While the results included a few of last year’s winners, the newcomers to this list demonstrate the power of a devoted following whether it be in a tiny town like Davidson, North Carolina, or an underrated city like Knoxville, Tennessee.
This year’s winner L’Opposum in Richmond, Virginia might not have the region-wide reputation of others who made the list, but those have seen Chef David Shannon’s cheeky approach to formal classics (Menu items include “An Ebullient Bowl of Bouillabaisse” and “C’mon Simone, Let’s Talk About Your Big Halibut”) know why he has earned the city James Beard Award-level attention.
The rest of the winners features classics complimented by unexpected newcomers to this list. In Alabama, Highlands Bar & Grill endures as one of the original restaurants that brought Southern food into the national conversation. Still helmed by Chef Frank Stitt, Highlands stays concretely classic but never dated. On the Eastern edge of the state, Chef David Bancroft has made Auburn known for something other than football. At Acre, he takes inspiration from the garden neighboring the restaurant to create a seasonal, ever-changing menu that is equal parts reverential and playful with Southern ingredients.
In Tennessee, two winners emerged: one, the Barn at Blackberry Farm and the other J.C. Holdway not too far away in Knoxville. The connection between them goes beyond location however. Chef Joseph Lenn started J.C. Holdway after a long career at Blackberry Farm where he made the resort a food enthusiasts’ destination.
Kindred brings Southerners from all over the region to Davidson, North Carolina, a tiny town of less than 15,000 people, for fresh takes on Appalachian cooking. Across the region in Texas, San Antonio has put its Texas sister cities on notice with the newly developed Pearl complex. San Antonio is also home to second place winner Signature.
Commander’s Palace and Husk have both become flagship institutions to their city’s cooking traditions from the Lowcountry to the Cajun-Creole style of New Orleans. Although they carried over from last year’s list, we know next year’s will still have room for new staples and surprises. Take a look at the best restaurants, chosen by you.