Southern American food is world famous for a reason. Here are five must-try restaurants to add to your next Southern foodie road trip.
By Cassandra Brooklyn
Spotted Salamander Cafe – Columbia, South Carolina
Pimento cheese is a tangy cheese spread that can be found all over the South. It deserves prime placement on any foodie’s Southern road trip. The cheese is so popular in Columbia, South Carolina, that the city even promotes a Columbia SC Pimento Cheese Passport, which lists eateries around the city serving pimento cheese various ways. One of the notable restaurants is the Spotted Salamander Cafe, where 2019 South Carolina Chef Ambassador Jessica Shillato crafts local and seasonal ingredients into classic Southern dishes with an inventive twist. Pimento cheese comes as its own scrumptious side dish or in brisket sandwiches, burgers and deviled eggs.
Nico’s Oyster + Seafood – Mount Pleasant, South Carolina
It’s not every day you can dine at the table of a French master chef, the most prestigious and envied title among French chefs. Fortunately, a flight to France isn’t required. French Master Chef Nico Romo runs the upbeat Nico Oysters + Seafood restaurant right in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. With the largest selection of oysters in the state, the raw bar — which also features scallop ceviche and lobster cocktail — is a must. If raw seafood isn’t your style, the menu is rounded out with wood fired filet mignon and chicken cordon bleu.
The Grey – Savannah, Georgia
There’s no shortage of fantastic food options in Georgia, and James Beard Award-winning Chef Mashama Bailey runs two top-notch eateries in Savannah. The Grey, housed inside a formerly segregated Greyhound bus terminal, has dining inside and out, while its sister restaurant, The Grey Market, offers take-out dinner meals. In both of her restaurants, Chef Bailey strives to revive and celebrate the history of African-American cuisine. Her menus go beyond what’s commonly considered to be “traditional” Southern food. This includes fish and grits, lamb meatballs, barbecue mackerel, summer squash casserole and seasoned sunchokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes).
Central BBQ – Memphis/Nashville, Tennessee
It’s impossible to crown a single eatery as “the best” restaurant in any region and Tennessee is no different. The state has loads of great restaurants — from soul food and barbecue to fusion and upscale — each of which is distinctly and deliciously different. Central BBQ, which has four locations in Memphis and one in Nashville, consistently tops the local polls for best barbecue and its diverse menu makes it a must-try eatery in Tennessee. Though they’re known for their slow-smoked barbecue ribs, they also dish out smoked hot wings, smoked turkey sandwiches and BBQ nachos five ways: pork, beef, chicken, turkey or vegetarian.
Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q – Decatur, Alabama
Few dishes scream “Alabama!” more than smoked chicken with Alabama white sauce and Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur is the place to try it. Chris Lilly, the pit master and owner of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, has won countless blue ribbons at cooking competitions across the country for everything from best backyard mustard sauce to 1st place pork. Though the menu ranges from barbecue nachos and salads to brisket sandwiches and rib platters, don’t leave without trying the smoked chicken smothered with Northern Alabama’s famous mayonnaise and vinegar-based white barbecue sauce.
(Go Magazine Sept-Oct 2020)