The South's Best Restaurants 2015
This year, we asked our favorite chefs where they're eating, and the short answer is everywhere. With the help of the men and women behind kitchens such as The Grey, Cakes & Ale, and Cochon, we've managed to narrow the list down to thirty eateries that everyone needs to try stat. Be sure to follow @Southern_Living on Twitter for continuing restaurant updates.
BoccaLupo, Atlanta, GA
Whether you choose hand-rolled or extruded, don’t skip the pasta at BoccaLupo. Chef Bruce Logue, an Atlanta-born alum of New York's Babbo, the restaurant churns out inventive hits like rich 20-yolk tagliatelle and squid-ink spaghetti. Not in the mood for noodles? Try Logue’s Bruschetta banh mi, a longtime fan favorite.
753 Edgewood Avenue NE; boccalupoatl.com
Brennan's, New Orleans, LA
Since 1946, Brennan’s has anchored the New Orleans fine dining community. After all, this is the flagship of the family who invented Bananas Foster. So when the restaurant unexpectedly closed in 2013, the city held its collective breath until Ralph Brennan reopened the institution with chef Slade Rushing helming the kitchen. The menu still features old favorites like turtle soup with aged sherry and grated egg, but it also offers new twists on traditional dishes such as the BBQ lobster with lemon confit and thyme.
417 Royal Street; brennansneworleans.com
Cakes & Ale, Decatur, GA
At chef Billy Allin’s Cakes & Ale, rich burrata takes to the plate with watermelon, beets, and nigella seeds, and ribbons of sagnarelli pasta meet quail, lady peas, and mustard greens. The marriage of seasonal Southern ingredients with flavors influenced by his family's Napoli heritage has made the restaurant a local favorite.
155 Sycamore Street; cakesandalerestaurant.com
The Catbird Seat, Nashville, TN
With only thirty-two seats, Nashville’s The Catbird Seat is a tough ticket–reservations can be made 30 days ahead, so get ready to hop online at midnight a month before you want to go. But it’s worth the effort for the chance to experience Noma alum chef Trevor Moran’s thoughtful, inventive, and modernist tasting menus.
1711 Division Street; thecatbirdseatrestaurant.com
Chez Fonfon, Birmingham, AL
Renowned chef Frank Stitt’s intimate French bistro has a sophisticated yet laid back vibe where guests savoring chicken liver mousse and steak frites at a cozy table for two are having just as good a time as the locals pulling up a stool at the bar to nosh on the grilled onion-topped burger. Authentic touches like French Belle Epoque café tables and a 100-year-old etched glass door from Lyon echo the classic dishes like trout amandine, escargot, and fish served with beurre blanc. On sunny days, there’s no better place to enjoy a glass of wine or a Dijon Sidecar than the boules court hidden behind the restaurant; any day is a good time to enjoy the coconut cake made divine with a small pool of vanilla crème anglaise.
2007 11th Ave S; fonfonbham.com
Cured, San Antonio, TX
After spending ten years working with chef John Besh in Louisiana, chef Steve McHugh moved to San Antonio (in 2010) to open Besh’s expansion of his popular French-Creole bistro Lüke. Three years later McHugh, spurred by a lymphoma diagnosis, opened his first restaurant: Cured. Drawing inspiration from his childhood on a Wisconsin farm, where he helped raise (and eat!) hogs, he designed a farm-to-table menu focusing on fresh charcuterie. All of it is cured from 30 days to a year, and everything’s made in house. Don’t miss the Pork Butter, served with grilled bread and tomato jalapeno jam or the decadent, melt-in-your-mouth Wagyu Beef Tartare, served with oyster aioli.
306 Pearl Parkway Suite101; curedatpearl.com
Death and Taxes, Raleigh, NC
Chef Ashley Christensen added to her mini-empire this June with the opening of her latest project, Death and Taxes. Almost everything in her new restaurant—from dishes like steak with chimichurri to oysters with chili butter—has a wood-fired component. And be sure to check out the excellent cocktail list, featuring unique drinks such as the aptly-named Pine Box, which features IPA, Campari, charred pineapple, and rosemary.
105 West Hargett Street; ac-restaurants.com/death-taxes
FIG, Charleston, SC
FIG is Charlestonians' go-to. They long for summer’s cheesy Tomato Tarte Tatine topped with olive puree and affectionately refer to the ricotta gnocchi as “pillows from heaven.” And don’t even get them started about the poached stone crab. Expertly executed dishes in a relaxed atmosphere have become founding chef Mike Lata’s calling card (it’s what earned him a Best Chef James Beard Award), and executive chef Jason Stanhope carries out that mission flawlessly–sourcing every possible ingredient from nearby farmers and fishermen from triggerfish to Carolina Gold rice. While that might mean the menu changes with the weather (literally), it also creates the excitement that keeps regulars coming back for more.
232 Meeting Street; eatatfig.com
Fisher's Upstairs, Orange Beach, AL
Chef Bill Briand trained under Emeril Lagasse before moving to Orange Beach, where he was met with an embarrassment of riches from the sea. Eschewing traditional beach food—fried seafood and only fried seafood—much of Briand’s dishes spend time on the grill. The seared jumbo scallops with roasted cauliflower and ginger herb salad offers a refreshing recharge before heading back out onto the sand. And we’ve recommended it before, but the Oysters Earle—oysters roasted and covered in garlic leek butter—are a must.
27075 Marina Road; fishersobm.com
The Florence, Savannah, GA
Handmade pasta, a forward-looking bar program—think thoughtful cocktails in bottles and on draft—and owner Hugh Acheson’s focus on Southern ingredients elevate The Florence into a must-eat location. Executive chef Kyle Jacovino helms the Italian-driven kitchen. The menu changes to accomodate seasonality, but look for dishes like peach and ricotta bruschetta.
1 B West Victory Drive; theflorencesavannah.com
The Grey, Savannah, GA
About three months after opening, Chef Mashama Bailey’s restaurant became a James Beard semifinalist for best new restaurant. It’s a well deserved honor. Housed in a former Greyhound bus terminal, The Grey elevates soul food to unbelievable heights. Dishes like the Spicy Roasted Eggplant with peanuts and chili d’arbol or the Whole Roasted Fish with charred oranges and bay leaves will have you questioning your knowledge of Southern fare. But don’t leave without trying a simple dish bursting with flavor: the Country Pasta with pork belly, Parmesan, and cracked black pepper.
109 Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd; thegreyrestaurant.com
Highland Avenue, Hickory, NC
At executive chef Kyle McKnight’s restaurant, the commitment to local sourcing is visible not only on plates but in glasses as well. The bar program highlights a number of North Carolina spirits, like TOPO Vodka from Chapel Hill, and Mother Earth Gin from Kinston, North Carolina. At tables, expect to see McKnight utilize Southern ingredients in fun ways, like pork belly with a sweet onion buttermilk vichyssoise or green beans garnished with smoked peanuts.
883 Highland Avenue SE; highlandavenuerestaurant.com
Hog & Hominy, Memphis, TN
Thanks to chefs Michael Hudman and Andy Ticer, Memphis is known not only for rock ’n’ roll but also some of the best Italian eateries you’ll find in the country. Hog & Hominy, their modern pizzeria, fires up inventive combinations like the Red Eye with pork belly, fried egg, and celery leaf and the Thunderbird! FortyTwice!, an upgraded pepperoni pizza covered in fontina and drizzled with honey. And don’t miss the blistered Shishito Peppers paired with crispy pig ear slivers. The cozy interior feels as comfortable as hanging out at your best friend's house—if your best friend has incredible taste and banana yellow chairs.
707 West Brookhaven Circle; hogandhominy.com
Husk, Charleston, SC, and Nashville, TN
Chef Sean Brock’s Southern church of dining has become our region’s flagship restaurant. With Brock’s obsessive dedication to all things heirloom, organic, and hyper-local, every dish is a star, from the bar’s beloved cheeseburger served on a housemade buttermilk and benne seed bun to the dining room’s salt-cured fish, Benton’s bacon-infused fried chicken, or the main-course-worthy veggie plate. While some diners may be inclined to argue in favor of one location over the other, we think that’s like comparing apples to okra. Each menu showcases the distinct food traditions that make up the Lowcountry and Appalachia, and, in turn, the South.
L'opossum, Richmond, VA
Chef David Shannon’s new venture L’opposum isn’t only idiosyncratic in name. For one, the restaurant is furnished with his personal art collection, which includes Star Wars collectable plates, miniature statues of David, and paintings of punk singers like Nick Cave. Oh yeah, and stuffed opossums. The menu contains items with names such as A Mélange of Manikintowne Mesclun and Swashbuckling Bundt Pirate Drenched in Hot Buttered Rum. Try the Les Escargots à la Ham Biscuit, i.e., snails on soft biscuits swimming in a sweet garlic beurre blanc.
626 China Street; lopossum.com
Lantern, Chapel Hill, NC
Chef Andrea Reusing’s Asian-inflected dishes have been drawing people to Chapel Hill’s Lantern for more than ten years. The James Beard Award-winner deftly incorporates local products into Asian cuisine, which results in unique dishes like tea-smoked, North Carolina-raised chicken, served with local beans and housemade XO sauce.
423 West Franklin Street; lanternrestaurant.com
Launderette, Austin, TX
Since opening earlier this year, Austin's Launderette has filled its seats. Chef Rene Ortiz and pastry chef Laura Sawicki, known to locals as the team behind La Condesa and Sway, have deftly switched gears from Mexican and Thai to the Mediterranean flavors prevalent here. Ortiz's menu of "Snacky Bits," toasts, and wood-fired proteins is complemented by a large array of vegetable dishes, ensuring that there's something for everyone, whether it's Red Snapper Crudo or romesco-draped broccolini.
Leon's Oyster Shop, Charleston, SC
The simple genius of serving exemplary fried chicken alongside high quality oysters makes Leon’s Oyster House a must. A joint venture between Brooks Reitz and Tim Mink, the King Street spot excels with crispy, spicy, fried fowl, and simple, well-executed seafood offerings. Don’t miss the Char-Grilled Oysters, served with thick toast fingers for scooping up the buttery, garlicky goodness from the shell. Vegetable offerings are equally on point—the crisp, cool Siam Salad with Napa cabbage and peanuts can’t be beat—and don’t skip the mint-chocolate boozy Grasshopper milkshake for dessert.
Little Octopus, Nashville, TN
Little Octopus may be a relative newcomer, but the East Nashville spot is drawing raves from far outside the neighborhood. The menu is organized simply, with headings for dishes “Cool,” “Warm,” and “Raw.” Chef Daniel Herget’s mostly small plate offerings follow this simple aesthetic, with an emphasis on fresh and seasonal and, with dishes like Sumac-Crusted Tofu, is extremely vegetarian-friendly.
604 Gallatin Avenue; littleoctopusnashville.com
MilkWood, Louisville, KY
At Louisville’s MilkWood, Brooklyn native chef Edward Lee blends the flavors of his Korean childhood with the ingredients and techniques of the South. Try the Organic Pork Burger, topped with cracklins and cabbage kim-chi or Togarashi Cheesecake decked out with miso caramel and peanut sea salt. If you’re on the East Coast, get excited about Lee’s latest venture, Succotash, in Maryland's National Harbor, which is set to open this autumn.
316 West Main Street; milkwoodrestaurant.com
Miller Union, Atlanta, GA
At Atlanta’s Miller Union, executive chef Steven Satterfield has been dishing up his farmstead-inspired cuisine since the restaurant’s opening in 2009. Satterfield applies his touch to the fresh, seasonal produce that he champions, and, in dishes like a simple farm egg baked in celery cream and the now-iconic vegetable plate, elevates the simple into the sublime.
999 Brady Avenue NW; millerunion.com
Odette, Florence, AL
Gracefully balancing between neighborhood watering hole and fine dining hot spot, this farm-to-table-inspired eatery is a welcome surprise for visitors to the tiny, bucolic town of Florence, Alabama. Chef Josh Quick’s dishes prove that fresh, forward-thinking ideas aren’t relegated to big city menus from seared catfish nestled in a hill of Carolina Gold rice over blue crab étouffée and green tomato salsa, to red curry deviled eggs or a shell pea risotto topped with crispy chicken skin. At the bar, you’ll not only find local lawyers, musicians, and fashion designers dreaming up new projects, there’s the state’s largest bourbon selection (one of the few bars to sport a rare bottle of A.H. Hirsch) and a creative craft cocktail menu that rivals any in the South. Try Ridin' on a Dolphin, a highball filled with brandy, mango puree, green tea-infused coconut water garnished with an oregano sprig.
120 North Court Street; odettealabama.com
Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co., St. Louis, MO
Chef Kevin Nashan says the idea for Peacemaker sprang from selfishness, but we’re certainly not complaining. “This is the kind of food I want to eat at the end of a shift,” Nashan says. For the menu, he followed the path of the Acadians from Canada through Maine and New Orleans to Lafayette, Louisiana. The result is one of the only menus on which lobster rolls and po'boys share space. Knowing the bread is the most important part of both sandwiches, Nashan teamed up with Companion Bakery to create loaves that combine the structure of a Pullman loaf with the buttery crispness of brioche. Try the Clam Roll, filled with cornmeal-dredged and brined fried clams, topped with a garlic chive aioli.
1831 Sidney Street; peacemakerstl.com
Peche, New Orleans, LA
Chef Donald Link’s Warehouse District outpost has solidified its reputation as the place to enjoy New Orleans seafood since opening in 2013. Executive chef Ryan Prewitt doesn’t muddy the naturally delicious flavors of the Gulf Coast-sourced ingredients from smothered catfish and seafood gumbo to raw oysters identified by which bayou regions they were harvested. (You’ll be amazed at how different an oyster from St. Bernard Parish tastes from one in nearby Terrebonne.) The secret ingredient for many of Prewitt and Link’s dishes is time spent on the kitchen’s wood-fire inferno of a grill, which lends a clean, smoky taste to items like their grilled skirt steak dressed in salsa verde—a must order.
800 Magazine Street; pecherestaurant.com
Rolf and Daughters, Nashville, TN
The menu at this East Nashville spot begins with a sourdough bread plate with seaweed-speckled butter and only gets better from there. The small plates follow only one rule: the more unexpected, the better, as exemplified by beets with crispy quinoa, a smear of cashew “cheese,” and blackberries to crostini topped with chicken liver, peach, almond, and lemon balm. The star of the house-made pasta menu is the Squid Ink Bucatini–midnight black noodles swimming in a tomato sauce boosted with n’duja, a savory spreadable pork sausage, and finished with flecks of crispy breadcrumbs.
700 Taylor Street; rolfanddaughters.com
Rose's Luxury, Washington, D.C.
It’s not unusual to find hungry diners waiting up to three hours to dine at Rose’s Luxury, one of the District’s—if not the country’s—hottest restaurants. Since opening in 2013, it’s grown from 27 to 64 employees. And no, it still doesn’t take reservations. The seasonal menu constantly changes, but expect dishes like the gluten-free, dairy-free coconut milk ice cream topped with burnt coconut, caramel, kiwi, and lime or spaghetti with spicy strawberry sauce and fresh ricotta cheese. Chef Aaron Silverman has a few developments in the works, too. Next year, he'll open a six-table restaurant next door and is currently working on a retractable glass greenhouse for Rose's Luxury so diners can enjoy a rooftop meal even in the grip of a winter snowstorm.
717 8th Street SE; rosesluxury.com
The Second Line, Oxford, MS, and Memphis, TN
Chef Kelly English grew up in New Orleans and attended college at Ole Miss. So it’s only natural that he would expand his Memphis-based, NOLA-focused The Second Line to his college town. Both locations feature po'boys, about which English has strong feelings. “I think a lot of times, the casual New Orleans restaurant done outside the city can be pretty atrocious,” he says. “We don’t really put our own spin on po'boys down here. We use the right bread. We use pickle, lettuce, mayo, and tomato.” If you aren’t in the mood for a fresh oyster or shrimp po'boy, though, try the chicken-fried steak—traditional deep-fried bottom round with brown gravy—which he makes in honor of Smitty’s, the hangover-curing diner that once occupied the building the Oxford Second Line calls home.
2144 Monroe Avenue, Memphis; secondlinememphis.com; 208 South Lamar Blvd., Oxford; 662/380-5050
Shaya, New Orleans, LA
Chef Alon Shaya made a name for himself by helming the Italian bistro Domenica and its casual spinoff Pizza Domencia for New Orleans restaurateur extraordinaire John Besh. Now, with Besh’s support, the Israeli-born chef has opened the city’s hottest new restaurant (and its first to serve modern Israeli cuisine). An open flame, pecan-wood-burning oven chars fresh pita in the corner, which is served with hummus and curried fried cauliflower with caramelized onions or ikra featuring local paddlefish caviar. Don’t miss the eggplant carved out and stuffed with summer beans and muhammara, a Syrian hot pepper dip.
4213 Magazine Street; shayarestaurant.com
Underbelly, Houston, TX
Executive chef Chris Shepherd and his team at Underbelly take food seriously. That’s why they only use local produce and why they focus on the whole animal. (Each week, the restaurant receives a cow, three pigs, and three goats, which they break down and serve until they run out.) It’s why they change the menu daily, and it’s why he visited Vietnam in January to see where much of his city hails from. That trip influenced his menu, causing him to experiment with dishes like white fish marinated in yogurt, dill, ginger, chili, and turmeric, roasted and served over rice noodles with lettuce, cabbage, pickled onions, and peanuts.
1100 Westheimer Road; underbellyhouston.com
Woodberry Kitchen, Baltimore, MD
Woodberry Kitchen’s chef Spike Gjerde holds the only James Beard Award ever bestowed on a Baltimore restaurant, an honor given this May. Guided by a strict farm-to-table ethos, Gjerde and his staff change the menu constantly to reflect what’s available from the mid-Atlantic foodshed. Look for elevated salads and fresh seafood, straight from the Chesapeake Bay.
2010 Clipper Park Road, No.126; woodberrykitchen.com