Exploring the Culinary Delights of the South

Food & Beverage, Magazine Features

Dining has never been better in these five Southern cities

Southern food has come a long way from its days of smoky barbecue, fried chicken and heaping meat-and-three plates, although you can still find plenty of delicious versions of all of those too. Just as the South has evolved over the years, so have the restaurants that call this special part of the United States home. For some that’s meant leaning deeply into their roots, showcasing ingredients indigenous to the area. Others have embraced their immigrant heritage and have melded it with Southern flavors, creating a totally unique cuisine in the process. And then there are the beloved favorites who refuse to change—and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Here, we explore five of the top Southern food cities and the restaurants you need to add to your must-visit visit. We hope you’ve come hungry.

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The best barbecue in Austin, Texas

Sure, you can find plenty of tasty, inexpensive breakfast tacos in Austin (looking at you, Nixta Taqueria and Taqueria Anyeli), but the capital of Texas offers so much more. When it comes to barbecue—and especially brisket—Franklin Barbecue is the place to go. Yes, the line will be long, and items do sell out, but there’s a reason everyone from Anthony Bourdain to President Obama have eaten there. Part butcher shop and supper club, Dai Due opened in 2006 with a philosophy of using hyperlocal ingredients at their height of seasonality with nothing going to waste. That means a constantly changing menu of thoughtfully prepared dishes ranging from wood-grilled quail and pork chops to colorful salads and smoke-tinged vegetables. The heart of Texas might not be your first choice for stellar sushi, but Uchi has been doing just that for more than two decades and has launched sister spots in other cities. Whether you sit at the bar or a table, you can expect to eat some of the best sushi around as well as creative Japanese-inspired dishes. Open since 1962, family-owned Joe’s Bakery has no interest in the latest food trends. Rather this East Austin spot sticks to what has kept it packed all these years: impeccably made Mexican food. At breakfast that means hearty portions of huevos rancheros and migas, while at lunch you’ll find enchiladas and barbacoa. Tacos, naturally, are available all day.

Favorite foods in Asheville, North Carolina

A long-time favorite with travelers for its lively arts scene and beautiful historic architecture, Asheville can now add “foodie destination” to its list of attributes. With a tasty mix of both new and classic restaurants, this charming Blue Ridge Mountains city is a hungry visitor’s dream. Taking its name and ethos from an heirloom tomato variety, Early Girl was one of the first restaurants to focus on local farm-to-table ingredients. Now boasting three locations in Asheville, this family-friendly restaurant features made-from-scratch comfort food dishes, ranging from fluffy omelets and a hot honey chicken sandwich to Southern tomato gravy meatloaf. Newcomer all-day café Gemelli looks toward Italy for its crowd-pleasing menu with dishes such as housemade focaccia, pastas and thick-crust personal pizzas. A downtown Asheville favorite for more than a decade, Cúrate, along with its newer sibling, La Bodega, is part Spanish restaurant, bakery and market. Housed in a 1920s bus depot, this charming tapas restaurant features an open kitchen and uber-friendly service, as its recent James Beard Award for Outstanding Hospitality confirms.

Burgers and fried chicken in Atlanta, Georgia

While Atlanta didn’t need recognition from a fancy food guide to know its dining scene is top notch, it didn’t hurt that Michelin Guide recently added Georgia’s capital to its esteemed roster of cities around the world recognized for their restaurants. An Atlanta institution since it opened in 1927, The Colonnade is the place to go for Southern comfort food, including crispy fried chicken, warm buttered rolls and collard greens, accompanied by warm, friendly service. Top Chef fans will undoubtedly be familiar with the chef behind Gunshow, Kevin Gillespie, the burly, bearded contestant who became a fan favorite for his laidback attitude. That friendly vibe is evident at his restaurant, which brings the kitchen and bar to diners with chefs and bartenders presenting their creations directly to them. If burgers are what you’re looking for, NFA Burger is happy to oblige. Located inside a Chevron gas station, this casual spot has earned a ton of awards for its burgers made with perfectly seasoned smashed and griddled patties offered in a variety of combinations. And if doing a little exercise to go along with your meal is on your to-do list, head to The Painted Duck, which offers duckpin bowling (mini bowling, if you will) along with garlic crab claws, loaded tater tots, duck nuggets and other hearty offerings. Groups can opt for the whole roasted Peking duck served with an abundance of tasty sides.

Commander’s Palace in New Orleans serves fabulous dishes.

Classic cuisine in New Orleans, Louisiana

In the Big Easy, the issue isn’t finding great places to eat; rather it’s having enough time to try them all. Founded in 1941, Dooky Chase’s Restaurant is known for its impeccable versions of authentic Creole cuisine (think crawfish etouffee, oyster po’boy, and red beans and rice) as well as its historic status as a meeting place for civil rights leaders. Located in Tremé, this James Beard Award-winning restaurant offers a glimpse of New Orlean’s past as well as its enduring present. Another classic restaurant is Commander’s Palace, which since opening in the Garden District of New Orleans in 1893 has seen such notable chefs as Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse in its kitchen. Describing itself as “modern New Orleans cooking meets haute Creole, Commander’s recognizes its history but isn’t constrained by it. Or maybe you’re on the hunt for po’boys, New Orleans’ signature sandwich? While there are plenty to choose from, Liuzza’s by the Track has captured the attention of locals. More bar than restaurant, this laidback family-run spot neighboring the Fairgrounds (home to horse racing and the annual jazz festival) offers more than 10 different versions at prices that won’t break the bank. A little bit off the beaten path, Mosca’s is totally worth the short drive. At this roadhouse restaurant, you’ll find Italian-leaning dishes—think spaghetti and meatballs, baked oysters, housemade sausage—all served family-style. And then there’s Café Reconcile, which pairs empowering youth via its workforce development and training programs with terrific soul food. A fried green tomato sandwich, a jerk chicken plate and bananas foster bread pudding for dessert are just a few of the offerings on the lunch-only menu. Feel-good food never tasted this good.

Enjoy whole hog barbecue in Charleston, South Carolina.

Whole hog barbecue in Charleston, South Carolina

While Charleston has always been a looker—from its cobblestone streets, colorful antebellum houses and horse-drawn carriages to its prime seaport location—like neighboring North Carolina’s Asheville it too has upped its dining game. In historic downtown Charleston, Husk has taken an almost scientific approach to exploring what local ingredient-driven cuisine can mean with the rediscovery of heirloom products at the forefront. A wood-fired oven is kept busy churning out dishes such as Carolina Gold crab rice with Benton’s bacon and South Carolina shrimp and Choppee okra stew. When it comes to barbecue, few pitmasters are as passionate as South Carolina native Rodney Scott, who earned a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast for his dedication. Taste his commitment to his craft at Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ with dishes such as smoked chicken wings, pulled pork and beef brisket. Classic sides like hushpuppies, collard greens and mac and cheese are a must-order too. Housed in an old auto body shop, Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop is that cozy Southern joint every city wishes it could call their own. Open every day and throughout the day, Leon’s serves up hearty portions of fried chicken, peel ’n eat shrimp, and raw and fried oysters. Rosé on tap, frozen gin and tonics and easy-on-the-wallet beer add to the laidback vibe.

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