The South has some of the most enviable foods in the country, and it’s not just because nearly everything seems to be deep-fried or cheese-topped… or both. The regional cuisine is the culinary melting pot of America, melding African, Appalachian, and Cajun flavors into a cast-iron pot of simmering, distinctive comfort foods. But just because the South lays claim to fried chicken, BBQ, and mac & cheese, doesn’t mean the rest of the US isn’t doing it right, too.
But, what is the South? Geographically, that famed Mason-Dixon line isn’t a bad starting place. But the food map tells a different story, ranging from the tasso ham and Andouille sausage-filled edges of Louisiana and Eastern Texas over to the shrimp-loving lowcountry of Carolina. Kentucky snags a Northern border, while most of Florida is out of luck. Outside of those borders, chefs have taken the classics and melded them with their own regional cuisines and flavors. These are the 21 best Southern joints outside the South.
ACME Southern Kitchen (San Diego, CA) What you’re getting: Any Southern pie (peach, lemon ice box) It’s only been open a few months, but San Diego’s ACME has already made a stake in the lard-filled world of Southern food. While it may be in competition with taco shops, rather than other mom-and-pop luncheries, this line-up would feel astonishingly at home at a Mississippi roadside with impossible-to-leave-off plates, like fried pork chop on a roll and chicken pot pie.
Big Jones (Chicago, IL) What you’re getting: Boucherie Board (tasso, boudin rouge, and tete de couchon) Another Chicago spot dabbles in lowcountry flavors, but also includes New Orleans and Gulf inspiration, intermingling the diverse flavors of the South’s coastal regions. Big Jones also has an impressive selection of whiskies, from E.H. Taylor Barrel Strength to Four Roses. Join their Bourbon Society and get a complimentary pour of the whiskey of the month during every meal, plus gain access to special dark-liquor events once you fill up your 46-list “passport” of whiskies. Shouldn't take you more than a week.
Boxing Room (San Francisco, CA) What you’re getting: Crispy boudin balls (deep-fried balls of rice-filled Creole sausage) Justin Simoneaux nails the spice and seafood of his native South Louisiana at this Fillmore Cajun temple. A “Classic Louisiana” section is filled with reliable favorites like duck gumbo, red beans + sausage, and regular gumbo, but the rest of the menu – like crawfish pie and oysters Rockefeller -- would feel equally at home. The Louisiana taste extends towards the drinks, which include plenty of Abita.
Brenda’s (San Francisco, CA) What you’re getting: Oyster flight Another SF-Southern spot that dives into Creole foods, Brenda’s does oysters right, broiling the briny beauts in styles ranging from Tchoupitoulas (cayenne butter, garlic, herbs) to Orleans (voodoo BBQ sauce). A few deep-South and soul dishes, like hushpuppies and BBQ Pork Ribs with collard greens sneak onto the menu, too.
The Brooklyn Star (Brooklyn, NY) What you’re getting: Hot meatloaf sandwich on Pullman bread After years of cooking in Southwestern kitchens, Joaquin Baca moved to NYC to help David Chang at Momofuku. As a co-owner, the Texas-bred chef helped build the empire, launching Ko, Ssam, and Noodle Bar, before exiting to open The Brooklyn Star in 2009. Southern staples, from molasses to pig tails and country fried steak, infuse the upscale American menu, an edible showcase of the roots of a son of a cattle farmer.
Carriage House (Chicago, IL) What you’re getting: Charleston She-crab Soup The Wicker Park restaurant takes on lowcountry fare inspired by the chef’s stint on John’s Island in SC, and he preps dishes to be shared family-style, like peel-and-eat shrimp or shrimp and pork belly pie.
Cheeky Sandwiches (New York, NY) What you’re getting: Crispy-fried oysters and, of course, a bag of Zapp’s From its tiny storefront with irregular hours to its chicory coffee and bags of Zapp’s chips, this Lower East Side hole-in-the-wall peddles the Crescent City vibe. Enjoy NOLA-made bread sandwiches and Yankee-twists on po’boys, like a seared pork chop that comes with caramelized apples and onions, plus a dab of mustard.
Hot Suppa! (Portland, ME) What you're getting:The Hot Cat (cornmeal-crusted catfish and shrimp atop grits) This Maine restaurant had its birth after two brothers embarked on a classic American road trip that stopped through not a few BBQ fests and fish fries. And gas stations, most likely. Their stellar corned beef hash is a reminder that this is a New England joint, but the rest of the menu pulls from highlights across the Southeast, ranging from chicken and waffles to chicken and sausage gumbo.
Hungry Mother (Boston, MA) What you're getting: Cornmeal-crusted catfish Usually when mother is hungry, no one else is happy, but that isn’t the case at this Kendall Square mainstay, which has been slinging the best Southern cuisine in the Bay State since it opened in 2008. Actually named for a state park in the chef’s home state of Virginia, you can’t go wrong with the cornmeal-crusted catfish, the famed beef tongue app, and the rhubarb tart with a delicious, kind-of-spicy black pepper crust.
Juniper (St. Louis, MO) What you’re getting: Heritage pork porchetta (includes spoonbread, red-eye gravy) These dishes would be unrecognizable to someone seeking down-home comforts, but the ingredients are all there, and Juniper’s chefs take them for welcome, creative spins. For example, a salad that features both pig ear and potlikker uses that typically crispy offal for a smoky, bacon-like flavor, while the savory cooking liquid from collards plays as a vinaigrette. It's also the perfect salad for dieters who love cheating themselves.
Kingfish Cafe (Seattle, WA) What you're getting: Red beans and rice Drawing inspiration from their Selma, Alabama-born grandfather and comfort food-cooking mother, these two sister-owners have been pouring their love of their culinary heritage -- often in the form of family recipes -- into Seattle since '97. Their enthusiasm shows in dishes like the Hop & Jump, a plate of fried frog legs with green tomato chutney, and the Sweet Tea Pork Chop, a 5oz chop that gets an overnight marinade bath in two stand-by ingredients: sweet tea and molasses.
M3 (Somerville, MA) What you’re getting: Any four “fixings” The Somerville spot upgrades the meat-and-three concept with a long list of “fixings”, like fried okra, collards, and mashed potatoes, that no self-respecting Southern lunch spot could do without. The list isn’t random: the veggies perfectly complement entrees like meatloaf or chicken fried steak.
Magnolia's (Kansas City, MO) What you’re getting: Steak and eggs The young chef behind this Kansas City spot sought to change diners’ stereotypes of Southern cuisine -- she wrote a diatribe in response to locals' constant quibbles about why there is no fried chicken on the menu -- and the menu shows off her idea of a cleaned-up Southern affair, like a catfish burger, topped with blackeyed pea remoulade.
Peaches HotHouse (Brooklyn, NY) What you’re getting: Full Jim Cade burger (topped with fried green tomatoes) Ben Grossman and Craig Samuel kicked off their mini-soul and Southern-food empire with a barbecue joint, which was followed by Peaches, a soul food haven. HotHouse condenses those two menus and turns the focus to comforting, regional staples, like Nashville hot chicken and NOLA-favorite barbecue shrimp served over fried grits.
Pine State Biscuits (Portland, OR) What you're getting: Biscuit-topped chicken pot pie Because there are few things more comforting than the sweet and salty taste of a fresh, hot buttermilk biscuit, three P-Town gents found quick success at the Portland Farmers Market, and have been in brick-and-mortar operation since 2008. The set-up is simple, and the biscuit fillings stick to the Southern theme with options like The Wedgie, a fried chicken, fried green tomato, lettuce, and blue cheese masterpiece. There's also a small "Others" section with classics like shrimp 'n grits.
REX 1516 (Philadelphia, PA) What you’re getting: Biscuit plate (two drop biscuits, jam, pimento cheese, pickles) An Alabama gent started up this Philly restaurant and passed down the kitchen to its current chef, but not before teaching him how to embrace Dixie dishes. Rex marries down-home and fine dining in mouth-watering dishes like crawfish pot pie -- crawfish etouffee-turned pastry-topped masterpiece -- and smoked pork cheeks, whose flavors stand-in for the more basic ham hock in their take on Hoppin’ John.
Screen Door (Portland, OR) What you're getting: The Screen Door Plate with catfish, mac & cheese, and a pork chop Even on the rainiest Portland days, there's a line outside Screen Door an hour before it opens, populated by people ready to weather the weather for a taste of perhaps the city's best fried chicken, pounded flat, buttermilk-soaked, crispy, and perfect. It's served up in a homey little spot with an open kitchen, well-stocked bar, and walls adorned with pickled eggs, vegetables, and pretty much anything else picklable. Beyond the chicken, the place features great BBQ classics, pecan trout, and shrimp & grits, plus an array of sides that can be hard to choose from... so make them a meal with the Screen Door Plate, which lets you choose three. It's worth noting that a crispy-fried pork chop counts as a side, mainly because this place rules.
SOHO Kitchen & Bar (Cleveland, OH) What you’re getting: Lowcountry boil (chock full of shrimp, crab claws, and corn) Recognizing that Southern hospitality is best served in a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet, SOHO Kitchen & Bar's menu marries simple Southern classics with American go-tos, like the Hen House salad, a basic spinach salad that subs boring hardboiled eggs for the jazzed-up, deviled variety. Stop by on Wednesday for the Chicken Scratch menu, when fried chicken is available by the deep-fried, spicy piece.
Spoonful Restaurant (Los Angeles, CA) What you're getting: Southern poutine A native Georgian serves a spread comprised of top-notch eats from a variety of Southern states: everything from catfish, blackened Cajun-style to She-crab soup. LA-friendly eats (as in, they're healthy) lighten the menu, too, with plates of spaghetti squash and pan-seared snapper.
Tom's Home Cookin' (Denver, CO) What you’re getting: Fried catfish paired with green beans and fried okra The name here says it all -- this is home cooking, and even if you've never met Tom, you'll be begging to be adopted so you can inhale this instead of whatever you're hacking at your house. If you can sneak out of the office and make it for the cash-only lunch, you'll get your choice of one entree (chicken and dumplings, meatloaf) and two sides (collards, mac & cheese). Peach cobbler is not considered a dessert here; somehow it's a side, which is awesome.
Yardbird (Miami, FL) What you’re getting: Sunday Chicken (a slow-roasted bird) In a city filled with more Cuban sandwiches than you could ever eat your way through, Yardbird gets campy in its desire to bring a taste of the South to the tip of Florida. Mason jars, buttermilk biscuits, 49 bourbon bottles, and sweet tea-brined ribs deliver the charm of an apron-clad grandmother cooking Sunday supper.
Liz Childers is a food/drink editorial assistant at Thrillist and places outside the South have started to master collard greens -- even if they're not as good as her mom's -- so she can eat properly in NYC. Follow her to meat-covered veggies @lizchilders1.