The South’s Best Local Restaurants 2020
In the age of blogs and social media, of rigid itineraries and restaurant reviews, traveling is in danger of losing its spontaneity. Online databases filled with thousands of recommendations and ratings are immediately accessible at our fingertips; the sheer amount of data can feel overwhelming, like there’s nothing left to discover. While a well-constructed itinerary is beautiful in its own right, travelers increasingly crave and search for an authentic experience. They want to go where the locals go.
These local favorites are community gathering places, expressions of a city’s identity and character. These places are deeply interwoven into the fabric of their communities, so much so that they’ve become icons of their cities. The Grocery in Charleston is inextricably tied to the community: This neighborhood restaurant commits itself to fostering strong relationships with local farmers and fishermen. The Grey, a much-lauded Southern restaurant tucked inside a once-segregated Greyhound Bus Terminal, grapples with a complex legacy of place and space. Many have won countless awards and accolades, but at their core, these places tell the unique stories of their cities and the people that inhabit them. One thing’s for sure: Locals and visitors alike will be welcomed in with a heaping portion of Southern hospitality. These local restaurants are for you to discover.
10. Saint Leo (Oxford, Mississippi)
Italian in style but Southern in spirit, Saint Leo masterfully combines Chef Emily Blount’s diverse culinary sensibilities. The antipasti offerings juxtapose Green Gulf Shrimp with Classic Meatballs, and the wood-fired pizzas are staples from day to night. At brunch, the prosecco pop cocktail—composed of a raspberry and mint Italian ice popsicle, dunked in a coupe of prosecco—is a resounding favorite.
eatsaintleo.com, 662-380-5141, 1101 Jackson Avenue East, Oxford, MS 38655
9. Coquette (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Exposed brick walls and black-and-white tiled floors welcome you into this New Orleans kitchen, where the dishes are plated with stunning, modern precision and the wicker barstools allow for easy reclining. Snack on Catfish Dip with Sourdough Crackers and indulge in Charm Eggplant or Smoked Goat and Sweet Corn Stew. With a finale of Chocolate Mochiko or Black Tea Semifreddo, it’s crucial that you don’t skip dessert. For the adventurous, the 5-course blind tasting holds boundless promise. “Put yourself in our hands,” the menu beckons.
coquettenola.com, 504-265-0421, 2800 Magazine Street, New Orleans, LA 70115
8. Saltbox Seafood Joint (Durham, North Carolina)
This place channels the unfussy, casual spirit of a beachside dive in Durham, North Carolina. The menu—handwritten on a chalkboard each day—changes based on what’s in season; you could find Bone-In Panfish or Soft Shell Crab, but there are no guarantees. On weekends, folks line up at the window-service shack for the Crab Grits (which are available only on Saturdays).
saltboxseafoodjoint.com, 919-908-8970, 608 North Mangum Street, Durham, NC 27701
7. Johnny’s Restaurant (Birmingham, Alabama)
If you’re standing in line at Johnny’s, you had better be prepared: This Greek-inspired meat-and-three moves quickly, and there’s no time for the indecisive. Luckily, there’s no wrong way to turn with these down-home meats and veggie sides. Some laud the chicken pot pie (which almost always sells out); others swear by the collards. No matter what you order, Johnny’s does it plain and simple, just how it should be.
johnnyshomewood.com, 205-802-2711, 2902 18th Street, South Suite 200, Homewood, AL 35209
6. The Library (St. Petersburg, Florida)
Princely blue plaid armchairs nestle into alcoves where Victorian portraiture hangs on the walls; leather-studded chairs are tucked into long, dark-wooded tables; tall shelves of blue-toned books draw the eye upward. With such a transportive ambiance, The Library is probably the last thing you’d expect to find inside the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. Come for coffee and stay for a masterfully composed chorus of fried brussels sprouts and lime crusted halibut.
thelibrarystpete.com, 727-369-9969, 600 5th Street South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701
Check Out The South's Best Local Restaurants
5. Hog & Hominy (Memphis, Tennessee)
This hip Memphis favorite fuses Southern and Italian sensibilities in trailblazing fashion. Cornbread is spiked with Calabrian chili, butter beans are tossed with crisp pancetta, and exceptionally plump biscuit gnocchi defy all conventions. You’ll leave wondering why you’ve never thought to put thickly sliced heirloom tomatoes and cheesy mayo on a pizza before. (An insider tip: Don’t miss pizza happy hour, when you can get a full pie with all the fixin’s for just $10.)
Editor's Note: Hog & Hominy suffered a devastating fire earlier this year, but they are rebuilding and will re-open.
hogandhominy.com, 901-207-7396, 707 West Brookhaven Circle, Memphis, TN 38117
4. Mama J’s (Richmond, Virginia)
Real Southern soul food comes straight from Mama’s kitchen, and this long-standing truth is celebrated at Mama J’s, a family-owned restaurant where home cooking is king. Mix and match colorful ramekins of mac and cheese, potato salad, and coleslaw with fried chicken or catfish. In proper form, much love and care go into each plate.
mamajskitchen.com, 804-225-7449, 415 North 1st Street, Richmond, VA 23219
3. Cúrate (Asheville, North Carolina)
Based on the principle that food can restore and cure, Cúrate—which translates from Spanish as “heal you”—brings a touch of Spanish flair to Asheville, North Carolina. At this innovative tapas bar, you’ll find twists on paella (involving noodles dyed in squid ink) served alongside classic hot, cold, and charcoal-grilled small plates—don’t miss the house-made chorizo wrapped in potato chips. The menu is exceedingly accommodating of dietary restrictions and is even environmentally friendly: All paper and food materials are composted.
katiebuttonrestaurants.com/curate, 828-239-2946, 13 Biltmore Avenue, Asheville, NC 28801
2. The Grocery (Charleston, South Carolina)
In Charleston, a city saturated with culinary creativity, The Grocery stands out for its commitment to the land and the local. This neighborhood spot does away with the frills and fuss of fine dining, instead delivering seasonal produce and seafood in creative plates like Farm Egg Raviolo with mushroom conserva, bitter greens, and parmesan, or SC Yellowfin Tuna Crudo with apple, jalapeño, lime, and spiced peanuts. For a true local experience, sit at the community table.
thegrocerycharleston.com, 843-302-8825, 4 Cannon Street, Charleston, SC 29403
1. The Grey (Savannah, Georgia)
Led by Executive Chef Mashama Bailey, The Grey has earned a flood of press (including a feature on Netflix’s artistic, reverent series, Chef’s Table) for its deeply rooted Southern menu, which is divided into 4 main sections: Pantry, Water, Dirt, and Pasture. Bailey treats even the humblest ingredients with the utmost care and dignity, transforming cabbage and mushrooms into standalone dishes and bringing beef tongue into its own spotlight.
thegreyrestaurant.com, 912-662-5999, 109 Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard, Savannah, GA 31401