The Best Locally-Owned Restaurants In Every Southern State 2023

The Grocery Charleston
Photo: Andrew Cebulka

Let’s hear it for the diners, the burger spots, the neighborhood bistros, the barbecue joints, and all the other independent restaurants where people feel right at home as soon as they sit down. We asked our audience to share their favorite local restaurants, and they delivered with an eclectic list reflecting the wonderful melting pot that is the South. These places might not be the ones that win fancy accolades (although some have won James Beard Foundation awards and other honors), or even take reservations (although many of them do). They are the reliable restaurants Southerners turn to again and again for everyday meals and special occasions. Some are new, and some have been around for generations. The one thing they all have in common, other than great food, is that they are beloved in their communities, which is perhaps the highest praise a restaurant can receive. Raise a glass to them, and start planning your next meal.

01 of 14

Alabama: The Bright Star

The Bright Star



In 1907, the Bright Star opened in Bessemer, Alabama, just a few blocks from where it now stands. Alabama’s oldest restaurant started as a 25 seat establishment, and today it seats 330, with five dining rooms, a bar, and a staff of 70 employees. Painted murals from 1915 line the wood-trimmed walls, which have been recently restored. Gulf seafood is a staple here, don’t miss the Greek-style snapper, crab and lobster au gratin, and gumbo. Many dishes on the menu, like the Baklava Cheesecake, have a Greek influence, thanks to brothers Jim and Nick Koikos, who emigrated from Greece. In 1925, they bought the restaurant from founder Tom Bonduris, and have kept it in the family ever since., 205-424-9444, 304 19th St. N, Bessemer, AL 35020

02 of 14

Arkansas: Brave New Restaurant

Brave New Restaurant patio

Courtesy of Brave New Restaurant

Little Rock

After 32 years, Brave New Restaurant's founder Peter Brave is still on site nearly every evening, greeting guests who flock here for the Mediterranean and French menu. The kitchen easily runs through 50 pounds of walleye a night, dozens of Cherry Bourbon Short Ribs, salmon with pesto cream sauce, fish smoked in columns of applewood, and non-traditional grilled cheese sandwiches with tomatoes and shrimp. Floor to ceiling glass walls showcase the Arkansas River while other spaces feature Brave’s impressionist paintings. The finale here can include chocolate creme brûlée or Arkansas black apple sweets; order a cup of coffee to go with whatever you choose; he roasts the imported beans himself. A chat with Brave is just as delightful—he's the one with the jumpsuit and the smile., 501-663-2677, 2300 Cottondale Lane #105, Little Rock, AR 72202

03 of 14

Florida: Tropical Smokehouse

Tropical Smokehouse

Ruben Cabrera

West Palm Beach

Florida isn’t known for barbecue, and chef Rick Mace has made it his mission to put the state on the barbecue map. His West Palm Beach restaurant, Tropical Smokehouse, marries smoked seafood and meat with Latin and Caribbean influences and South Florida’s unique and bountiful produce. The brisket is brushed with a coffee-infused barbecue sauce; the pulled pork has notes of orange, lime, and garlic from a mojo marinade; and the sausage is made with a classic Florida protein: alligator. Round out your plate with Caribbean coleslaw and sticky sweet plantains plus Southern-style collards and cornbread. It’s a cross-cultural mash-up, and it’s all good., 561-323-2573, 3815 S. Dixie Hwy, West Palm Beach, FL 33405

04 of 14

Georgia: Mary Mac's Tea Room

Plate full of sides
Robbie Caponetto


In the kitchen at Mary Mac's Tea Room, it's always 1945, the year the legendary favorite opened. It's like entering a culinary time machine drifting back to your grandmother's table. Bestsellers here are simple and perfect—fried chicken, turkey and cornbread dressing, meatloaf, chicken and dumplings, mac and cheese, sweet potato soufflé, green beans and, of course, the famous peach cobbler. President Jimmy Carter always loved the custard; the Dalai Lama even sampled the potlikker. You can buy the tell-all recipe book but wouldn't you rather just let the cooks do the cooking? There's no extra charge for the pampering., 404-876-1800, 224 Ponce De Leon Ave. NE, Atlanta, GA 30308

05 of 14

Kentucky: Ramsey's Diner

Ramsey's Diner



Ramsey's Diner is Kentucky’s favorite spot for all things Southern. The cornbread sticks are properly not-too-sweet. The fried chicken is crispy outside, dreamy tender within. An impressive list of sides include yellow squash and onions, honey-mustard carrots, stewed tomatoes, sweet pickled beets, apple fritters, and creamed corn. The Hot Brown's the best in town. There's a Pie of the Month (and 20 others to choose from daily) and basics like chicken livers, chicken and dumplings, and pot roast. The four Ramsey's locations are decidedly different except for the garage sale tables and colorful chairs splattered with paint by local children—and the menu that's been celebrating the South for more than 30 years., 859-259-2708, 151 West Zandale, Lexington, KY 40503 (multiple locations)

06 of 14

Louisiana: Commander's Palace

Commander's Palace (New Orleans, LA)
Cedric Angeles

Make friends with your server at Commander's Palace (easy to do) and ask what's not on the menu. The always-available turtle soup, tasso shrimp, pecan-crusted fish, and bread pudding soufflé welcome you back, but lovely surprises await too. For instance, there's the Trouble Tree, its ironwork branches bearing samples of six traditional and newly-created cocktails. You can also order the five-course Chef's Playground tasting menu; the Crab Gin Fizz, a meal-starting shot glass topped with caviar; the Lally Parfait of ice cream and praline sauce; and least 50 select wines by the glass. Commander's, a New Orleans must since 1893, is like your oldest friend with really good secrets. Dishy and delightful., 504-899-8221, 1403 Washington Ave., New Orleans, LA 70130

07 of 14

Mississippi: Weidmann's




Once—and only once—Weidmann's took the handmade crock of peanut butter with saltines off the tables and the world went wild. So there's no taking away, only adding, at the restaurant Felix Weidmann started in 1870. In fact, Weidmann's World Famous Black Bottom Pie has returned. The popular Trout Almandine remains a traditional menu must. And photos down through the years dot the walls. Today’s fried green tomatoes are double-breaded and served with a special Mississippi comeback sauce. New menu items like boudin-stuffed pork chop with andouille and crawfish are destined to become classics too., 601-581-5770, 210 22nd Ave., Meridian, MS 39301

08 of 14

North Carolina: Angus Barn

Best Southern Pies: Chocolate Chess, Angus Barn Restaurant
Photo: Angus Barn Restaurant

Raleigh and Durham city limits literally meet at the Angus Barn. Both claim bragging rights—and there's a lot to brag about, starting with the house-aged beef itself. The ribeye is the bestseller followed by filet, New York strip, the steak-lobster combo, and the ribs. Talking sauces, the true test for any steak place, the Barn home-makes red wine jus (filets), chimichurri (tomahawk), vinegar-based barbecue (ribs), spicy (turkey wings), creole mustard (crab cakes), cocktail (shrimp) and, coming soon, a signature steak sauce. All this from a family business that's been around since 1960, sells nine different cuts/20,000 steaks a month, ice cream from North Carolina cows—and shares recipes too., 919-781-2444, 9401 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh, NC 27617

09 of 14

Oklahoma: Cattlemen's Steakhouse

Cattlemenen's Steakhouse famous lamb fries

Courtesy Cattlemenen's Steakhouse

Oklahoma City

You expect superior meats at Cattlemen's Steakhouse located in the Stockyards—but lamb fries? A big seller and memory maker, these appetizers are thinly breaded, fried, and served with lemon cocktail sauce. Another draw is the Cattlemen's house dressing, a marinated combo of garlic oil, lemon juice, and Cheddar cheese with a creamy texture (90% of all customers order it, according to the restaurant). Then there's the meat—crowd favorites, among many, include filets and ribeyes, each house-aged and sourced from the fifth generation of ranchers who've supplied Cattlemen's since 1910. What's changed over time? Guests want less fat around the edges— but you won't miss it. Onward to the coconut cream pie., 405-236-0416, 1309 S. Agnew, Oklahoma City, OK 73108

10 of 14

South Carolina: Page's Okra Grill

Page's Okra Grill

Krysta Chapman

Mount Pleasant

When you ask locals about their favorite food in Charleston, Page’s Okra Grill comes up early and often. Though technically in the nearby suburb of Mount Pleasant, Page’s has cemented itself as a standout in a city full of destination-worthy dining. The family-run restaurant offers an irresistible menu of elevated but familiar Southern stapes, like chicken fried steak, barbecue-filled egg rolls, and fried green tomatoes with roasted red pepper and peach jam. Ordering seafood here is always a good idea. From shrimp platters to crab cakes to fried oysters, Page’s sources much of its seafood locally. On weekends, the restaurant’s breezy patio fills up with a brunch crowd seeking chef Ashleigh Sbrochi’s (nee Page) decadent takes on fried chicken and waffles, and shrimp and grits. Page’s Okra Grill prides itself on creating “Local Food for Local Folks,” and they certainly do., 843-881-3333, 302 Coleman Blvd, Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464

11 of 14

Tennessee: Aubrey's



East Tennessee

The fact that chicken fingers with honey mustard sell like hotcakes tells you a lot about Aubrey's, the beloved 14-restaurant group in East Tennessee (mostly Knoxville). With its come-hungry-come-casual vibe, Aubrey's specializes in creative riffs on classics—fish and chips with lemon-caper sauce, lemon-lime chicken, flash-fried catfish, double-dipped buttermilk fried chicken, and even Boston scrod encrusted in Ritz crackers. Pork dishes come from Canadian pigs on special diets (healthier for you); the sides are local and fresh. Gumbo is by far the bestselling soup. And at the helm after 30 years is a proud University of Tennessee grad who loves his state., 865-588-1111, 6005 Brookvale Lane, Knoxville, TN 37919 (multiple locations)

12 of 14

Texas: Babe's Chicken Dinner House

Babe's Chicken Dinner House Roanoke

Courtesy Babe's Chicken Dinner House

Dallas Metroplex

The fried chicken at Babe's Chicken Dinner House recently brought a guest to tears—of joy. Just like her grandmother's, she said. The same goes for the mashed potatoes, the gravy, the biscuits with sorghum, and all the recipes from owner Paul Vinyard's wife Mary Beth and his mother JoJean. Since Babe's founding in 1993, the menu has expanded to feature smoked chicken, fried chicken tenders, and chicken fried steak (remember the restaurant’s name) plus farm-raised catfish, house veggies, and desserts nestled under fresh whipped cream. The 10 Babe's locations occupy older buildings—former firehouses, warehouses, barn-style structures. There's no alcohol at any, just tasty tradition., 817-491-2900, 104 North Oak St., Roanoke, TX 76262 (multiple locations)

13 of 14

Virginia: 21 Spoons

21 Spoons Virginia

Jennifer Chase


The restaurant 21 Spoons started as a pop-up in early 2021. Owner Ann Butler decorated it with gorgeous marble countertops, close-out sale tables, garage sale finds and silverware from three grandmothers, then added great food and heaps of hope. With little to no publicity, her cozy 12 tables fill Thursday through Saturday with mainstays like lamb meatballs, charcuterie with taramasalata (a Greek fish roe dip) and Charlottesville cheeses, and quinoa-chocolate cake (all desserts are gluten-free). Monthly wine dinners encourage themed participation—sippers dressed up as French artists for the Springtime in Paris event. Butler also operates Edible Education, a program to excite kids about food by teaching them new skills and taking them on taste adventures. Butler feeds her community in more ways than one; it’s no wonder she is a local favorite., 804-218-7903, 13568 Waterford Place, Midlothian, VA 23112

14 of 14

West Virginia: Jim's Steak and Spaghetti House


Courtesy Jim's Steak and Spaghetti House


A regular at Jim's Steak and Spaghetti House once quipped, "If you want change, go to a bank because nothing ever changes at Jim's." So true. After 85 years in business, you’ll find the same booths with newish leather, old-school sugar shakers, wallpaper (updated in 1994), and family members. The menu is familiar too, especially the decades-old spaghetti sauce. Ask for the secret and you'll be told it's from an Italian grandmother and requires stirring every 10 to 20 minutes for six hours. It's no surprise that spaghetti is the bestseller; coming in second is the fish sandwich with tartar sauce. In 2018, Jim's earned a James Beard Foundation American Classics Award. Much deserved., 304-696-9788, 920 5th Ave., Huntington, WV 25701

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