Last July I had a pulled pork plate that perfectly summarized dining in the South right now. It was at Miller Union, a convivial restaurant in Atlanta (where I live — at least, for the week or so a month when I’m not on the road). You’ll find pulled pork plates everywhere in the South, of course; on this one, devised by chef and Georgia native Steven Satterfield, the meat came heaped over a handsomely misshapen johnnycake, lacy around the edges and ideal for soaking up the pork’s juices.
Thin pickle rounds were scattered over top, and the whole thing was completed by tangy coleslaw, two crimson tomato slices seasoned with coarse pepper, and a side of barbecue sauce. The tastes roused me to the summer moment, and they also conjured similar Southern meals I’d relished all around this section of the country, at cafeteria-style meat-and-threes, and soul food restaurants, and barbecue establishments.
The food on that plate resonated even further, though. The cornmeal in the johnnycake echoes the masa that chefs at taquerias throughout the South use to make tortillas. Other local cooks might take the same pork and braise it with soy sauce and ginger, or marinate it in Korean chile paste, or roast it until the skin crackles. The tomatoes might be into an Italian marinara or “put up” as ruddy South Indian-style chutney zapped with curry leaves and cumin seeds.
Southern food is a mosaic. A constellation of culinary influences came together over the last 300 years to give us defining pleasures like skillet fried chicken, cornbread, cheese grits, collards in porky potlikker, and caramel cake. This was a cuisine built on Native American acumen, colonialism and the spice trade, adaptive farming in fertile soil, and on the sheer resilience of Africans sold or born into the horrors of slavery. The food of the region constantly evolves, its repertoire extending far beyond the Antebellum pantry. A constant influx of immigrants makes the South their home. Newcomers adapt regional standards to their tastes; their foods become indelible to our collective identity.
The array of excellence and welcome multiculturalism — never before so vibrant in the South and across America — is a driving force behind this collection of the essential dining destinations in the region. Geographically, we framed the South to encompass central Virginia (we’ll tackle Washington D.C. and its metro area in a later survey of the Mid-Atlantic) to Louisiana, and including the mountain states of Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia (though no West Virginia restaurants made the cut this time). Texas is Texas; it’ll have its very own map.
The South is the part of the country I know best, but no one person could author an unimpeachable declaration of the essential restaurants across this dazzling corner of America. On this list — presented in alphabetical order by state and restaurant — you’ll find a rich cross-section of voices and palates contributing their opinions. Twelve writers and experts joined me in narrowing the South’s dozens of standouts down to 38, a brutal task. Their names are attached to their contributions, and you’ll find their bios at the end of the article. Special thanks to Jennifer V. Cole, the most well-traveled Southerner I know, for obsessing with me via shared spreadsheets and fevered phone conversations.
Of course famed regional specialties (shrimp and grits, whole hog barbecue, mac and cheese, berry cobbler) make appearances here. So do posole, and Sichuan pork belly, and a spin on bibimbap that incorporates fried catfish. Your favorite didn’t make the cut? Some of mine didn’t, either. As with any Eater map, this ensemble is a living document, a work in progress, and an invitation to debate, savor, and celebrate. — Bill Addison, restaurant editor
Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina
Orange Beach, Alabama
WHAT: The bounty of the Gulf, in its freshest and finest expression. WHY: Beachside restaurants across the South often (distressingly) serve fish flown in from elsewhere. This dock-chic treasure, though, offers the true local catch. Chef Bill Briand’s unremitting support of area fishermen and oyster farmers yields dazzlers such as roasted Bon Secour oysters buoyed by garlic-leek butter, or curried grouper collar packed with silky flesh and swathed in a cloak of tomatoes, charred peppers, and mint. — Jennifer V. Cole
27075 Marina Road #300
Orange Beach, AL 36561
(251) 981-7305 | fishersobm.com
Highlands Bar and Grill
WHAT: The flagship restaurant of the empire overseen by Frank and Pardis Stitt, the South’s first couple of gracious hospitality. WHY: Decades before all of America came to worship fried chicken and shrimp over grits, Frank Stitt forged a cuisine that applied French techniques to ingredients grown on Alabama farms and fished from Gulf waters. Highlands opened in 1983, and has stayed strikingly relevant since day one: A recent stunning dinner of lemony pan-seared shad roe, duck ballotine spiced with juniper and cumin, and pastry chef Dolester Miles’ edge-of-spring strawberry cobbler reminded me of its magnificence yet again. — B.A.
2011 11th Avenue South
Birmingham, AL 35205
(205) 939-1400 | highlandsbarandgrill.com
WHAT: This ambitious restaurant in the artsy 21C Hotel sits a short mile away from the massive Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Walmart-heiress-led museum that has turned this northwestern Arkansas town into a cultural magnet. WHY: From the restaurant’s perch at the fringe of the Ozarks, chef Matthew McClure delivers a pitch-perfect mix of dishes that blends Southern warmth and Americana-style heartiness, including a 25-minute egg with pork belly and kale as well as beef rib-eye grilled over wood and served with roasted potatoes. — David Ramsey
200 NE A Street
Bentonville, AR 72712
(479) 286-6575 | thehivebentonville.com
WHAT: A playful, exciting, and unexpected ascendant in Miami’s buzzing Wynwood Arts District. Alter’s cramped, stripped-down space in a former warehouse departs from the town’s unending voracity for glitz, but locals and visitors eagerly wade into the melee. WHY: The South never really embraced modernist cooking; the success of chef and co-owner Brad Kilgore’s breakout hit is the deserving exception. Whirling with global flavors, his vibrant creations (poached egg dressed in scallop espuma and truffle pearls as one example) are so exquisitely constructed that cleaning your plate feels like an act of vandalism. — Lee Klein
223 NW 23rd Street
Miami, FL 33127
(305) 573-5996 | altermiami.com
El Palacio de los Jugos
WHAT: An exuberant array of traditional Cuban foods and fresh juices, vended from stalls squeezed into a tropical fruit market. Portions are huge, prices are modest, and the mojo-marinated lechón asado is killer. WHY: To lunch at outdoor tables alongside the bustling crowds, with your Styrofoam container of comida, is to take a colossal bite of the Miami-Cuban cultural and culinary experience. El Palacio has multiple locations, but the original on Flagler is the one to visit. — L.K.
5721 W. Flagler Street
Miami, FL 33144
(305) 264-8662 | elpalaciodelosjugos.com
Five & Ten
WHAT: The polestar of chef, cookbook author, and Top Chef judge Hugh Acheson’s Georgia restaurant cadre. He opened Five & Ten, his first venture, in 2000 in a lovably scruffy space before relocating it to a genial Colonial Revival–style bungalow in 2013. WHY: Executive chef Richard Neal winningly carries on the easy-to-love aesthetic established by Acheson — a culinary style that plucks ideas from the French and Italian canons but still lands squarely in the South. A recent dazzler: buttery cornmeal porridge, a shade soupier than breakfast grits, covered with a sustaining tangle of collards, chard, kale, beets, and pickled hedgehog mushrooms. — B.A.
1073 S. Milledge Avenue
Athens, GA 30605
(706) 546-7300 | fiveandten.com
WHAT: A transformed Greyhound bus station showcasing both a gleaming Streamline Moderne interior and the remarkable culinary talents of Mashama Bailey. WHY: Memories of her childhood summers in South Georgia inspired Bailey to leave Manhattan in late 2014 and lead the Grey’s kitchen. Her self-described “port city Southern food” summons Savannah’s centuries-old spice trade. Serrano chiles set blaze to smoked collard greens, chermoula brightens grilled broccoli, and za’atar adds lemony zest to bison meatballs. — Adrian Miller
109 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard
Savannah, GA 31401
(912) 662-5999 | thegreyrestaurant.com
Heirloom Market BBQ
WHAT: A barbecue restaurant like no other, reflecting Atlanta’s love for smoked meats while also evincing the city’s Korean culinary riches. (The metro area is home to one of the country’s fastest-growing Korean-American communities.) WHY: Look no further than the spicy Korean pork sandwich, the magnum opus of chef-owners Jiyeon Lee and Cody Taylor. Gochujang chile paste imparts sweet heat to pork rib meat, which smokes over hickory and pork before being chopped, topped with kimchi coleslaw, and served on a potato bun. — B.A.
2243 Akers Mill Road Southeast
Atlanta, GA 30339
(770) 850-1008 | heirloommarketbbq.com
WHAT: The cocktail and oyster bar of your dreams, opened in 2013 in a historic train depot in downtown Decatur, the smaller, hipper city adjacent to Atlanta. WHY: It’s the best place to start a night (the weekday oyster happy hour is the best in town) or end one (the staff sings a charming last-call song with xylophone accompaniment). The cocktail list, though short and accessible, is creative and ever-changing, so it always feels exciting. Same goes for the oyster selection; co-owner Bryan Rackley culls a daily-changing list of 20 or so bivalves from small producers around the South and beyond. Looking for a heavier snack? Order the exceptional, creamy-crisp pommes macaire. — Sonia Chopra
303 E. Howard Avenue
Decatur, GA 30030
(404) 378-3502 | kimball-house.com
WHAT: The Sichuan jewel of Buford Highway, Atlanta’s famous corridor of restaurants serving cuisines from every corner of the globe. WHY: Ri Liu is a masterful classicist, the kind of chef who carves dragons out of carrots, transforms a hunk of pink pork belly into a glazed mahogany square, and turns the most basic white fish into something fiery and menacing (and also entirely delicious) with layers of chopped red chilies and scallions. Service is notoriously slow, but patience yields a wealth of intricately balanced dishes, many depth-charged with Sichuan peppercorns. — Jennifer Zyman
3940 Buford Highway
Duluth, GA 30096
WHAT: Airy dining rooms filled with knotty wooden tables. Punchy, potent cocktails sipped alongside grit fritters flecked with country ham, or hummus made from red peas and benne seeds. Servers wearing pale blue cotton shirts and sincere smiles. Dishes like apple- and sorghum-glazed quail with dirty rice or rabbit braised in Dijon and cream that, in their elemental goodness, bring you back to yourself. Sounds great, right? That’s Miller Union. WHY: Chef and co-owner Steven Satterfield is a quiet virtuoso — the kind of chef to whom farmers rush to deliver their first-of-season asparagus and peaches, the kind of honest soul around which community blooms and flourishes. — B.A.
999 Brady Avenue Northwest
Atlanta, GA 30318
(678) 733-8550 | millerunion.com
WHAT: An airy, perpetually packed dining room where the kitchen converts heady ideas and contrapuntal flavors into true pleasures. WHY: A tragedy that became a triumph: Founding chef Ryan Hidinger passed away before he could open the restaurant, ultimately started by his widow Jen Hidinger, sister Kara Hidinger, and brother-in law Ryan Smith, whose mind-bending cooking deeply honors Ryan Hidinger’s memory. The menu changes nightly, but look for silky cabbage leaves blanketed with shavings of sake katsuobushi (a riff on Japan’s bonito flakes, made here from salmon or trout) in a sauce electric with house-made shrimp paste. — B.A.
541 Edgewood Avenue Southeast
Atlanta, GA 30312
(404) 524-5005 | staplehouse.com
WHAT: A special-occasion restaurant open since 1978, whose energized, avant-garde tasting menus are thanks to Edward Lee, who took over as chef-owner in 2002. WHY: There’s an exhilarating contrast between the calm, flatteringly lit dining room and the eclectic, unexpected plates conceived by Lee and executive chef Kevin Ashworth. The most memorable dishes subtly incorporate Lee’s Korean culinary heritage, such as wagyu beef tongue with sauerkraut kimchi over caraway johnnycake, or king crab punched up with daikon, carrot, ginger, and cured egg yolk. — B.A.
610 W. Magnolia Avenue
Louisville, KY 40208
(502) 636-0783 | 610magnolia.com
Tortillería y Taqueria Ramírez
WHAT: An exceptional taqueria and tortilla factory — and the only one in Kentucky that uses Weisenberger corn, a variety milled in the nearby town of Midway since 1865. WHY: A family-run success story, helmed by Laura Patricia Ramírez, this is the standout restaurant in Lexington’s community of Latino immigrants (affectionately known by its residents as the “Bluegrass barrio” and “Mexington”). In addition to fantastic tacos and one of the best overstuffed, Mission-style burritos outside of San Francisco, the menu also offers the intense flavors of the Mexican state of Jalisco, in particular the famous pozole rojo, guajillo-spiced pork and hominy stew. — Steven Alvarez
1429 Alexandria Drive
Lexington, KY 40504
New Orleans, Louisiana
WHAT: A low-slung corner spot in Treme where you’ll get the best gumbo and fried chicken in town. WHY: This institution began life in 1941 as a bar; since then, it’s hosted civil rights leaders, famous musicians, at least two U.S. presidents, and generations of devoted New Orleanians. Leah Chase took charge of the kitchen in 1946 after marrying Edgar “Dooky” Chase, Jr. (who died in 2016). She earned a towering reputation for Creole cooking with her standard-bearing versions of beloved staples like shrimp with lima beans and her Lenten specialty, the meatless stew of greens and spices known as gumbo z’herbes. — L. Kasimu Harris
2301 Orleans Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70119
(504) 821-0600 | dookychaserestaurant.com
New Orleans, Louisiana
WHAT: A time machine right in the middle of Bourbon Street, where tuxedoed servers deliver French Quarter classics to well-coiffed locals and spiffy tourists. (It’s one of the few remaining restaurants where gentlemen are politely required to wear a jacket after 5 p.m.) WHY: In a city that does lunch like no other, the pageantry of the midday meal at this landmark (open since 1905) goes unparalleled. Waiters bounce around the room, balancing martinis and hefting magnums of wine to ensure no glass goes dry. Follow their advice (you’ll never see a menu unless you explicitly request it) and revel in bacon-wrapped oysters en brochette, eggplant dressed with bearnaise and (improbably but deliciously) powdered sugar, and jumbo lump crab ravigote tinged with Creole mustard and horseradish. — J.V.C.
209 Bourbon Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
(504) 525-2021 | galatoires.com
WHAT: The painted crawfish emblazoned across the front door of this sprawling, communal restaurant says it all: This pilgrimage-worthy operation is only open during prime Louisiana crawfish season, usually from January to late May. WHY: The boiled, peppery crawfish served at Hawk’s have meat that’s extraordinarily sweet, thanks to the particular way Anthony and Jennifer Arceneaux keep them in clean-water tanks. Plowing through a three- or five-pound order underlines the thrill of experiencing a regional delicacy at its physical and spiritual source (in this case lush Acadiana, in Southern Louisiana). — B.A.
416 Hawks Road
Rayne, LA 70578
(337) 788-3266 | hawkscrawfish.com
New Orleans, Louisiana
WHAT: The firstborn among Donald Link’s Crescent City empire, and a restaurant that pulls off several balancing acts simultaneously to stand at the epicenter of New Orleans dining, steadfast but never dull. WHY: Chef de cuisine Rebecca Wilcomb knows how to deliver NOLA-style succor with her cooking; the dishes, like the sounds from a second-line band, are at once profound and buoyant. Her spin on carbonara using fresh-made spaghetti, guanciale, and fried-poached egg reveals an Italian lilt to the menu, but the classic, always-righteous gumbo and the coconut custard pie with buttermilk Chantilly cream bring the flavors bounding home. — B.A.
701 St. Charles Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70130
(504) 524-4114 | herbsaint.com
La Petite Grocery
New Orleans, Louisiana
WHAT: The quintessential modern New Orleans restaurant, housed in an 1800s-era Creole cottage on a Garden District street corner. (As the name implies, a grocery once occupied the space.) WHY: Chef Justin Devillier, who runs the restaurant with Mia Freiberger-Devillier (the two are married), cooks as an homage to the past while also looking to the future; his approach puts him at the forefront of the city’s dining scene. He references French cuisine and traditional New Orleans fare for consummate dishes like sherry-spiked turtle Bolognese and paneed rabbit flanked with spaetzle and mustard greens, not to mention a terrific burger. — L.K.H.
4238 Magazine Street
New Orleans, LA 70115
(504) 891-3377 | lapetitegrocery.com
Parkway Bakery & Tavern
New Orleans, Louisiana
WHAT: The ever-popular stalwart for po’ boys in the Bayou St. John neighborhood, about a 15-minute drive from the French Quarter. WHY: Let’s lay this to rest: There is no singular best place for po’ boys in New Orleans. But Parkway (which, if there were a best, would assuredly be a contender) is undoubtedly the nexus of the city’s legendary sandwich culture, the fundamental place from which all other opinions spin. Unlike the fare at shops that specialize in fried seafood or cold cuts, all of Parkway’s sandwiches are excellent, particularly the fried shrimp, the roast beef, and of course the one that’s piled high with fried oysters, though it’s only available on Mondays and Wednesdays. — B.A.
538 Hagan Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70119
(504) 482-3047 | parkwaypoorboys.com
WHAT: A family-run restaurant — its walls covered with paintings and photos of cultural icons like Martin Luther King, Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, and Malcolm X — established by Tyrone Bully in 1982. It’s the kind of place where you might notice cooks coming out of the kitchen to strip collards and mustard greens or peel sweet potatoes at a prep table just off the main dining room. WHY: Bully’s sets the benchmark for soul food. Its repertoire consists of definitive classics like smothered turkey necks, chitterlings, oxtails, rice and gravy, and macaroni and cheese. Don’t miss those wonderful greens, and be sure to finish your meal with blackberry cobbler. — A.M.
3118 Livingston Road
Jackson, MS 39213
WHAT: A clubby, wood-lined saloon and oyster bar in a college football town that also supports some notably sophisticated dining options (many of them run by Snackbar owner John Currence). WHY: Currence and executive chef Vishwesh Bhatt launched Snackbar in 2009 as a brasserie whose dishes meandered through France, the South, and Bhatt’s native India. But in the last few years Bhatt has wandered even further in his cooking, to outstanding effect: He braises lamb shanks in fragrant Persian spices, and riffs on bibimbap using fried catfish and Mississippi brown rice grits. — B.A.
721 N. Lamar Boulevard
Oxford, MS 38655
(662) 236-6363 | snackbaroxford.com
Asheville, North Carolina
WHAT: Indian-style street food that neatly incorporates Southern produce and techniques in a Bollywood-inspired space. WHY: Too many Indian restaurants in the South have yet to fully move beyond the tikka-masala-and-garlic-naan usuals. Owner Meherwan Irani (who opened Chai Pani in Asheville in 2009; there’s a second location in Decatur, Georgia) and his team have a fresh take on Indian food that’s approachable and exciting. Look for smart takes on flavorful chaats and other shareable plates, alongside desi staples like rotating vegetarian and non-veg thalis that emphasize traditional favorites (butter chicken, saag paneer, Parsi red curry). — S.C.
22 Battery Park Avenue
Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 254-4003 | chaipaniasheville.com
Chef and the Farmer
Kinston, North Carolina
WHAT: This restaurant, with its tranquil red brick and wood interior, is the big draw to Kinston (pop. 22,000), thanks to chef Vivian Howard and her star turn on PBS’s award-winning series A Chef’s Life. WHY: The local ethos of Howard and her husband, Ben Knight, is truly helping transform rural eastern North Carolina. Inspired by her celebrity (and her restaurant’s steady business), farmers are turning once heavily industrial tobacco and hog farms into more sustainable chicken and pork operations. Tourists and locals alike revel in Howard’s savvy interpretations of sustaining Southern food. Cornmeal lends subtle crunch to tagliatelle; collards come creamed, pickled, or flash-fried; and, at the height of summer, buttermilk is whipped into savory ice cream as a dip for fried okra. — Victoria Bouloubasis
120 W. Gordon Street
Kinston, NC 28501
(252) 208-2433 | chefandthefarmer.com
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
WHAT: The birthplace of the modern Southern culinary movement, sparked by founding chef Bill Neal (who died in 1990) and carried on with heart and intelligence by longtime chef Bill Smith. WHY: If you eat shrimp and grits at only one restaurant in America, make it this one. Smith, who is among the food industry’s most outspoken advocates for the rights of immigrant restaurant workers, also has a roster of annual specials that loyalists anticipate with marked calendars: His honeysuckle sorbet, for instance, only available in May and early June, literally freezes the essence of spring. — B.A.
610 W. Franklin Street
Chapel Hill, NC 27516
(919) 929-7643 | crookscorner.com
Davidson, North Carolina
WHAT: A paean to the Cal-Ital aesthetic (gorgeous produce and warm flavors, sunny decor, casual but ultra-informed service) that flawlessly translates to the Southern dining landscape. WHY: Husband-and-wife team Joe and Katy Kindred worked at top San Francisco restaurants before opening their own place in a converted brick storefront in Joe’s tiny hometown, 20 miles north of Charlotte. Katy composes a killer wine list. Joe makes improbable, transcendent pasta dishes, like strozzapretti in a sauce of eggplant, country ham, chiles en adobo, and vanilla bean. It’s worldly cooking, but sitting beneath the pressed-tin ceiling and breaking into billowing milk bread feels like you’ve pulled up a chair to Sunday supper. — J.V.C.
131 N. Main Street
Davidson, NC 28036
(980) 231-5000 | kindreddavidson.com
Raleigh, North Carolina
WHAT: The renovated 1940s diner that Ashley Christensen took over in 2007, kicking off her spectacular rise as one of the South’s most renowned chefs and restaurateurs. Also, home to the best mac and cheese on the planet. WHY: Come simply to revel in the North Carolina bounty. Trust that there will be tomato pie, chilled whipped corn soup, and tilefish piled with succotash as summer crests, and crisped pork shoulder over butternut-maple grits with red-eye gravy to bolster you when cooler temperatures again arrive. — B.A.
426 S. McDowell Street
Raleigh, NC 27601
(919) 832-4477 | ac-restaurants.com
Saltbox Seafood Joint
Durham, North Carolina
WHAT: A beachy take-out shack in (landlocked) Durham, just outside the rejuvenated downtown. Long lines stretch from the window where diners place their orders, but the wait is unquestionably worth it. WHY: Chef Ricky Moore grounds his cooking in his eastern Carolina upbringing. Seafood caught that morning arrives from the coast just after dawn; Moore sets his specials accordingly. It could be croaker, mackerel or bluefish, oysters, clams or shrimp, all either fried or griddled (your choice). Grab a seat at one of the outdoor tables; Moore’s “good” tea (sweetened with simple syrup over crushed ice) rounds out the picnic experience. – V.B.
608 N. Mangum Street
Durham, NC 27701
(919) 908-8970 | saltboxseafoodjoint.com
Ayden, North Carolina
WHAT: The 70-year-old paragon of eastern Carolina-style whole-hog barbecue. WHY: Driving through the town of Ayden, 88 miles east of Raleigh, it’s impossible to miss Skylight’s building, mounted with a likeness of the United States Capitol dome. The whole-hog barbecue tray, Skylight’s time-honored specialty, starts with a cardboard boat full of chopped, long-smoked meat, every part of the pig tossed together and seasoned with vinegar, hot sauce, salt, and pepper. A slab of dense, creamy corn pone comes stacked atop the pork, and that’s topped by another checkered boat, this one full of creamy coleslaw. Together the trio is icon, sculpture, and pure joy. — B.A.
4618 S. Lee Street
Ayden, NC 28513
(252) 746-4113 | skylightinnbbq.com
Charleston, South Carolina
WHAT: A modern exemplar of Gullah cuisine (the 300-year-old Lowcountry cooking tradition with deep ties to African coastal rice culture), served in a two-story brick building painted purple and sky blue. WHY: Albertha Grant started the restaurant in 1980 and died in 2007; her three daughters now run the business, filling trays with foods that typify their heritage. Sultry okra stew rich with garlic and pork is a signature. So are stewed gizzards and chicken necks with velvety lima beans, tomato-stained red rice, and fried pork chops marvelous enough to risk staining your clothes. — J.V.C.
2332 Meeting Street Road
Charleston, SC 29405
Charleston, South Carolina
WHAT: A refined haven on a busy downtown corner that reigns as the perpetual darling of Charleston’s fanatically observed restaurant boom. And rightly so. WHY: Every element — serene dining room, crowded bar, adventurous wine program, affable service, and incredible European-Southern cooking — adds up to a polished sum. Chef-owner Mike Lata and executive chef Jason Stanhope start with immaculate Lowcountry seafood for inspiration, but meatier dishes (like gnocchi with lamb Bolognese, or suckling pig and Carolina gold rice middlings gilded with shishito leaves and benne seeds) flaunt the same extraordinary quality and meticulous execution. — B.A.
232 Meeting Street
Charleston, SC 29401
(843) 805-5900 | eatatfig.com
Appalachian Bistro at Dancing Bear Lodge
WHAT: The airy dining room of a 36-acre resort perched on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. WHY: Chef Shelley Cooper does her mountain grandmother proud with the likes of roasted cauliflower soup with crisped country ham, oxtail-and-duck-stuffed cabbage rolls, and sorghum-syrup sweet potatoes dotted with local blue cheese. Stay the night in one of the lodge’s cozy cabins, and grab a bag of the jerky-like Benton’s bacon that Cooper coats with benne seed, sorghum, and chile to fortify a glorious hike. — Ronni Lundy
7140 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway
Townsend, TN, 37882
(800) 369-0111 | dancingbearlodge.com
Arnold’s Country Kitchen
WHAT: The most splendid manifestation of the steam-table meat-and-three, a cafeteria style of Southern restaurant that particularly thrives in Nashville. WHY: Owner Kahlil Arnold has a special knack for coaxing flavor from humble ingredients. Customers shuffle through the line (which, at lunchtime, often stretches out the door) toward regional wonders: fried chicken, turnip greens, creamed corn, fresh peach pie. A meat-and-three line has been called the great equalizer to the welcome table; Arnold’s draws everyone from policemen to preachers to John Prine. — Jennifer Justus
605 Eighth Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203
(615) 256-4455 | arnoldscountrykitchen.com
Hog & Hominy
WHAT: A renovated ranch house turned into a slick pizzeria; the kind of pie shop, though, that also serves sweetbreads doused with buffalo sauce and romaine salad amped with chicken skins and pecorino. WHY: Chef-owners Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman combine the heritages of Italy and the American South with exceptional finesse. Pizzas topped with combinations like pork belly, egg, celery leaf, and sugo pull focus, but don’t miss inspiring brainstorms like gnocchi formed from biscuit dough. — Evan Mah
707 W. Brookhaven Circle
Memphis, TN 38117
(901) 207-7396 | hogandhominy.com
WHAT: A stately 19th-century house, transformed into a transportive restaurant whose kitchen weaves narratives about history and reclamation and home. WHY: Because it’s Husk. If I could will myself there, I’d be eating Brock’s Appalachian sour corn cakes, fried chicken skins with Alabama white sauce, and Gullah-inspired crab rice right this minute. Alongside its sister location in Charleston (which is the original; I love both but favor the Nashville setting), it’s hard to think of a more famous Southern restaurant. Its chef, Sean Brock, is the modern face of the culinary South. His cooking exists at the nexus of mind-expanding innovation and deeply researched tradition. — B.A.
37 Rutledge Street
Nashville, TN 37210
(615) 256-6565 | husknashville.com
Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack
WHAT: The creator and perfector of Nashville-style hot chicken. WHY: As hot chicken’s cayenne flames continue to blaze across America, it’s imperative to savor it at the source. André Prince Jeffries, whose great-uncle Thornton Prince III perfected the dish in the 1930s, currently oversees the family business. When you reach the end of the ever-long line, make your choice: plain, mild, medium, hot, and x-hot, and (lord help you) xx-hot. Even mild and medium can quickly induce sweat and tears; any fierier is straight masochism. — B.A.
123 Ewing Drive
Nashville, TN 37207
(615) 226-9442 | princeshotchicken.com
Metzger Bar and Butchery
WHAT: A 40-seat restaurant in Richmond’s 200-year-old Union Hill neighborhood, where German meat markets once thrived. WHY: Inspired by the local history, chef and co-owner Brittanny Anderson singles out German cuisine (which we don’t see enough in restaurants, in the South or across America) as a backdrop for her varied, deeply considered repertoire. Her kitchen is as likely to prepare grilled green garlic topped with crumbled North African merguez as it is schnitzel over choucroute garnie, and it’s all sublime. — B.A.
801 N. 23rd Street
Richmond, VA 23223
(804) 325-3147 | metzgerbarandbutchery.com
WHAT: A 400-square-foot red brick building in a small Shenandoah Valley town. The virtuosity of chef-owner Ian Boden makes his tiny restaurant the very definition of destination dining. WHY: Boden’s culinary career has taken him to Vermont; New York; Charlottesville, Virginia; and eventually to Staunton, where he fell hard for a mountain woman with deep local roots. In his snug cafe of a dining room, he serves a daily changing a la carte menu whose dishes teeter between Appalachia and the world beyond the region. Plates like turnip kraut with black garlic and sour cream, pork pierogi in caramelized milk sauce, and banana pudding that is both miso-salty and memory-sweet are evidence of his rich journey. — R.L.
105 S. Coalter Street
Staunton, VA 24401
(540) 490-1961 | theshackva.com
Edited by Helen Rosner
Copy edited by Emma Alpern
Map illustration by Courtney Leonard
Special thanks to Nicole Bae, Stephanie Carter, Olee Fowler, Chris Fuhrmeister, and Erin Perkins