When we added the Food Cities category to our South’s Best reader survey, we wondered if the winners would look like the usual suspects. Not so. After picking your favorites from a long list, this year’s first batch of food cities mix established scenes with others seeing revivals. Some are major hubs while others are under-the-radar locals. But they all share deep connection to hospitality.
The winner, New Orleans, combines 300 years of storied culinary tradition with the contributions of newcomers and new thinking. Legendary restaurants like Commander’s Palace, Antoine’s, Dooky Chase’s, and Upperline thrive in the same environment that has given rise to a new wave of restaurants like Turkey and the Wolf, N7, and Saffron that take cues from the classics but spin them in a way all their own.
While Austin’s reputation as a destination for food-focused travelers has been solidified time and time again, San Antonio, is gaining national attention with the development of the Pearl, a former brewery turned hotel and dining campus featuring restaurants like Cured. Atlanta’s appearance isn’t a surprise, especially with Buford Highway, which could be another city unto itself filled with globally influenced restaurants from Malaysian to Mexican and almost anywhere else you can think of. It’s college town counterpart, Athens, also made the list thanks not only to Chef Hugh Acheson who calls it home, but also because of brewery Creature Comforts and a slew of new restaurants making Southern food modern. Savannah also represented for Team Georgia with its now less tourist-centric scene including new spots like Collins Quaters, an Australian-style cafe and Alleycat, a basement bar with classy cocktails. Chef Mashama Bailey’s The Grey has only thrived since opening in 2014 as was named the best restaurant in the country last year by Eater.
Charleston comes as no surprise, but their neighbor to the North, Asheville, has become sought-out by saveurs who want to see the city’s internationally known beer community along with restaurants like Buxton Hall Barbecue, Chai Panai, and Rhubarb.
With a collective Southern food scene hotter than any chicken from sixth-place winner Nashville, next year’s list is any city’s game.