If you think all Southern food is fried and buttered, think again. Southern-style cooking is extremely complex and diverse, encompassing a wide range of flavors and culinary influence, including Appalachian, Lowcountry, Cajun, and Creole. And while this list of 10 only scratches the surface of all the mouth-watering diners, cafes, restaurants, and food trucks that call the South home, we hope it can provide a starting point for anyone interested in sampling some true Southern cuisine. So, fuel up and get ready because this is one deliciously long road trip.
We're not sure what's more impressive at Cheever's Cafe—the incredible food or its significance in Oklahoma City history. The cafe got its start back in 1938, when two of Oklahoma City's first residents opened a small flower shop called Cheever's Flowers. Named after Lawrence “L.L.” Cheever, the shop stayed in the Cheever family for many generations until it was ultimately sold and converted into a restaurant in the late 1990s. The new owners kept much of the original building the same, including the large, glass flower cases which now display decadent desserts and specialty wines. Today, Cheever's Cafe is not only an Oklahoma icon but one of the best brunch spots in the country. The menu pairs traditional Southern-style food (think fried chicken and grits) with Southwestern spices. Some of their most popular dishes include the mixed seafood tamales, chicken fried steak, and roasted pecan ice cream ball.
A food road trip through the South isn't complete without some barbecue, and we think Central BBQ in Downtown Memphis has some of the best. Memphis-style barbecue is unique in that it doesn't use any liquids or sauces, only dry rubs and seasonings. And Central BBQ takes this very, very seriously. In fact, their slogan even says "smoke is our sauce." All of their barbecue is seasoned and slowly smoked over hickory and pecan chips for 24 hours. The result is some mouth-watering, fall-off-the-bone deliciousness. The ribs at Central BBQ are the real star, but you can also get pulled pork, brisket, smoked turkey, and a wide variety of salads and sides.
There are a lot of great places to eat in Nashville, but the Loveless Cafe is a true Tennessee landmark. Started by a husband and wife duo back in 1951, the cafe had a very simple purpose: Give hungry travelers a quick place to stop and enjoy some fried chicken and biscuits. Word quickly spread about the incredible food and gracious owners, and soon people were coming from all over just to try the famous Loveless biscuits. That trend continued and now the cafe makes more than 10,000 biscuits every day. The menu has expanded quite a bit since 1951 and features both all-day breakfast and dinner from 11 a.m. until close. You can also purchase some Loveless biscuit mix at the on-site store and take the famous recipe home with you.
This next stop might surprise you, as it's not technically a restaurant or cafe, but it does give you both a beautiful place to camp and a chance to try some great, local food (meals tastes better around a campfire anyways). At the Blue Ridge / Toccoa River KOA Holiday, guests can camp right along the Toccoa River and choose between a tent site, an RV site, or a cabin rental—all of which come with fire pits so you can get down on some s'mores. There is coffee, tea, and hot chocolate available 24/7 at the main lodge, as well as a large pavilion for group dinners and gatherings. This particular KOA also has some great seasonal food options, including apple picking in the fall and local food trucks in the summer.
Located in a restored Victorian-style house in the French Quarter neighborhood of Charleston is a charming place called Husk. Known for its ever-changing menu, Husk is one of South Carolina's most famous restaurants. And for good reason—the food here is truly one of a kind. Stepping through the vine covered gate and into the main entrance, you'll immediately feel like you've been invited to an intimate dinner party. There are multiple places to dine, including inside near the fireplace, outside in the garden, and upstairs on the porch (we highly recommend the porch). Because the menu changes daily, it's hard to recommend one dish but everything on the menu takes what you thought you knew about traditional Southern dining and flips it on its head (think pig ear lettuce wraps and bourbon-barrel-smoked dinner rolls). And whatever you do, don't forget to visit Husk's bar, which is located right next door, and treat yourself to a delicious nightcap.
In addition to being a beautiful campground surrounded by lush woodland, the Point South / I-95 / Yemassee KOA Holiday is also a food-lovers paradise. In fact, you won't even have to leave the grounds to try a wide variety of local food and drinks. Here you'll find Hunt Brother's Pizza Shop, a great little pizzeria that utilizes local ingredients and lets you to build your own personal pie. Be sure to try their famous breakfast pizza, which is loaded with eggs, sausage, bacon, and cheese. (Pro tip: If you stay in one of the Deluxe Cabins, you get a free pizza!) For drinks, stop by the KOA's Swimming Mermaid Coffee House & Wine Bar. This adorable little bar serves speciality coffees in the morning, local craft beers in the afternoon, and wine tastings every night. For less than $10, you can sample four different pours from local wineries and get a true taste of South Carolina's budding wine industry.
If you've ever had a Mexican paleta, then you know what to expect from King of Pops. Unlike typical grocery store popsicles, King of Pops doesn't use any additives or preservatives and keeps to just a few natural ingredients—mostly fresh fruit—to make a deliciously sweet, frozen treat. Founded in 2010 by three brothers, what first started as a few pops sold from an ice cream cart has since grown into a multi-store successful business. But staying local to the South has always remained a core part of the company. King of Pops gets all of its fruit and dairy from local farmers, and only utilizes products that are in season. They also have no plans to expand outside of the South, as they want to stay as close to home as possible. Flavors range from classic (chocolate and orange cream) to complex (key lime pie and matcha lemonade) but all are utterly delightful and refreshing.
Tucked away inside a small antique shop in Southside Birmingham are some of the best sandwiches in all of the South. At the Garage, simplicity is key. Using only fresh, local ingredients, all sandwiches are made-to-order and come with chips and a pickle. You can choose from four different breads, four different cheeses, six different meats, and an endless list of toppings and condiments. The tuna salad is a local favorite, served as a sandwich or on it's own with crackers. While you're there, take your time and enjoy the space. The antique shop is full of incredible finds, and the back patio often has live music playing. On weekends, the Garage stays open until midnight and offers a full bar (and late night sandwiches, too).
With a large number of the Southern states either directly touching or being right next to water, it's no surprise that seafood is a big part of Southern cuisine. And at Fisher's in Orange Beach, Alabama, you can have incredible seafood any way you like. The restaurant is actually divided into two parts: Fisher's Dockside, a casual, open-air cafe right along the water; and Fisher's Upstairs, an elegant and sophisticated indoor dining experience set back from the water. Both places are run by Executive Chef Bill Briand, who has been a James Beard Award semi-finalist for three years running. Menus at both Dockside and Upstairs emphasize classic flavors and include a variety of just-caught Alabama Gulf seafood. We recommend the fried oysters, crab cakes, and shrimp gumbo.
New Orleans has no shortage of incredible eateries, and it was near impossible to choose just one, but Commander's Palace checks all the boxes. Not only is it stunningly beautiful and the go-to spot for Creole cuisine, but it has won seven James Beard Foundation Awards. Commander's Palace has adopted a "dirt to plate within 100 miles" policy, meaning that nearly all of their ingredients come from a 100-mile radius, which really lends itself to some authentic Louisiana bayou flavors. Stop by for lunch, dinner, or a "Jazz Brunch" and enjoy specialties like turtle soup, shrimp curry, and Creole bread pudding soufflé. Reservations are highly recommended and guests should be mindful of the formal business dress code.
This road trip has all the makings of a memorable adventure—city, country, culture, history, nature, and, of course, good food. So, in addition to your epic blues playlist and camping gear, you might want to bring some extra napkins, utensils, straws, and a cooler—the food and drinks are so good, we imagine you'll want to savor every bit of this trip.
Banner Photo Credit: Photo by Mathias Eriksen
Behind the Yellow Sign at KOA, we combine the great outdoors with great service. We offer modern sites, facilities and amenities designed to meet the needs of every kind of camper. And with 500+ campgrounds across North America, it’s easy to find an amazing place for camping fun!