Aug 19, 2023
Best New Restaurants Of 2023
Amy Pezzicara It’s not hard to find something good to eat in the South. From food trucks to tasting menus, our region is blessed with an overabundance of restaurants, with more popping up every day.
It’s not hard to find something good to eat in the South. From food trucks to tasting menus, our region is blessed with an overabundance of restaurants, with more popping up every day. Choosing the best of these recently-opened places is no easy feat. By the time we publish this, there will surely be an exciting new spot that everyone is talking about.
The establishments on this list stand out in an industry that’s crowded, competitive, and full of talent. From an elegant five-course Mexican tasting menu in New Orleans, to shatteringly crisp Thai fried chicken in Nashville, to sourdough crust pizzas in Birmingham, the food at all of these places is worthy of making a reservation, or even traveling for. And there’s truly something here for everyone, at every price point.
But a great restaurant is more than just what's on the plate. Service and hospitality are also important, as is the way a restaurant supports and treats its staff and the wider community. Whether you’re a local, or just visiting, these places aim to make everyone feel welcome. We hope you discover a new favorite. —Southern Living Editors
Courtesy Cortney Sparkman
2212 Morris Ave Suite 105, Birmingham, AL
The story of Birmingham’s Pizza Grace began when chef and owner Ryan Westover finally admitted that he just really likes creating pizzas. Westover had made a name for himself as a pastry chef (earning a nomination for The People’s Best New Pastry Chef title from Food & Wine) and through cooking in or consulting for restaurants around the country. But the fact remained that Westover, whose résumé also includes early stints at Domino’s and Papa Johns, had his heart in pizza. That love comes through in his pies, which elevate even the classics and start with a simple, three-ingredient sourdough. The Pepperoni version gets zing from Aleppo pepper, and the plain Cheese isn’t so standard thanks to a blend of Parmesan, Asiago, Romano, and provolone and a sprinkle of herb breadcrumbs. For something more adventurous, try the Veggie with pesto, garlic confit, kale, roasted local mushrooms, provolone, and smoked sea salt. The sleek, warehouse-chic dining room is anything but cold, thanks to Westover's partner Helene Jones, who runs the front of house. Enjoy a beer or a glass of wine with your meal inside, or get your pie to go.
321 SE 2nd St Suite 100, Bentonville, AR
By the time chef Matthew Cooper created Conifer, he’d already gained national recognition for his more than 25 years of work in Arkansas kitchens. Although he led the cooking at Cache Restaurant in Little Rock and the James Beard Award-nominated The Preacher’s Son in Bentonville, there was one crucial element he was ready to undertake himself: ownership. With a clear vision of what his restaurant would look like, Cooper opened Conifer, a farm-to-table, gluten-free spot in Bentonville that relies on regional ingredients as much as possible. The kitchen takes up half of the space’s square footage, and the seasonal menu consists of small plates and main dishes that offer pops of international flavors. Choose from options like a squash salad with a miso vinaigrette or lamb from northwest Arkansas’ Hanna Family Ranch that’s flavored with vadouvan, a French-influenced curry powder.
Courtesy of Bardea Steak
608 N Market St, Wilmington, DE
From the moment you sit down at Bardea Steak, you’re in for a customized experience. The downtown Wilmington steak house, which sits adjacent to sister restaurant Bardea Food & Drink, is designed as a choose-your-own adventure into the land of rare cuts of meat. Obviously, beef is the star here: It’s all carefully sourced from small farms and prepared over an open fire—a touch of showmanship that adds to the already energetic room. As chef Antimo DiMeo explains on the menu, the James Beard Award-nominated team of restaurateurs tried more than 100 different steaks as they made selections for Bardea, and that obsessive attention to detail never stopped: Diners can select a steak by breed, cut, and size. Those who are less inclined to red meat are also well cared for; global offerings might include raw tiger prawn cocktails with kefir, turducken croquettes, or guinea hen with rice.
396 Alhambra Cir Suite 155, Coral Gables, FL
Few menus are as uniquely delicious and surprising as the one at Coral Gables’ Zitz Sum, and that’s because it reflects chef Pablo Zitzmann’s own story. The son of German and Mexican immigrants, he was raised in Bogotá, Colombia. After graduating from culinary school, he cooked in Miami, Honolulu’s Chinatown, and Hong Kong before finally returning to South Florida, where he helmed the kitchen at the lauded but now-defunct No Name Chinese. That varied history, plus Zitzmann’s love of Japanese and Italian flavors, translates into an incomparable dining experience. The oft-changing menu means, if you’re lucky, you might encounter the quick-to-sell-out, spicy Har Gow (shrimp dumplings with Calabrian chili oil, lime, and Thai basil). Try the Wonton in Brodo (chicken-and-foie gras-filled dumplings swimming in a mushroom-Parmesan broth).
1700 W Fig St, Tampa, FL
When Nate Siegel and Merrin Jenkins first opened Willa’s in Tampa’s North Hyde Park neighborhood, two things were clear: The pair—both Tampa natives who had spent time living in New York—wanted to bring a piece of that Big Apple’s something-for-everyone, all-day restaurant culture home while also creating a more equitable work environment. That’s no easy task in an industry that has recently struggled to balance staff schedules and an inconsistent supply chain—let alone the bottom line. Siegel and Jenkins appear to have done it with a transparent pay structure, company-supported insurance, a tip share, and paid time off—and all while supporting chef Gabriel Lopez’s menu of contemporary comfort food. At Willa’s, you’ll find favorites like croque madames and smash cheeseburgers alongside updated classics like a Caesar salad with tahini and fries topped with pork belly and Mornay sauce.
Andrew Thomas Lee
3005 Peachtree Rd Suite 300, Atlanta, GA
Like an ace up the sleeve, Lucian Books and Wine is the kind of wildcard that can suit itself beautifully to nearly any kind of use. Whether you’re looking for a quiet place to crack the cover on a new novel with a glass of wine to gather with friends for a leisurely lunch, or to impress a date, Lucian offers a tightly curated experience built for discovery. Part bookshop and part restaurant, it’s a reflection of owners Katie Barringer’s and Jordan Smelt’s own interests and, perhaps more importantly, their expertise. Barringer (a former bookstore owner with an eye for art and design) and Smelt (who has worked in wine distribution) smartly brought on chef Jason Paolini to lead the kitchen in this tiny spot in bustling Buckhead. Expect elegant plates like oysters with a persimmon mignonette and polenta with black truffles and Parmesan. Find out about a new wine producer, savor a perfect French omelet with a smear of caviar, or pick up a clever coffee-table tome—it’s all possible here.
122 E 37th St, Savannah, GA
“Farm to table” typically describes food made with ingredients that are grown and sourced locally, but at Common Thread in Savannah, that phrase has grown to mean so much more. Yes, chef Brandon Carter and his chef de cuisine Joseph Harrison often serve dishes made with produce from nearby farms, and the menu is globally influenced but grounded in Southern flavors (like Carolina Gold rice porridge with barbecued mushrooms, crispy potato, and pickled daikon radish). But here, “farm to table” also includes an effort to tie together the people who prepare and serve food. The partners behind Common Thread and its sister restaurant, Farm Bluffton, created the Rootstock Community Foundation, which offers free mental health resources to anyone working in the restaurant industry nationwide. Common Thread may be housed in a beautifully restored Victorian home from the late 1800s, but the food and culture are all about looking ahead and pushing things forward.
Courtesy Neon Bites
935 Goss Ave, Louisville, KY
Attempting to export the flavors of a city like New Orleans to a restaurant anywhere else can quickly become gimmicky. But at North of Bourbon in Louisville, there’s a case to be made that perhaps the souls of these two places aren’t that far apart after all. Thanks to chef Lawrence Weeks, whose Louisiana family contributed recipes to the seasonal menu, there’s an earnestness and honesty to the cooking here that honors the ingredients and dishes found farther South. In a warm, inviting space where booths are carved out of bourbon barrels and bottles of Kentucky whiskey glow amber and gold in the backlit bar, diners can tuck into a bowl of duck gumbo, try a mirliton Caesar salad, heal a hangover with yakamein (a classic New Orleans noodle soup), or crunch on the pickled okra from their bloody Marys during a jazz brunch.
1245 Constance St, New Orleans, LA
You could define the unexpected Lengua Madre by what it isn’t—a Mexican restaurant with the usual platters of enchiladas and fajitas piled high with rice and beans. What chef Ana Castro has built in the quiet Lower Garden District is far more interesting than that. During dinner service in this petite corner building that glows with neon pink light, Castro delivers a five-course tasting menu introducing you to dishes inspired by her travels and the traditional Mexican food she ate in her grandmother’s kitchen. A meal might begin with a briney shrimp broth delivered in a clay demitasse (a vessel shaped by Mexican artisans) surrounded by and kept warm within a plate of colorful maize kernels. The margaritas are stellar, but so are the cocktails made with unexpected Mexican spirits, like purple corn whiskey. The following courses, which could be anything from beef-cheek tacos or tamales topped with grated truffles to crab-stuffed banana peppers, each land with a short tale of their origin. The experience feels as though you’ve been let inside someone’s story, like you’ve been cared for. And you’ll be better off for it.
1301 N Calvert St, Baltimore, MD
In recent years, a handful of chefs have attempted to find creative solutions to the restaurant industry’s long-standing equity issues and the wide gap that can exist between owners and employees. One of those concepts is the Mera Kitchen Collective, a worker-owned co-op that started as a pop-up. Now with a permanent home in Baltimore, it’s run by an international group of chefs whose backgrounds combine to make a menu as diverse as they are. Sample fresh bites (a watermelon, mint, and arugula salad; stuffed grape leaves; or tabbouleh) before tucking into the Chicken Tinga Quesadilla or the Falafel Salad Bowl. Sip on an orange blossom-mint lemonade or a ginger juice with tamarind. As the menu will tell you, “A great experience...involves the entire team,” and you’ll find that’s true with every meal here.
Courtesy of Sambou's African Kitchen
1625 E County Line Rd Suite 150, Jackson, MS
It may have taken a long journey for Sambou’s African Kitchen to arrive in Jackson, but now that it has, both the restaurant and the family behind it feel right at home. After spending 20 years as a housekeeper for the American embassy and the Peace Corps in Gambia, Sally Demba immigrated with her family to the United States in 2007. Eventually, they settled in Mississippi’s capital. As Demba found her own community, she started cooking for new friends, many of whom would tell her she should start a restaurant. And that’s exactly what the family has done. Demba’s son, Joseph, opened Sambou’s, where his sister, Bibian, is head chef and Demba is kitchen manager. Every recipe is made from scratch daily, and each dish bursts with brightness and flavor. Try the gingery, slow-cooked oxtails with coconut rice or the Lamb Maffe, a traditional West African peanut butter-based stew. If you think you’re up for the challenge, ask for your order to be extra spicy, or “the Gambian way.”
1019 E 63rd St, Kansas City, MO
The love that went into Baba’s Pantry, a cafe and grocery store by Kansas City food-scene veteran Yahia Kamal, is evident before you even step inside. Above the doors, which are easy to spot thanks to the bright green shop front, is the restaurant’s name, which translates to “Papa’s Pantry.” The self-described “Palestinian American Delicatessen” is the first eatery that Kamal has created with his family, and the cheerful space feels warm and welcoming. Stop in, and you’ll likely find him chatting with customers or whipping up scratch-made hummus and baba ganoush while one of his children scribbles down recipes—a tradition Kamal started when he’d call his mom while he was in college in Oklahoma to get her directions on how to make dishes that tasted like home. It’s the start of something new for the Kamal family and the continuation of something beloved in Kansas City.
510 E 15th St, Charlotte, NC
If a meal is a reflection of the love that went into it, then Bird Pizzeria certainly mirrors the passion of the Thompson family. When married couple Kerrel and Nkem Thompson opened the petite pizza spot in Charlotte, it was the clear result of the strength of their partnership. They were the restaurant’s only full-time employees for its first five months. And though the couple moved from Chicago, they’re proudly serving up East Coast-style pies with thin, blistered crusts. Kerrel makes the signature dough from a custom blend of organic flours. The menu itself is purposeful and tidy: Add toppings like hot honey, kale, or a mix of portobello and white mushrooms to a red, white, or vegan base. Orders can be placed ahead or made directly at the walk-up window. Either way, slices are best eaten by folding the crispy crust onto itself.
Courtesy Scott Myers Photography
321 E Chapel Hill St Suite 100, Durham, NC
When Sean Umstead and Michelle Vanderwalker—the same team behind the Kingfisher cocktail bar and the QueenBurger restaurant in downtown Durham—created Queeny’s, they focused on expanding a vision of the things they already loved. Luckily, the pair didn’t have to look too far to do it: Queeny’s was born in late 2021 and is perched just above the Kingfisher. Open until 2 a.m., it’s also a bookstore, podcast studio, and community space for gatherings ranging from disco nights to book clubs. Chef Jorge Ruiz turns out playful, affordable diner food and cocktails. Order a gin Rickey with the pickled jalapeño-and-lime-laced Creamy Tuna Dip for the ultimate bar snack. Those looking for a full meal can dig into a cheeseburger topped with balsamic caramelized onions and crispy shallots or the Big Kale Salad with Brussels sprouts, carrots, radishes, apples, hazelnuts, smoked cheese, and a red wine vinaigrette. Many dishes can be made gluten free, vegan, or vegetarian. And the real kicker? Nearly everything on the menu is under $10.
Courtesy of NATV Restaurant
1611 S Main St, Broken Arrow, OK
A descendant of the Shawnee Tribe and a member of the Cherokee Nation, veteran chef Jacque Siegfried learned how to cook from her father well before attending culinary school. Curious about her roots, she dug into indigenous histories and recipes. In 2022, she opened a restaurant in Broken Arrow to bring “Native American cuisine to the modern forefront.” Nātv serves as a partner to other Native-owned businesses, highlighting their produce and meats as often as possible. Blue corn tortillas are stuffed with shredded bison, and the gnocchi is prepared with pecan flour and sunchokes—new takes on indigenous ingredients that have been true to the region for thousands of years.
Pink Bellies / South Carolina / Courtesy Andrew Cebulka
595 King St Ste 1, Charleston, SC
Walking into Pink Bellies feels less like you’re entering one of Charleston’s hottest new restaurants and more like you’re submerging yourself in a whimsical aquatic experience. The Vietnamese-American restaurant was making waves even before its doors opened thanks to chef Thai Phi’s beloved food truck. A crowdfunding campaign allowed for the brick-and-mortar location to be built. The interior is decorated with undulating wooden panels and ceiling tiles that shift between the colors of the sunset over open water. From the open kitchen, Phi leads his team in creating bowls of garlic noodles with pulled pork and pickled onions; Brussels sprouts flavored with fish sauce; and delicate, delectable lamb dumplings swimming in a smoky and spicy sauce. Dive in, and learn exactly why Pink Bellies earned its permanent residence on King Street.
2 East Broad Street, Greenville, SC
With its often-changing, internationally inspired menu and inventive cocktails, Camp has been a welcome addition to Greenville’s fast-growing food scene. The latest venture from Table 301 Restaurant Group (which is behind other local favorites such as Jones Oyster Co. and The Lazy Goat), Camp opened in the spring of 2021 in downtown’s Camperdown Plaza. The never-fussy destination is like three restaurants in one: Take your pick from the modern, light-filled dining room; an alfresco table on the patio; or a seat at the chef’s counter. The restaurant’s bar stretches right into the plaza, offering a fun and easy spot to grab quick cocktails, but you’d be smart to make time for a meal. At Camp, dinner might include a seafood tostada with a tomatillo vinaigrette, a mushroom vol-au-vent with sherry-sorghum cream sauce, or a lamb T-bone flavored with tikka masala. However you decide to fill in the gaps in this edible choose-your-own adventure, you’ll be thankful it started here.
Courtesy Reed Shick
318 N Gay St #103, Knoxville, TN
On downtown Knoxville’s bustling Gay Street, what started as a temporary pop-up became a permanent fixture in the fall of 2022 in the form of Potchke deli. This place is the brainchild of co-owners and life partners Emily Williams and Laurence Faber. Both of their résumés feature stints in popular regional kitchens—Blackberry Farm for Faber and J.C. Holdway and Emilia for Williams. During the height of pandemic lockdowns, Williams explored Faber’s Jewish heritage through babka baking. One thing led to another, and the pair ended up spending most of the fall of 2021 traveling through Ukraine and Moldova to explore Jewish cuisine more deeply. Upon their return to Tennessee, the deli was born—its name translates to “fuss around in the kitchen” in Yiddish. The menu at Potchke changes often, but you can always expect respectfully interpreted takes on traditional flavors: borscht accompanied by garlic pampushki rolls, bialys draped in reddish-pink lox, and blintzes filled with vanilla-lemon farmers’ cheese.
Courtesy Mary Craven Photography
2013 Belmont Blvd., Nashville, TN
Any lucky diners who had the chance to eat at Nashville’s International Market & Restaurant sometime between when it opened in 1975 and its 2018 closure might be surprised to see it on our list of new eateries. But it’s true: The International Market is back and now co-run by the original owners’ children, celebrity chef Arnold Myint and his sister, Anna. But while there are many returning standbys at this beloved Thai restaurant and market—including the steam table and even some longtime employees who are deeply familiar with the way things were prepared at the original location—there are plenty of changes too. The market is more tightly curated to focus on locally made goods as well as items that are used in the kitchen, the updated decor feels fresher, and the menu has expanded to include more vegan and vegetarian options plus new dishes—like the Hatyai Thai Fried Chicken, which is made with a Thai garlic marinade and served with sticky rice and a cucumber salad. Whether you’re looking for a comforting reminder of Nashville’s culinary history or are interested in a novel experience, you’ll find it here.
2944 E 12th St Unit A, Austin, TX
At the bright and airy Birdie’s, customers order food at a walk-up counter and seat themselves—often at outdoor picnic tables. It’s first come, first served, and there are no reservations (they don’t even have a phone). The vibe may be casual, but the restaurant takes its food seriously. Life and business partners Arjav Ezekiel and Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel offer a constantly changing menu with a tight focus on handmade pastas plus seasonally influenced small and large plates like beef tartare with pecans and roasted garlic or red snapper with fresh veggies and a butter sauce. Fans flock here for the impressive wine list as much as for the food. Whether you order by the bottle or the glass, you’ll find plenty of new things to try; Birdie’s prides itself on working with smaller producers. Order whatever dessert is on the menu; whether it’s vanilla soft serve topped with blood orange-infused olive oil or a warm chocolate chip cookie, you’ll be very glad you did.
Courtesy Mia Valdez
13050 Bee St Suit 160, Farmers Branch, TX
It doesn’t take long to get cozy at Roots Southern Table, which is in Farmers Branch, a city just north of Dallas suburbs. This is the latest project from chef Tiffany Derry, who won Fan Favorite on the seventh season of Bravo’s Top Chef. The menu features Southern comfort food with an international twist that pays respect to the meals she grew up eating. Everything is seasonal and flavorful—all while maintaining a focus on waste reduction. Settle in with cast-iron cornbread drizzled with Steen’s cane syrup and served with mesquite-smoked butter, and then try what Derry calls “My Mother’s Gumbo,” a dark roux and okra-filled homage to her Louisiana family to the east. The space feels fresh and modern with white marble tabletops and organically shaped ceramic servingware. The experience at Roots Southern Table, makes it hard to leave but easy to return.
Courtesy Kismet Modern Indian
111 N Pitt St, Alexandria, VA
2918 West Broad Street, Richmond, VA
It’s not always true that more is better, but at Kismet Modern Indian, it definitely is. The team behind Washington, D.C.’s Michelin-recognized Karma Modern Indian opened Kismet in Old Town Alexandria in November 2021 and then expanded with a second location in Richmond only a year later. Pay a visit to the original Kismet in Alexandria, and take in the cozy, modern, loft-style restaurant. Chef Ajay Kumar draws a comfortable connection to Karma with reappearances of dishes that have left the D.C. menu, like the Paneer Lajawab (islands of stuffed cheese floating in a tomato-onion sauce) while also charting new territory with things like the Chingri Shrimp Curry with lemon rice. Presentation here is always delivered with a flair for the artistic. The Calcutta Jhaal Muri, a puffed rice with cashews and tamarind sauce, arrives in a golden paper cone, and the Tandoori Shrimp surround a small tower of mango salsa.
Courtesy Glenn Bashaw
210 East Main Street, Norfolk, VA
To say Sydney Meers’ newest project was hotly anticipated might do an injustice to how beloved the Mississippi-born chef is within his adopted mid-Atlantic home. Meers closed his Portsmouth restaurant, Stove, in 2018 and attempted retirement, but to no avail. He was soon plotting his return, and in 2021, it happened with Syd’s FishPig Cafe. Entering Meers’ Norfolk establishment is a bit like stepping into his own colorful mind: Inky walls are covered in an eclectic whirlwind of art (including his own paintings) and a collection of found objects, which give the space an antiques store feel. The menu is typed out like a personal note. Take, for example, My Infamous Cheese Tray, which arrives with crackers, hamburger relish, and a country ham salad. From there, expect more dreamed-up concoctions, like the Real Deep South Gumbo. Meers says it’s made of “changing stuff,” so be prepared to be surprised with whatever’s fresh from local providers. Between the classic Southern flavors and Meers’ instinctive good nature, you’re in for a memorable meal.
4201 Georgia Ave NW, Washington, DC
Before opening Honeymoon Chicken, restaurateur Steve Salis and Federalist Pig pitmaster Rob Sonderman set a clear goal: to create a new version of an old staple. And at this chic corner restaurant with retro appeal, it’s fair to say their attempt is as revered—and sweetly addictive—as any treasured fried-chicken recipe. Their version is cooked up in a pressure fryer, a method made popular at KFC, and the end result is perfection: imminently tender meat with a paprika-and-chipotle-laced crust that stays put as you munch. Choose between two “Signature Finishes” on your chicken: It can arrive dusted with a spiced dehydrated honey seasoning or dripping with hot honey. Pick the second option, and be sure to ask for extra napkins. Save room for pillowy Honey Butter Rolls, the Honeymoon Wedge Salad with homemade ranch dressing, and Honeymoon Hand Pies for dessert.
1 Wall St, Morgantown, WV
At Von Blaze in Downtown Morgantown, business and life partners Chris McDonald and April Passaro set out to walk a fine line: They wanted to create an affordable restaurant that would appeal to the college students ambling in from nearby West Virginia University and offer a solid option for locals looking for a casual but delicious scratch-made lunch or dinner. It’s a line they have fun dancing around; the menu features familiar, comforting sandwiches with quirky twists. Von Blaze got its start and grew a following as a food truck, but with a permanent location, there’s more room for McDonald to smoke and prepare meats in-house. You can inspect the results with sandwiches like the Snowshoe (country bologna, nacho-seasoned chips, shredded lettuce, American cheese, honey mustard, and garlic mayo on a brioche bun) or the Pot Liquor Pork (smoked and peppered pork shoulder dipped in smoky pork au jus, collard greens, aged provolone, and brown mustard on a baguette).