eat Drink Read Write Festival was any indication, this Alabama city’s food scene is booming. Downtown hotspots, neighborhood gems, food trucks, community gardens, local brewers and passionate chefs are all part of the mix, welcoming eaters with everything from traditional downhome cooking to international concepts you’d expect to find in a much larger city. Earlier this month, Food Network Star Martie Duncan introduced a new cookbook titled Birmingham’s Best Bites with close to 90 recipes from the city’s best restaurants and bars, including favorites like Highlands Bar And Grill and Hot and Hot Fish Club to newcomers Melt and Hotbox. See Editor Erin Z. Bass’s list of her 10 best bites in Birmingham here.
Durham, North Carolina
Last month, Andrea Weigl wrote in the News Observer “The Triangle food scene may best be described as a teenager experiencing a growth spurt.” With Raleigh and Chapel Hill right down the road, Durham restaurants are gracing the pages of Bon Appetit, Esquire and The New York Times. BA named Rose’s Meat Market & Sweet Shop one of the “50 best new restaurants of 2014,” and Straw Valley Food & Drink, which describes itself as a “dining oasis between Raleigh and Chapel Hill,” got a feature in Food Arts magazine. For something a bit more rustic, try Pizzeria Toro or pull up to the tap at Fullsteam Brewery for a Sweet Potato Lager or Chocolate Brown Ale. Read about Savor the South Weekend in nearby Greensboro here.
Often overshadowed by Dallas and Austin, Houston can stand on its own when it comes to dining. The city has everything you could ask for foodwise — Chinatown with some of the best Vietnamese food in the country, more brunch spots than there are Saturdays for, excellent Mexican (with margaritas of course) and plenty of late-night bites. Start with Underbelly, which showcases the blend of cultures that tell the “story of Houston food” then take a stroll through Hong Kong City Mall in Chinatown. If it’s an authentic taste of Texas you’re looking for then the Oaxacan Rita and pretty much anything on the menu at Hugo’s will hit the spot. End the night at Max’s Wine Dive, whose motto is “fried chicken and champagne? Why the hell not?” For more on Houston’s restaurant scene, read The Best Restaurant Row in the South.
Mississippi is Southern from end to end, and its food reflects that notion, especially at John Currence’s restaurants in Oxford. For small bites and cocktails, try Snackbar and keep an eye out for foodie John T. Edge at the bar. Just down the road is Volta Taverna for Greek-inspired fare with a Southern twist (pimento cheese comes alongside the hummus), and Old Venice Pizza Company on the square remains a favorite for eclectic Italian with a touch of Southern Creole. In the mood for something more upscale? Currence’s Boure (named for the Cajun card game) is a beautiful spot for Louisiana-inspired cuisine, from jambalaya to shrimp poboys.
Nearby Charleston gets a lot of foodie cred (as it should), but Savannah isn’t just for architecture, literary and garden buffs anymore. The city’s dining scene has expanded in recent years with additions like Leoci’s Trattoria and Daniel Reed’s group offering parkside dining at The Public Kitchen & Bar and recently reopened Soho South Cafe. Historic favorite The Olde Pink House, located in Savannah’s only 19th century mansion, shouldn’t be overlooked. Their She Crab Soup is some of the best, and fried green tomato, shrimp and grits and “Southern Sushi” appetizers are a great way to get a taste of Savannah. Other must-tastes include brew from Moon River, ice cream at institution Leopold’s and all flavors of benne wafers at Byrd Cookie Co.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Located in the middle of the “Old North State,” Winston-Salem has plenty of delicious, local options, many of them grown in the city’s many gardens. Mozelle’s Fresh Southern Bistro is a great way to find out what Winston-Salem is all about — blending old with new in the form of Southern spring rolls, tomato pie and creamed succotash. The Tavern in Old Salem specializes in seasonal menu items fresh picked from the gardens of Old Salem and inspired by Moravian families from the 19th century. For brunch, Mary’s Gourmet Diner and Sweet Potatoes are local favorites and examples of funky establishments where women chefs reign. For more local products, stop in at the Old Cobblestone Farmers Market on Saturday morning. Get Mozelle’s recipe for Strawberry Gazpacho here.
Photo credits, from top: Breakfast special at Mary’s Gourment Diner in Winston-Salem by Deep South, Kevin Gillespie’s Gunshow in Atlanta from Gunshow Facebook page, Hotbox’s Roast Pork Salad in Birmingham by Deep South, Volta Taverna’s pimento cheese and hummus plate from Volta Facebook page and fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits and Southern Sushi from The Olde Pink House in Savannah by Deep South.