While cities like Charleston, Atlanta, and Nashville tend to steal the spotlight when it comes to Southern food destinations, small towns have just as much star power if you know where to look. A new category this year in our South’s Best reader survey, the Best Food Towns winners proved confirmation of our editors’ favorites, but also surprised us.
Overall winner Oxford, Mississippi has long been Chef John Currence’s restaurant playground. His first, City Grocery, right on the square, became a nationally acclaimed restaurant before farm-to-table cooking was so ubiquitous; Big Bad Breakfast, once a strip mall gem with a smokehouse in the back, has grown to several locations from Santa Rosa Beach, Florida to Florence, Alabama. Now, there are new kids on the block like St. Leo, a Brooklyn-esque bistro serving wood-fired pizzas topped with local produce and Canteen, an old filling station that’s now a pit stop serving breakfast tacos.
Our readers rounded out the list with unexpected picks like Aiken, South Carolina, where locals recommend the Red Shed Diner, a vestige of old roadside markets, with a dessert case full of buttermilk pies and layer cakes. Florida took four spots in the top 10 with Naples, Key West, Winter Park, and St. Augustine, where our editors head to Preserved for coastal-inspired dishes with Florida-grown ingredients and Hyppo for a piña-colada popsicle. Virginia represented with two winners, Williamsburg and Charlottesville, where Oakhart Social and Maru Korean Restaurant and Bar have freshened up an established dining scene. And in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, potato salad-topped bowls of gumbo, boudin, and crawfish are often served in the company of Cajun music and dancing.
While this list is far from complete (Texas, we’re looking at you.), it shows what Southerners already know: taking the scenic route is always worth it, especially if it leads you to one of these towns.