Southern Living intrepid restaurant scout Jennifer V. Cole hit the road to determine the top places to eat in South now. Here are the 10 best new restaurants. Looking for more delicious places to stop down South? Visit southernliving.com for 100 of her favorites, both old and new.
What To Order: Oysters and absinthe-based cocktails.
When the 88-seat restaurant opened September 2013 in the old Decatur train depot, those oysters and cocktails garnered a quick following. Rightly so. I’ve yet to see another spot in the South with such a thoughtful—and joyful—oyster program. The menu lists, give or take, 22 oyster varieties, most sourced from small family farms and flown in daily, with the kinds of tasting notes more frequently reserved for wine lists. The Chelsea Gems from Eld Inlet, Washington, were likened to “anise and buttered truffle”; the Northern Cross from Fisherman’s Island, Virginia, “salted parsnip and green onion.” And local bar hero Miles Macquarrie wields his magic wand with drinks like the Afternoon Delight, a heady yet refreshing mix of absinthe, lime, pineapple, tarragon, and bubbles.
But don’t overlook the rest of the menu. The duo of classically French-trained wunderkinds in the kitchen, Philip Meeker and Jeffrey Wall, build the ever-evolving menu (don’t expect to see the same dish twice) on impeccable technique and a real respect for flavor. Take the glazed butterbeans, studded with house-made ham and shrouded in butter, lemon, and garlic. Or the salmon collar, lacquered with house-made teriyaki sauce atop a bed of fiddlehead ferns, shaved asparagus, and artichokes in a bright green ramp (wild mountain onion) broth.
It’s no wonder this hotspot in food-frenzied Decatur, an intown suburb of Atlanta, has become accustomed to holding court.
303 East Howard Avenue; kimball-house.com
What To Order: Uni Scrambled Eggs.
Hall & Oates blasted over the speakers as I took a seat upstairs at the capital city’s latest darling. The bouncy yacht rock may seem out of place on Capitol Hill, but that’s part of the genius of Rose’s Luxury. Forget D.C.’s expense account tendencies. Chef/owner Aaron Silverman just wants you to be happy. To him, luxury isn’t about fine china and Champagne poured in unison. “It’s how you feel, how people treat you,” he says. And as a result there’s a homey—never folksy—sophistication that resonates throughout the restaurant.
The plates and glassware, a mixed bag of vintage finds, come from yard sales. The eclectic crowd consists of young professionals, food-obsessed out-of-towners, and dudes with calf tattoos in long shorts. Everything about Rose’s Luxury seems easy, accessible, achievable.
But that doesn’t mean the food and drink aren’t serious. They just don’t take themselves too seriously. The Sugar Snap Pea lightens botanical gin with muddled mint, sugar snaps, and lemon. A custardy bowl of scrambled eggs makes a decadent leap with briny, rich layers of uni (sea urchin): pureed, sliced, and whisked into hollandaise. A classic cacio e pepe pasta comes “proper”—no egg, no cream; just cheese and, in Aaron’s words, “offensive amounts of black pepper.”
As with anything, it all boils down to the execution. And so far, Rose’s is doing luxury right.
717 Eighth Street SE.; rosesluxury.com
What to Order: The Crudo
Chef Matt Bolus, a Knoxville boy who arrived in Music City via Charleston, South Carolina, blends classic technique and a Southern sensibility to amplify flavors you already love. He calls it fresh and uncomplicated, but there’s some cloaked modesty there. From tables crafted out of a shipping crate’s floor to the kitchen-made beef tallow candles, everything about this industrial-chic 40-seater blends functionality, novelty, and a little “I’m with the band, but I’m not the rock star” attitude.
For his Tomato Galette, Matt envelops lemony ricotta in a toasted cornmeal crust, and piles on heirloom tomatoes. It reads as a deconstructed twist on tomato pie, but without any pretension. So it goes all the way down the menu. Simple slices of cobia crudo are dotted with pickled strawberries, pea tendrils, and Marcona almonds. Rabbit and dumplings show up as braised rabbit with stinging nettles over pillowy gnudi. Radishes swim in a hot bath of butter with preserved lemon. Much like Nashville these days, everything is familiar—but new.
404 12th Avenue South; the404nashville.com/kitchen
What To Order: Favas and Peas, Grilled Octopus, or Lowcountry Shrimp Roll.
A Charleston, South Carolina, restaurant on this list should be no surprise. With a new eatery opening what feels like every week, the Holy City is ripe for the picking. Though it’s at the beach, this place—and everything about it—screams Charleston. It’s casual but sophisticated. Stylish but cheery. Wide planks of graying reclaimed wood flank the walls, decorative ropes and monkey knots underscore the nautical theme, and the open kitchen is a vision in stainless and white. The name comes from a Revolutionary War political cartoon that depicted “Miss Carolina Sullivan, one of the obstinate daughters of America” after William Moultrie held off the British. (Chef Jacques Larson was a history major.)
Though the wood-fired pizzas and pastas conjure Italy, Jacques relies mightily on the flavors of the Lowcountry. The pizza crust, made from a cold-fermented dough, starts with flour from heritage grain champion Anson Mills. On the Five Fathom Hole variety, local clams luxuriate amid roasted fennel and fiery chili flakes.
Under the Plates section, Jacques’ command of flavor as sense of place shines. Oyster mushrooms from the nearby Mepkin Abbey join earthy kale and a runny Sea Island egg under shards of Parmesan. Favas and peas sit atop ricotta made with milk from John’s Island, accented with sea salt from nearby Bulls Bay.
It’s not “good, for the beach.” It’s just good.
2063 Middle Street; theobstinatedaughter.com
What To Order: Brick Oven Prince Edward Island Mussels in a Celery-Fennel Broth with Benton’s Bacon and Grilled Chapata Bread.
When John Fleer, the legendary chef who shone a light on Appalachian foodways and ingredients at Blackberry Farm, silently slipped off the grid, the food world waited, forks at-the-ready. After several years with seasonal projects in Cashiers, North Carolina, he re-emerged late last fall with Rhubarb in Asheville.
Touchstones of his legacy (Benton’s bacon, Sunburst trout) are certainly on the menu. But Rhubarb is no history lesson. In this barnlike bistro, he digs deep into the traditions of the region, adds the influence of his travels, and highlights the local larder. As a result, the dishes reflect his big-picture approach to Southern food.
Benton’s bacon shows up in a bowl of mussels, smoky and rich in a silken celery-fennel broth. The roasted whole trout bathes in wood smoke before joining a crisp potato-celeriac latke. Lamb merguez meatballs hunker in polenta with preserved lemon and tomato. The addictive brown sugar and benne seed popcorn expertly melds sugar and salt.
At Blackberry, John put Southern foodstuffs on the map. At Rhubarb, he’s showing just how far he can stretch them.
7 SW. Pack Square; rhubarbasheville.com
What To Order: Berkshire Pig Head Carnitas.
At this meat-centric, Texas-style brasserie, you can’t go wrong with the roasted pig head. It arrives at the table—snout, ears, and all—crisp and fatty atop a wooden plank. For anyone who loves a proper pig pickin’, this is your tableside porcine dream. Wrap the rich and smoky meat in fresh tortillas, pile on crunchy bits of skin, and top with radishes and roasted tomatillo salsa. Plan to come with friends—this dish is meant to be shared.
1530 Main Street; cbdprovisions.com
What To Order: Carolina Gold Rice Heritage Chicken Porridge.
I like to think of Edmund’s Oast as a stylish gastropub with righteous charcuterie. But that almost undersells it. The craft beer program is unparalleled in South Carolina, with some 40-odd beers on tap, including a handful made in-house, and over 30 bottled options. The cocktail program is relentlessly ambitious. And dishes like the buttermilk fried wings, the pickled shrimp on rye bread, and the roasted-and-smoked chicken with cornbread pudding demonstrate the kitchen’s finesse with classic grub. But it’s the outliers—creamy spiced turnip custard, lemony chicken porridge with poached shrimp, braised lamb meatballs with apricots—that make me want to return.
1081 Morrison Drive; edmundsoast.com
What To Order: Fried Whole Snapper with pickled green beans and mango-habanero mojo.
At chef Stephan Pyles’ modern take on haute Latin, expect creative riffs on traditional dishes. You’ll find ceviches, tacos, empanadas, and the like, but with modern interpretations. With the Fried Whole Snapper, the fish is split and stuffed with a spiky fistful of tempura-battered pickled green beans and placed atop a chunky mango-habanero mojo. The Ahi Tuna Ceviche, served in a halved coconut shell, arrives scented with kaffir and studded with sweet coconut. The Chocolate Tamal, a mole-rich expression of a tamale, is stuffed with wild boar and topped with cherry salsita. San Salvaje showcases chef Pyles’ current obsession with Central and South American flavors, with perfect measures of ingenuity and restraint.
#100, 2100 Ross Avenue; sansalvaje.com
What To Order: Grilled Chesapeake Oysters with mezcal lime butter, and the Red Chile Pozole.
Southern food encapsulates so many variations—Appalachian, Gulf, Lowcountry, Cajun—and demonstrates the unique culture and character of the region. Influences from France to the Caribbean to western Africa have long informed how we eat. Today, it’s the ways of Vietnam and Latin America that are most shaping the modern South. At Cinco y Diez, chef/owner Hugh Acheson, an outspoken proponent of the all-inclusive table, highlights the vibrant traditions of the Latin community through a soft-focus Southern lens. And executive chef Whitney Otawka transforms the Southern larder into a fiery amalgamation of cross-cultural flavors. The frothy horchata highlights heirloom rice from South Carolina’s Anson Mills. Oysters from the Chesapeake waters sizzle with a tangy mezcal lime butter. With the pozole, chunks of silken pork bathe in a smoky red chile broth with Anson Mills hominy, escarole, and fresh radish slices. This restaurant serves up a thoughtful—and delicious—reflection of the South today.
1653 South Lumpkin Street; cincoydiezathens.com
What To Order: Crispy Lamb Shank with English peas, a soft-cooked egg, and hot sauce vinaigrette.
At Ian Boden’s shotgun-style restaurant in tiny Staunton, Virginia, he serves up designer dishes from, quite frankly, the sticks. With the lamb shank, Ian layers fresh (sweet green peas), rich (a crisp puck of meaty goodness), and creamy (a perfectly cooked runny egg) to produce a model of simple decadence. Most days, the hand-written menu reads like a bipolar expression of flavors: cold ramen with razor clams and a pickled egg listed above chili cheese fries. Burgers alongside Sardinian Gnocchi with pulled rabbit, morels, ramps, and mustard. But on Friday and Saturday nights, Ian switches to a three-course prix fixe menu that highlights not only the seasonal bounty of rural Virginia but also his impressive talents behind the stove.
105 South Coalter Street; facebook.com/theshacksva