Best Savannah Restaurants: Battered and Fried, Seasoned and Seared
By Amy Pine
Savannah may be known the world over for its rich history and Southern charm, but the city is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the East Coast’s premier dining destinations.
If you’ve come down South hoping to indulge in traditional Southern favorites like fried chicken and made-from-scratch biscuits, you’re in for a treat. Many restaurants in the city offer up Southern goodness, and the best of the pack is Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room.
But Southern food isn’t always about fried, buttered and smothered, and many restaurateurs have found innovative ways to pay homage to their Southern roots. Acclaimed eatery Elizabeth on 37th does it best, offering outstanding cuisine with an elegant Southern twist. Following closely behind is the Olde Pink House, which also seamlessly incorporates Southern flair into each of its dishes.
For those with more eclectic palates, you can never go wrong at upscale eateries 45 Bistro, Noble Fare and Circa 1875 Gastropub. Driftaway Café, located in the burgeoning Sandfly neighborhood, and Toucan Café in Midtown Savannah are two local favorites that will delight even the most discerning foodies.
You can’t leave Savannah without trying some authentic local barbecue. There are lots of good choices, including Wiley’s Championship BBQ and Angel’s BBQ, but it’s worth the drive to Sandfly to try the Brunswick stew at Sandfly Bar-B-Q.
And no trip to Savannah is complete without a meal at the Crystal Beer Parlor, the city’s second oldest restaurant. You’ll leave with a belly full of good food and a new appreciation for the city’s history.
Located in Sandfly, a historic neighborhood near Isle of Hope that has become a hotspot for restaurants and boutiques, this barbeque joint is a favorite among locals. The casual, cozy eatery features walls lined with license plates from all 50 states and several countries, but the menu is decidedly local, with favorites such as barbeque pork, ribs, smoked sausage and baked beans on the daily menu. The sweet potato fries and Brunswick stew are the best in town. Each table is topped with three bottles of homemade barbeque sauce, allowing everyone from novice barbeque eaters to seasoned spice-mongers to find their favorite flavor. ((912) 356-5463)
Crystal Beer Parlor
This longtime Savannah favorite first opened its doors in 1933 and holds the distinction of being the city's second oldest restaurant. The original Crystal Beer Parlor was one of Savannah's most popular restaurants and was the first American eating establishment to serve alcohol after the repeal of Prohibition. Despite the restaurant's rich history and popularity, the Crystal Beer Parlor faced tough times and even closed its doors for a number of years. Energized by new owners, the Crystal Beer Parlor reopened in its original location in 2009 and has once again become a Savannah favorite. The restaurant is known for its thick, juicy, freshly made burgers but also receives rave reviews for its seafood, salads and other American-influenced fare. The Crystal Beer Parlor's gorgeous wooden bar is always lively, and the restaurant hosts weekday happy hours and trivia night every Monday. (912-349-1000)
Fresh, flavorful, innovative and beautifully presented -- seafood simply doesn't get any better than Noble Fare's near-perfect plates. Amidst an intimate, chandelier-lit setting, diners delight in selections from an ever-changing menu that highlights fresh local ingredients handpicked by passionate owner and chef Patrick McNamara himself. Past standout creations have included the tuna tartar with avocado, pineapple relish and curry oil, the pan-seared scallops over bacon and corn risotto and the raspberry chocolate cake paired with creamy custard. A newly remodeled wine bar on the restaurant's second floor is the perfect spot to grab a drink before dinner or to enjoy on its own. (912-443-3210)
Circa 1875 Gastropub
For the best French cuisine in Savannah, head to this cozy Parisian bistro and adjoining gastropub on Whitaker Street. The gastropub is located on the site of a former Irish pub and has retained much of the original atmosphere, including tiled floors and wooden partitions. Bistro dining is available in the adjoining room or downstairs in the wine cellar, a romantic, brick-lined space that's perfect for an intimate dinner. Circa's menu includes an array of traditional French appetizers such as escargot, mussels and pat�, along with seasonal entr�es that are inventive and flavorful. Most entr�es are accompanied by a vegetable or starch, but additional sides can be ordered a la carte. (912-443-1875)
Located in the trendy Sandfly neighborhood near Isle of Hope, Driftaway Cafe serves up seafood in a cozy atmosphere that features a surprisingly lush landscape with a quaint stream. The restaurant boasts a great selection of appetizers, including a fantastic tuna tartare, an ahi seared tataki-style tuna with black and white sesame seeds, diced cucumbers, scallions and a cucumber wasabi cream sauce. The sandwich menu has a variety of choices, including spicy tuna tacos, a Gullah oyster sandwich and a fried, grilled or blackened grouper sandwich. Driftaway also offers a number of classic coastal dishes, including pistachio encrusted salmon, pan roasted salmon and a seafood combo platter with flash fried butterflied shrimp and Gullah fried oysters. There are plenty of sandwiches, salads and entrees for meat eaters, making Driftaway the perfect choice for groups with differing tastes. (9123030999)
An oasis in the middle of an otherwise forgettable commercial district, Toucan Cafe has been drawing a steady crowd of locals for more than 15 years. The vibrant decor is accented by a toucan motif that is present in just about every nook and cranny. The food, which runs the gamut of influences from Greek to Caribbean to new American, is equally vibrant and brimming with flavor. Less adventurous eaters will find entrees such as the lamb gyro and Greek burger with feta, both accompanied by crispy, piping hot hand-cut fries, while those craving more exotic flavors will be pleased with selections including jerk tilapia with black beans, rice, mango salsa and cilantro and wasabi pea encrusted tuna with parsley mashed potatoes, snow peas, red peppers, cucumber relish and balsamic syrup. Some of the best dishes are available on the daily specials menu, which take advantage of seasonal items and local seafood. (912-352-2233)
With a prime location on Broughton Street, 45 Bistro seems like an obvious choice for fine dining in Savannah. But the elegant restaurant that inhabits the space on the ground level of the Marshall House Hotel often takes a back seat to old Savannah staples and the newer restaurants du jour. Diners should not overlook this gem, which serves up a rotating selection of eclectic, brilliantly executed dishes. Many restaurants excel at preparation, while others have mastered the art of flavor. 45 Bistro takes top honors in both categories, serving dishes that are bursting with flavor and cooked with the utmost care. An attentive staff and extensive wine list make this the perfect spot for a romantic Savannah evening. (912-234-3111)
Olde Pink House
Legend has it that several ghosts haunt the 18th-century Georgian mansion that is home to the Olde Pink House. While it may be tempting to be on the lookout for those rumored spirits, diners will undoubtedly be distracted by the excellent food and cozy ambience that have made this one of the city's most popular restaurants. The Southern-influenced cuisine is always flavorful and features a large selection of fish, beef, pork and chicken dishes. Among the standout seafood entrees is the crispy scored flounder with apricot shallot sauce, which has been a mainstay on the menu for years. The "BLT" salad, a twist on the traditional BLT sandwich that incorporates fried green tomatoes, crispy bacon and black pepper thyme buttermilk dressing, was featured on the Food Network Show "The Best Thing I Ever Ate." The restaurant's signature praline basket filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with berries is the perfect way to end the meal. (912-232-4286)
Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room
When President Obama visited Savannah a couple of years ago, he ate at only one restaurant: Mrs. Wilkes' Dining House. It's no wonder that the Commander in Chief chose this Jones Street staple, which has been serving family-style meals for decades. With platters of fried chicken and dishes of butter beans, red rice, collard greens, mac and cheese, and candied yams freely flowing around the 10-person shared tables, Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room promises great food and equally great conversation from fellow diners who have come from near and far to experience Southern cuisine at its finest. The selection of dishes rotates but is available on the restaurant's website for those looking for specific items. (912-232-5997)
Elizabeth on 37th
This romantic, award-winning restaurant is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. Housed in a restored early 20th-century mansion in Savannah's Thomas Square Streetcar neighborhood, Elizabeth on 37th features a Southern-influenced menu that incorporates fresh, local seafood and produce. The result is perfectly executed, innovative dishes such as spicy Savannah red rice with Georgia shrimp and a double cut Berkshire pork chop with five cheese macaroni and apple-cabbage slaw. The restaurant's wine list is impressive, and wine captains are available to assist with custom pairings. Do not pass on dessert, which includes an assortment of indulgent treats such as a pecan almond torte topped with praline ice cream and bourbon caramel sauce and the restaurant's famous Savannah cream cake, an angel food and sherry laced custard cake with berry sauce and custard sauce. (912-236-5547)
About Amy Pine
Amy's thrilled to have the opportunity to share her love of Savannah with the world. A Savannah native, Amy has more than 15 years of experience as a writer and editor, and her work has appeared in numerous local, regional and national publications. Prior to launching a freelance career, she was executive editor at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where she served as editor of the college’s alumni magazine. Amy received a B.A. in English and communications from the University of Pennsylvania. She's currently putting the finishing touches on her young adult novel, The Girl in a Picture Frame.
Read more about Amy Pine here.