The South's Best Restaurants In Every State 2019

Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina (Orange Beach, AL)
Photo: Robbie Caponetto

For many Southerners, restaurants act as their town hall and the chefs behind them their unofficial mayors. They are the places locals take out-of-towners to give them a sense of their city; they are the institutes preserving local cultures. The restaurants that appeared on this year's South's Best survey show that whether you live in a global tourist destination like Charleston, South Carolina, or a tiny Appalachian town like Kinston, North Carolina, the restaurants that become emblematic of state pride don't fit one set of criteria. They're just as unique as the states that they call home and the people who frequent them. From chef Mashama Bailey's reexamination of the foodways that created Lowcountry cuisine at The Grey in Savannah, Georgia, to the elegant-casual duality of dockside treasure Fisher's in Orange Beach, Alabama, the ways these restaurants speak to their communities make them winners for our readers.

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These Are the South's Best Restaurants

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Alabama: Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina

Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina (Orange Beach, AL)
Robbie Caponetto

Orange Beach, Alabama

While there is a time and place for a beachside basket full of fried shrimp and overdressed coleslaw, the treasures of the Gulf find a home benefitting their glory at Fisher’s. The upstairs-downstairs setup here might imply pomp above and party below, but executive chef Bill Briand lends complexity to the casual dockside dishes downstairs and expert simplicity to the specialties served in the dining room upstairs (like hyper-local oysters topped with a tomato and bacon compote). Either floor makes for a dreamy cocktail-sipping perch, where you can gaze out on the secluded but bustling Orange Beach Marina.

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Arkansas: South on Main

South on Main
Courtesy of South on Main

Little Rock, Arkansas

Doubling as a venue space for acclaimed Southern literary magazine, Oxford American, South on Main serves smoked baby back ribs on ciabatta to blackened catfish with buttermilk grits while the stories from the magazine come to life on stage from poetry and book readings to intimate singer-songwriter performances.

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Florida: Bern’s Steak House

Bern’s Steak House
Amy Pezzicara, Pezz Photo/Bern's Steak House

Tampa, Florida

Renown for their wine collection, Bern’s boasts over half a million bottles and 6,800 selections. Big numbers abound further through the restaurant especially in the second floor Henry Waugh Dessert Room, which features 48 enclosed booths constructed from wine holding tanks and around 50 desserts on the menu.

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Georgia: The Grey

The Grey
Robbie Caponetto

Savannah, Georgia

In what was once an abandoned Greyhound bus station where restrooms were segregated, The Grey has quickly become one of the South’s, and the entire country’s, most culturally import contemporary restaurants. Inside the Art Deco jewel of Savannah’s historic district, James Beard Award-nominated executive chef Mashama Bailey infuses her menu with historical significance, like her “pantry, water, dirt, and pasture” taxonomy. It’s an homage to the Southern culinary icon Edna Lewis, who organized her cookbook In Pursuit of Flavor in a similar way. Despite her respect for the South’s culinary history, Bailey still manages to keep a playful approachability.

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Kentucky: Dudley’s on Short

Kentucky: Dudley’s on Short
Courtesy of Dudley’s on Short

Lexington, Kentucky

Lexington lays low, but locals know this small Kentucky city has a culinary scene on the rise. Cocktail lounge Ona and Ouita Michel’s latest outposts Zim’s Cafe and Honeywood have received recent national attention, but Dudley’s is recognized as one of the restaurants that paved the way when owner Debbie Long started it in 1981.

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Louisiana: Commander’s Palace

Louisiana: Commander’s Palace
W. Rush Jagoe V

New Orleans, Louisiana

Commander’s Palace is a neighborhood restaurant in the way that New Orleans is an American city. Although true, there is nowhere else like either. A massive mansion adjacent to an ancient cemetery and traditional double-gallery-style houses, its misfit look has been called “Victorian Cuckoo.” Its big, boisterous exterior, painted unapologetically bright aqua, alludes to what’s inside.

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Maryland: Duck Duck Goose

Duck Duck Goose Restaurant in Maryland
Courtesy of Duck Duck Goose

Baltimore, Maryland

Chef Ashish Alfred’s French bistro Duck Duck Goose continues to win over Baltimore with perfectly executed classics from beef tartare to ratatouille, with a few of his own dishes mixed in, like a date puree-topped cauliflower steak.

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Mississippi: City Grocery

Mississippi: City Grocery
Stephen DeVries

Oxford, Mississippi

A forebearer in the South’s restaurant renaissance, City Grocery also acts as a nexus for the South’s literary, culinary, and creative communities. From acclaimed authors and poets to fashion designers, chefs, and artists—many an icon has passed through its doors. And they likely made their way upstairs to the legendary lookout balcony over Oxford’s courthouse square for sipping and storytelling.

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Missouri: Farmhaus

Farmhaus Restaurant Missouri
Courtesy of Farmhaus

St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis chef Kevin Willman’s menu is inspired equally by his childhood on his family’s farmland, where he harvested vegetables and made put-ups, and his time spent working on charter fishing boats and cooking at restaurants along the Florida panhandle.

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North Carolina: Chef & the Farmer

The Chef & The Farmer
Baxter Miller

Kinston, North Carolina

Despite its remote location in Kinston, North Carolina, hundreds of thousands felt like they had visited Chef & The Farmer through owner Vivian Howard’s award-winning PBS show A Chef’s Life, where viewers saw the highs and lows of restaurant-ownership and Howard’s mission to sustain Appalachian agriculture.

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Oklahoma: The Tavern

The Tavern Oklahoma
Courtesy of The Tavern

Tulsa, Oklahoma

From a cognac cream and stilton-topped burger to pork chop with cheddar pimento grits, Executive Chef Audrey Long’s comforting pub-inspired food finds an equally cozy home in the intimately lit, library-like dining room.

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South Carolina: Husk

Courtesy of Neighborhood Dining Group

Charleston, South Carolina

Husk quickly became one of the foundational restaurants that introduced Charleston, Southern cooking, and Low Country traditions to both a national and global audience. Now under the direction of Executive Chef Raymond England, continues the commitment to the area’s farmers and producers, and in turn, creating dishes that tell their stories.

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Tennessee: The Barn at Blackberry Farm

Tennessee: The Barn at Blackberry Farm
Beall + Thomas Photography

Townsend, Tennessee

While the ingredients are terrestrially familiar, the forms they take in the dishes at The Barn at Blackberry Farm makes you feel like you are inhabiting a separate world. In it, chef Casidee Dabney creates everything from asparagus with roasted garlic aioli to Carolina gold rice dumplings to cauliflower with the same power as protein by roasting it in a hearth and pairing it with pickled onions, forest mushrooms, and pistachios.

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Texas: Ninfa’s on Navigation

Ninfa’s on Navigation
Courtesy of The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation

Houston, Texas

If fajitas took a DNA test, the results would trace back to this Houston favorite. Founded by “Mama” Ninfa Laurenzo in 1973, the neighborhood spot is known as the home of tacos al carbon, created when Laurenzo first served sliced chargrilled steak on corn tortillas. But Ninfa’s is even more of a monument to a persistent woman. Widowed at 45, Laurenzo took over the family’s tortilla-and-pizza dough factory. To help bolster profits, she started a 10-table restaurant in front-with pots and pans from her own kitchen. Today chef Alex Padilla (whose mother worked for Laurenzo) keeps the fajita flame alive but adds his own memorable mark.

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Virginia: The Shack

Shack Restaurant Staunton Virginia
Photo: Courtesy Sera Petras Photography/The Shack

Staunton, Virginia

In the middle of the Shenandoah Valley in a tiny 26-seat restaurant, chef Ian Boden serves food inspired by his wife’s grandmother, who welded Appalachian and Eastern European Jewish food traditions together: schmaltz-glazed rolls, rice, fried cabbage with country ham, and butternut squash pierogies, complete with an onion sauce, chili, and pecans.

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West Virginia: Prime 44 West

West Virginia: Prime 44 West
Courtesy of The Greenbrier and Prime 44 West

White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia

Housed inside the historic resort The Greenbrier, Prime 44 combines the ambiance of a 1950s steakhouse with a miniature hall of fame dedicated to West Virginian Jerry West, who is also honored on the menu by way of a 44-ounce Porterhouse.

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Washington, D.C.: Old Ebbitt Grill

Washington: Old Ebbitt Grill
Courtesy of Old Ebbitt Grill

Washington, D.C.

Famous for having hosted many a presidential customer in its original location (from Andrew Johnson to Ulysses S. Grant), The Old Ebbitt Grill continues its political presence in its current location too; it's where D.C. insiders drink and dine under patriotic paintings.

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