10 Best Southern Restaurants: From Down-Home Comfort Food to Innovative Coastal Cuisine
By Amy Pine
Put your diet plans on hold when you visit Savannah, because eating like a true Southerner means indulging in smothered pork chops, crispy fried green tomatoes, gooey mac and cheese and ham-hocked collard greens. The city is bursting with an impressive selection of good Southern restaurants, from casual mom-and-pop eateries that offer great deals and even better food to fine dining establishments that specialize in taking Low Country cuisine to new heights. If you have a hankering for down-home Southern fare and enjoy a family-style atmosphere, then plan to have lunch at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, a Savannah staple known for its fried chicken, beef stew and outstanding sides. Eateries like Sisters of the New South and Masada Café at the United House of Prayer for All People have also mastered the art of preparing good ol’ Southern home cooking. For classic dishes with a contemporary twist, try Sweet Potatoes and Café Florie, two restaurants that take a 21st-century approach to traditional Southern cuisine. If you’re celebrating a special occasion or just want to experience Southern cooking in a completely new way, make a reservation at Elizabeth on 37th, an upscale eatery that wows patrons with its innovative spin on Southern classics. The Olde Pink House, Vic’s on the River and a.lure also excel at transforming comfort food into fine dining masterpieces. And of course there’s The Lady & Sons, the restaurant made famous by controversial celebrity chef Paula Deen. Whether you love her or loathe her, Paula's restaurant--which includes a Southern-style buffet--still manages to draw an impressive crowd.
10 Holland House
For the past four decades, this small, unassuming Midtown eatery has been serving Southern and soul food favorites to devoted local patrons. The restaurant's daily buffet menu features a rotating selection of meats and side dishes, among them crispy fried chicken, meat loaf, chicken and dumplings, beef stew, collard greens, okra and tomatoes, mac and cheese, green beans and sweet potato soufflé. A cooked-to-order breakfast is available seven mornings a week and includes favorites such as omelets, pancakes, French toast, breakfast sandwiches, hash browns, and biscuits and gravy. The friendly staff, laid back vibe and tasty food make the Holland House a good choice for those looking for their soul food fix. ((912) 352-3382)
If you're longing for one of those unforgettable Sunday meals your grandma made, then head to Sisters, a family-owned eatery that specializes in traditional Southern fare. There's nothing fancy on Sisters' menu, just standard, hearty classics such as oxtails, fried chicken, smothered pork chops, barbeque ribs and fried shrimp, along with a panoply of side dishes including collard greens, candied yams, mac and cheese, and lima beans. Prices are reasonable, especially the weekday lunch special, which includes a meat and two sides. Sisters also serves a full breakfast seven days a week, including an all-you-can-eat pancake feast on weekends. In addition to the restaurant on Skidaway Road, Sisters also has locations on Mall Boulevard on Savannah's Southside and in nearby Pooler. ((912) 335-2761)
8 Vic's on the River
Lovely views of the Savannah River and the best fried green tomatoes in town--what could be better? Vic's on the River, located in a restored cotton warehouse that served as a hub for General Sherman's army during the Civil War, features a nice selection of Southern favorites, including pan fried chicken livers, pecan-crusted local flounder, Southern meatloaf and wild Georgia shrimp with smoked cheddar stone ground grits. Traditional Southern sides such as mac and cheese, Andouille potato hash, collard greens and roasted fingerling sweet potatoes are available ala carte. For the ultimate Southern dining experience, order a mint julep from the bar and ask to be seated outside on Vic's Bay Street deck. (912-721-1000)
7 Masada Cafe at the United House of Prayer for All People
Everyone knows that those potluck meals at church produce some of the best-tasting Southern food around. What if you could eat that down-home church food year-round? Enter Masada Café at the United House of Prayer for All People, a restaurant that is literally run by the church. The cafeteria-style eatery, which is located in the church annex, features a rotating selection of soul food favorites, including fried chicken, country fried steak, mac and cheese, cornbread, red rice, green beans and more. The restaurant is off the beaten path, but after filling your belly with heaping portions of Southern staples, you won't regret the trip. (912-236-9499)
6 Cafe Florie
This newcomer to the Savannah dining scene has quickly drawn a devoted following thanks to its fresh, soul food-inspired dishes. The unassuming eatery, located in a tiny house on Barnard Street in the Thomas Square Streetcar neighborhood, utilizes local ingredients in its lunch and dinner menus to create dishes that are at once traditional and innovative. The roasted vegetable sandwich on homemade bread becomes a hearty meal with the addition of a white bean hummus spread. The meatloaf transforms into something extraordinary thanks to a decadent roasted onion gravy. But the real star of Café Florie's menu is Verna's Fried Chicken, two perfectly crispy, superbly flavored pieces of meat that will make you a believer. ((912) 236-3354)
You don't have to compromise atmosphere just because you're craving shrimp and grits. A.lure, an eatery near City Market in the Historic District, offers the best of both worlds: outstanding cuisine that puts an interesting spin on Low Country classics and a sophisticated, upscale interior that blends historic and modern elements. The restaurant's eclectic menu, which incorporates locally and regionally sourced ingredients, takes standard favorites and turns them upside down. The Low Country Boil, a one-pot dish that traditionally includes boiled shrimp and sausage, becomes a fancy Southern feast thanks to the addition of a crab cake, fingerling potatoes, collards, sweet corn soufflé and an Old Bay hollandaise sauce. The chocolate sweet potato mousse, topped with toasted marshmallow fluff, spicy candied pecans and chocolate-dipped bacon, may just be the most innovative Southern dessert in town. ((912) 233-2111)
4 Sweet Potatoes
Sweet Potatoes touts itself as serving "endearing food," and this popular Midtown eatery, indeed, specializes in the kind of familiar comfort food your grandmamma made. The restaurant offers an array of salads and sandwiches, but it's the entrees that really shine. From fried freshwater catfish to peach glazed barbeque chicken to meatloaf, there's something to please every Southern food-loving palate. Picking an entrée may be easy, but choosing the accompanying two sides may prove more challenging. The long list of side dishes includes corn pudding, lemon collard greens, dilled lima beans, sweet potato salad, black eyed peas, fresh sliced tomatoes with vinaigrette, sliced cucumbers with vinaigrette and rice, plus a rotating selection of daily specials. If you're finding it hard to make up your mind, you can always opt for the vegetable plate, a reasonably priced entrée that includes your choice of four sides. (912-352-3434)
3 Olde Pink House
What could be more Southern than dinner in an 18th-century Savannah mansion? How about dinner in an 18th-century Savannah mansion surrounded by plates of shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes and barbeque-glazed duck? The Olde Pink House, one of the city's nicest and most popular fine dining establishments, stays true to its antebellum roots, offering up an array of uniquely prepared, upscale Southern fare. From inventive dishes such as the blackened oyster appetizer with watermelon relish and green tomato chow chow to more traditional fare like the bourbon molasses-glazed grilled pork tenderloin with sweet potatoes and collards, the Southern influence makes its way into just about every dish on the menu. The restaurant's portrait-lined walls, fireplaces and cascading chandeliers add to the Southern charm, making the Olde Pink House one of the best places to eat--and feel-- like a true Southerner. (912-232-4286)
2 Elizabeth on 37th
If you're going to splurge on an elegant, Southern-inspired meal, there's no better place to take the plunge than Elizabeth on 37th, one of the city's most highly regarded fine dining establishments. The restored, early 20th-century mansion that houses the restaurant--an impressive structure that was built in 1900 for a cotton broker--is lovely and intimate, with rich colors, elegant furnishings and beautifully decorated walls. But the real treat is the restaurant's innovative, perfectly executed dishes. From the succulent Sapelo Island clams appetizer served with roasted Vidalia onions and country ham to the Coastal Grouper Celeste, a longtime menu favorite featuring sesame-almond-crusted fish with peanut sauce and roasted potatoes, Elizabeth on 37th takes the best elements of Southern cuisine and turns them into masterpieces. Wine captains are available to suggest custom pairings, and the attentive wait staff goes out of its way to ensure a pleasurable dining experience. (912-236-5547)
1 Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room
For the quintessential Southern dining experience, it doesn't get any better than Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room. The popular lunch spot, which is located in a house on a brick-lined residential street in the Historic District, has been a favorite among locals and tourists for decades. In fact, guests can expect to wait in line before getting a coveted seat at one of Mrs. Wilkes' tables. It's worth the wait: the family-style restaurant features a rotating selection of mouthwatering, homemade Southern fare, including fried chicken, candied yams, mac and cheese, okra and tomatoes, butter beans, meatloaf, collard greens and more. Lunch is topped off with your choice of dessert, and there's always plenty of sweet tea to wash down your meal. (912-232-5997)
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.