We love a new, trendy restaurant with a buzzed-about chef and innovative menu as much as the next person, but sometimes you want to dine in a place that feels just like the comfort food it serves. You want a restaurant that has history, a restaurant that’s been serving the same meals for generations, so you know they’ve perfected them.
These iconic Southern restaurants are a must for tourists and locals alike. They’re the places that locals love to take visitors, but you don’t need an out-of-town guest as an excuse to dine there. These are the places you celebrate birthdays, showers, and just-because brunches. And, through the years, every meal there feels memorable, no matter how many times you’ve been. These are eight of the iconic Southern restaurants that should be on every restaurant enthusiast’s bucket list.
8 Iconic Southern Restaurants on Our Bucket List
1403 Washington Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70130 • (504) 899-8221
Practically synonymous with New Orleans itself, Commander’s Palace has resided in its iconic turquoise and white building in the lush Garden District neighborhood since 1893. The restaurant combines award-winning fine dining (seriously, they’ve won seven James Beard awards) with a jubilant atmosphere. Owned by the Brennan family, purveyors of New Orleans dining traditions, Commander’s Palace is the type of restaurant where you’ll recognize the waitstaff year after year, and regulars seem to know every name in the place. It’s old-school Southern hospitality at its best.
Go for their lauded Jazz Brunch, with its joyful atmosphere and tableside tunes. Order the Turtle Soup and a Bloody Mary if you want to embrace the full Commander’s Palace experience of “Haute Creole,” as they’ve dubbed it.
185 East Bay Street, Charleston, SC 29401 • (843) 577-7771
Charleston is a foodie mecca. In recent years, it’s become a destination for travelers across the country looking to experience Southern food at its finest. But, when Magnolias opened in 1990, it was one of the first Charleston restaurants to take the classic flavors of the South and elevate them to upscale Southern cuisine. Chef Don Drake joined the team at the beginning as a sous chef, and now he continues to bring world-class takes on Lowcountry cuisine to Charleston.
With a space that feels both modern and timeless, Magnolias is effortlessly refined. It’s not pretentious, and yet, the flavors and presentation feel upscale. Don’t miss the Fried Green Tomatoes over creamy cheddar grits, the Down South Egg Rolls with collards and ham, or the Lowcountry Bouillabaisse.
1264 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20007 • (202) 333-7370
Since 1933, family-owned Martin’s Tavern has welcomed politicians, presidents, locals, tourists, and more to sidle up to its storied bar or grab dinner in one of its cozy booths. JFK proposed to Jackie here (you can book a reservation in the very booth where it happened!). Some of classic baseball’s most famous players made their home in the Dugout Room, and we can only begin to imagine the deals that have been struck among presidents, senators, and political staffers over cocktails between the Tavern’s wooden walls.
There’s never a bad time to visit Martin’s, but the restaurant outdoes itself at Christmastime with its festive decor. Go for brunch, order the Welsh Rarebit as a starter, and delight in the ambiance.
The Olde Pink House
23 Abercorn Street, Savannah, GA 31401 • (912) 232-4286
Visiting Savannah, GA, and strolling through its Spanish moss-lined squares feels like a step back in time, and a trip to The Olde Pink House feels like a fitting tribute to a long-ago era. The Olde Pink House, or the Habersham House as it was originally called, was actually built as a white structure, but the brick that was concealed by plaster bled through and dyed the home pink — now its most distinctive characteristic.
The restaurant embodies all sultry, Southern elegance that is Savannah, with its refined rooms and dimly lit downstairs bar. Seafood and steak are where The Olde Pink House shines, and you’ll find classic Southern dishes to indulge in like She Crab Soup, Pecan Crusted Chicken Breast, and Fried Pork Chop with pan gravy, collards, and mac and cheese.
Highlands Bar and Grill
2011 Eleventh Avenue South, Birmingham, AL 35205 • (205) 939-1400
One James Beard nomination is impressive. Ten nominations — and a win — is practically unheard of! But that’s exactly what Chef Frank Stitt and Highlands Bar and Grill can claim as their own. Southern-raised and French-trained, Stitt focuses on sustainable agriculture and humane practices as he explores the regional recipes that make his restaurants unique.
Highlands Bar and Grill merges French elegance with the approachability of Southern cuisine. Stitt finds inspiration on the farm he shares with his wife, Pardis, the restaurant’s co-owner, and brings patrons into an experience that feels special and unexpected. And, if you leave your meal wishing there’s some way you could recreate the Highlands Bar and Grill magic at home, don’t worry. Stitt has a cookbook that details his thoughtful, expert takes on favorite dishes. SB TIP: Highlands is currently closed with plans to reopen in late summer. Check the Highlands website for updates.
713 Saint Louis Street, New Orleans, LA 70130 • (504) 581-4422
It should be no surprise that in an article about iconic Southern restaurants that New Orleans would make not one, but two, appearances. This is a city that respects its elders — particularly in the food scene. Antoine’s, which is run by its fifth-generation CEO, opened in 1840 and has been serving French-Creole cuisine in the country’s longest continuously running restaurant ever since.
With its white tablecloth service, New Orleans’ signature blend of warm Southern hospitality and old school formality, and indulgent dishes that you’ll remember years from now, Antoine’s has earned its spot as one of the city’s most renowned restaurants. If you go, you must order some of the dishes that were invented in this very spot: Oysters Rockefeller, Eggs Sardou, and Pommes de Terre Soufflées.
1074 Merrick Drive, Lexington, KY 40502 • (859) 269-5417
The 19th-century mansion and farm that the Merrick Inn calls home were once the (literal) stomping grounds of some of Kentucky’s most prized horses. One of the most famous equines was a thoroughbred named Merrick, who won 62 races and lived to the ripe old age of 38. A fitting name for an iconic restaurant that has stood in its place for over four decades now. Here you’ll find simply elegant food made from quality ingredients, Southern gentility, and white tablecloth service, run by a family that’s been at the helm of this classic restaurant since it opened in the 1970s.
Red Fox Inn and Tavern
2 East Washington Street, Middleburg, VA 20117 • (540) 687-6301
Located in Virginia’s scenic hunt country, Red Fox Inn and Tavern has a prime location on the main street of charming Middleburg. Specializing in seasonal Virginia Piedmont cuisine and updated takes on Southern classics, Red Fox Inn is a fine dining experience with a casually elegant air.
Sitting in the candlelit tavern feels like you’ve time-traveled back several centuries to an impeccably maintained 18th-century inn, while warm summer evenings beckon guests outside to dine al fresco on the garden terrace. You can stop in for dinner, or treat yourself to the four-course dinner experience and enjoy their unique takes on the region’s game and seafood.
Which restaurants are you adding to your bucket list?
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