At first glance, our best restaurants list might lead you to believe that the Southern Living audience prefers the classics. True, Southerners aren’t as quick to forget their favorites like some cities where the revolving door of new and old spins faster. We feel a loyalty to the places, newcomers, and old standards, that continue to elevate and celebrate Southern food not just for us but for visitors from all over.
These restaurants have been–and are still proving–what we’ve known is so special and unique about Southern food, from Frank Stitt’s game changing stone-ground grits he introduced back in 1982 to rising star Chef Mashama Bailey who has taken Lowcountry cuisine to new heights. And while this list may appear to be an homage to the familiar, not one of the expected names on this list has let their menu stagnate. And the newer additions, they show what the old pros know too: the South is changing. It always has been, but what people (especially our neighbors to the North) expect to be Southern cuisine is transforming as our region becomes home to even more newcomers who bring their own food customs with them.
Southerners are changing too. We are learning and expanding our knowledge of other culture’s food and reexamining what we love about our own traditions. From Atlanta’s Cooks & Soldiers, a take on a traditional pintxo tapas bar in Spain’s Basque region to Chef Vivian Howard’s Chef & the Farmer, which was one of the first to take a deeper look at the ingredients and methods behind Appalachian cooking, Southern restaurants have never been more exciting, vibrant, and inclusive.
Perhaps none illustrates it better than our winner Commander’s Palace, which has been bending and transforming what New Orleans and the country knows to be Creole and Cajun cuisine since 1974. These top 10 tie the two sides of the South together beautifully.