The South’s Best Restaurants 2019
When the results of the South’s Best survey arrive from our readers, our editors are always the most curious to see the restaurants category. Our first year, it was clear the winners were a cavalcade of classics; in the second year we saw a slew of recently opened spots stand up to Southern staples. Now in its third year, the results prove that our readers are the most passionate about restaurants that speak to a sense of place not just in the dishes listed on the menu but in the ambiance of the space, the attention to detail, and the sourcing of ingredients. Our three-time first-place winner Commander’s Palace is no exception where Chef Tory McPhail sources 90 percent of the menu’s ingredients from Louisiana growers where its then served in an atmosphere heady with the raucous, effusive spirit of New Orleans. From a small town butcher shop in the Mississippi Delta to the dockside treasure Fisher’s in Orange Beach, Alabama, see where our readers go to experience the myriad microcultures and foodways of our region.
These Restaurants Are Reader Favorites
1. Commander’s Palace
New Orleans, Louisiana
The daughter of a New Orleans restaurant dynasty, Ella Brennan said she didn’t want a restaurant where a jazz band couldn’t come marching through. Ambitious, especially for a female restaurateur in 1974 (ambitious even today), “Miss Ella” made it happen—and did so while mentoring some of the first celebrity chefs, including Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse. Miss Ella passed away last May, but her legacy endures in a restaurant where world-class service and 25-cent-martini lunches go together like shrimp and tasso ham.
2. Bern’s Steak House
Renown for their wine collection, Bern’s boasts over half a million bottles and 6,800 selections. Big numbers abound further through the restaurant especially in the second floor Henry Waugh Dessert Room, which features 48 enclosed booths constructed from red wine holding tanks and 50 desserts on the menu.
3. Chef & the Farmer
Kinston, North Carolina
Despite its remote location in Kinston, North Carolina, hundreds of thousands felt like they had visited Chef & the Farmer through owner Vivian Howard’s award-winning PBS show A Chef’s Life, where viewers saw the highs and lows of restaurant-ownership and Howard’s mission to sustain Appalachian agriculture.
Charleston, South Carolina
Although Husk has come under new leadership with Executive Chef Travis Grimes helming the kitchen, the flagship Charleston restaurant’s heirloom ingredients and hyperlocal sourcing ethos remain the same.
5. Motor Supply Co. Bistro
Columbia, South Carolina
A newcomer to South’s Best survey winners, Motor Supply Company has been a fixture of Columbia’s downtown for 30 years. But it was in the early 2000s when server-turned-general manager Eddie Wales bought the restaurant and Executive Chef Wes Fulmer came to lead its kitchen that the focus turned toward South Carolina-sourced ingredients and a commitment to environmentally conscious operational practices.
6. Delta Meat Market
The Friday-night scene at Delta Meat Market’s happy hour dinner serves as a microcosm for Cleveland, Mississippi: a long table lined with travel agents from Europe, a young father dancing with a toddler on his shoes, lifelong residents sipping cocktails on a wood banquette, and college students sharing a charcuterie board. Cole Ellis, a Cleveland native, has cooked in Nashville and Charleston but came home to Mississippi to open his downtown butcher-shop restaurant, Delta Meat Market. Soon after, he was named a James Beard award Best Chef South semifinalist for his fresh visions of local ingredients.
7. Hominy Grill
Charleston, South Carolina
One of the foundational restaurants that introduced Charleston, Southern cooking, and Lowcountry traditions to both a national and global audience, Hominy Grill still serves iconic dishes like Shrimp and Grits and, of course, the Charleston Nasty biscuit, which has seen many an imitator.
8. Joe’s Stone Crab
Miami Beach, Florida
Joe Weiss was skeptical diners at his lunch counter would even eat stone crabs when a local fish scientist suggested he use the plentiful crustacean, but since he boiled his first batch in 1921 customers have crowded into this Miami Beach staple for the coral-colored claws.
9. PinPoint Restaurant
Wilmington, North Carolina
Dedicated to a new kind of surf and turf, PinPoint shows off the prodigious produce and seafood harvested in the coastal city of Wilmington from butterbean hummus to a rotating cast of local oysters at the raw bar.
10. Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina
Orange Beach, Alabama
While there is a time and place for a beachside basket full of fried shrimp and overdressed coleslaw, the treasures of the Gulf find a home benefitting their glory at Fisher’s. The upstairs-downstairs setup here might imply pomp above and party below, but executive chef Bill Briand lends complexity to the casual dockside dishes downstairs and expert simplicity to the specialties served in the dining room upstairs (like hyper-local Bon Secour oysters that sail over garlic-leek butter). Either floor makes for a dreamy cocktail-sipping perch, where you can gaze out on the secluded but bustling Orange Beach Marina.