Southern food is the ultimate comfort food for many people, including southerners.
But with chefs from all over the world venturing to the U.S. south, southern food staples such as shrimp and grits, chicken and dumplings, and cornbread have been elevated to levels appreciated by Michelin-starred chefs and the average person.
But like New York City when it comes to pizza or Chicago when it comes to hot dogs, several cities across the U.S. have taken southern food staples to new heights.
Many of these cities are home to soul cooking, excellent barbecue, and stick-to-your-ribs meals that keep anyone coming back for more.
We decided to list the 12 best southern food cities in America.
Gas up your car, hit Interstate 95 or Interstate 20, and get ready for meals so good you will need a nap after the fork hits the bottom of the plate.
Atlanta, Georgia is not called the “Jewel of the South” without reason.
The intersection of culture, commerce, and camaraderie is apparent in Georgia’s capital, especially with numerous restaurants and fine dining.
While you have to deal with urban sprawl, there is never a shortage of good southern eats in Atlanta.
Are you in the mood for fast food? Make sure you hit up The Varsity, a classic fast food diner-style restaurant with some of the best burgers and milkshakes in town.
How about a plate of barbecue? Fox Bros. Bar-B-Que’s ribs will make you pray to the God of Pork for blessing you with such a meal.
Savannah has become one of the most treasured southern cities in the past several decades.
Marked with some of the most scenic views due to its sunkissed oak trees lining the downtown streets, Savannah is your favorite social media influencer’s most beloved town.
Regardless of the views, Savannah is home to some of the best southern seafood spots in America due to the city’s placement on the Atlantic Ocean.
Make a pit stop at the Chive Sea Bar and Lounge for a drink and the treasured Surf and Turf. If you are not a seafood person, head over to the Alligator Soul for fine dining with a down south touch.
But if you are looking for budget-friendly eats with a celebrity spin, Paula Deen’s Lady and Sons Restaurant will serve you the fried chicken of your dreams.
We cannot go far on this list without mentioning Texas – especially Houston.
While Texas is home to some of the best Tex-Mex food in the country, Houston’s southern food culture gives residents and tourists a run for their money.
It is not exactly southern food in Houston, either. Instead, it’s soul food with a spin designed to make you feel like you are having Sunday lunch at your grandmother’s house all over again.
If you seek tried-and-true soul food favorites with a mom-and-pop atmosphere, This Is It Soul Food is a sure-fire bet with its mac and cheese and cornbread muffins.
The Turkey Leg Hut, which also serves the namesake carnival staple, also gives you enough food to stay with you for days.
Asheville, North Carolina
We would joke about Asheville being the hipster capital of the U.S., but that would be talking down to this city’s rich southern food culture.
Nestled in the cradle of the Appalachian Mountains, Asheville gives visitors views and food that will become pleasant memories for years to come.
The Tupelo Honey Cafe is of particular note when visiting Asheville. This cafe serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and can fill your stomach at any time of day.
If you are in the mood for fried chicken, Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack takes the Tennessee hot chicken and turns it on its head.
New Orleans, Louisiana
What can we say about New Orleans that has not already been said?
The blues and cajun capital of the world, New Orleans is one of the ultimate southern food cities in America.
From seafood to soul food to barbecue and beyond, nearly every style of food is represented in the Gulf of Mexico city.
For the best soul food, visit Cochon Restaurant and grab a plate of roasted oysters. Commander’s Palace offers some of the most delicious food in a unique venue.
But if you are on the hunt for a bowl of jambalaya, we might suggest a stop at Joey K’s, a restaurant once featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.
The Mayor of Flavortown cannot be wrong on comfort food staples.
Charleston, South Carolina
Welcome to the Palmetto State’s most cherished city. Charleston, South Carolina has gained a reputation in the past several years because of the city’s food culture.
With fine dining chefs beginning to plant stakes in this coastal community, many southern food restaurants here are becoming high-dollar affairs. Still, there’s plenty to offer for those with the lightest wallets.
The Early Bird Diner in West Ashley is of note here, especially if you love a plate of chicken and waffles and saving a few bucks.
You will want to save that cash when you score a reservation at HUSK, one of the most in-demand restaurants in the city. HUSK’s shrimp and grits alone are worth the price of admission.
Texas is back on the list, and the capital city earns its spot by virtue of it being a commerce hub and college town.
A good rule of thumb for eating is to find the nearest college town. College towns will always have affordable restaurants with a focus on big flavor.
With Austin being in Texas, big flavor is the name of the game – especially during college football season when the Longhorns are playing.
Austin is home to Texas flavor with a southern bent. Moonshine Patio Bar and Grill is a highlight with finger-licking ribs and meatloaf as good as your mother’s version.
24 Diner is another classic-style diner with traditional American food and chicken and waffles that people travel miles to eat.
Roll tide, y’all. The seat of power in the Southeastern Conference and college football as long as Nick Saban coaches the Crimson Tide football team, Alabama gets a spot on this list.
Birmingham is home to affordable meals and barbecue dishes that can go up against any in the U.S.
Birmingham is ripe with soul food, starting with SAW’s Soul Kitchen. The restaurant is already a Birmingham mainstay with southern food classics such as pork and greens, deviled eggs, and ribs.
The Southern Kitchen and Bar is another winner in Alabama, serving up southern masterpieces with a date night atmosphere.
A city so lovely Elvis made it his base of operations until his untimely death.
Memphis, Tennessee might be where Sun Records launched dozens of country music careers, but it’s also the home to some of the best barbecue in the country. There is a reason why Memphis barbecue is considered a class of its own.
Payne’s Bar-B-Q is one of those Memphis staples. With a killer sauce recipe and coleslaw that will make anyone beg for more, Payne’s is a BBQ giant in the Tennessee town.
But if you are in the market for traditional southern-style food, a visit to Southern Hands Homestyle Cooking will make you feel right at home. Make sure you order the catfish.
Richmond, Virginia might be a surprise on this list for many of you.
While Virginia’s capital is not immediately known for its food tradition, this modestly sized southern city is gaining a reputation.
Richmond is also home to Mama J’s, one of the best soul food restaurants in the Mother of Presidents.
Crab cakes, pork chops, and catfish line the menu for anyone ready to take in the tradition of southern favorites.
Alamo BBQ is another fantastic barbecue joint for anyone in need of pulled pork or banana pudding.
The country music capital of America, Nashville has a reputation for being the destination for bachelorette parties. Still, this Tennessee city gets major props for its food culture.
The Southern, for example, is one of the leading restaurants that blends fine dining with down-home cooking.
While new chefs are staking a claim in Nashville, you cannot forget about the established restaurants either.
The Loveless Cafe has been delighting customers since the 1950s. USA Today even gave it the title of America’s “Top Down-Home Dining Spot.”
The home of the Kentucky Derby, Louisville is much more than horses, mint juleps, and seersucker suits – although a mint julep sounds refreshing now.
But you cannot leave Kentucky without a tasty plate of fried chicken. But before you stop at the nearest KFC, know that you can get high-quality fried chicken at The Eagle.
The Eagle is home to several of Kentucky’s best chicken dishes. Even Kentucky’s hot chicken restaurants like Joella’s Hot Chicken are well worth your time and money.