Words by Michael Woods
They say the closest way to someone’s heart is through their stomach. If that’s true, get ready to fall in love with Mississippi!
Vestige - Ocean Springs
The Gulf Coast towns of Mississippi are scenic, full of amazing food and a relaxed, open breeze atmosphere. Directly in the mix of downtown Ocean Springs, Vestige is a cozy fine dining restaurant built around an ever-evolving tasting menu that rewrites itself almost daily. Owned by Chef Alex Perry and his wife, Kumi Omori, the food is styled after the couple’s joint history, using local resources to create dishes with Japanese inspiration.
Bottletree Bakery - Oxford
Just off the historic square, Bottletree Bakery’s diner-style breakfast food has satisfied Ole Miss students and townies alike since 1995. Owner Cynthia Gerlach, a Portland transplant who fell in love with the local cuisine, named her place after the Southern tradition (rooted in a very old North African superstition) where blue bottles would be hung upside-down to trap evil spirits. Trotting out classic, delicious, European style baked goods such as brioche or honey cream cheese danishes that are made with the finest ingredients, this local institution always has a line out the door and a perfect cup of coffee to wake up any customer.
Big Apple Inn - Jackson
A historic establishment, set up on historic Farish Street, Big Apple Inn built their legacy on two very important ingredients: smokes and ears. Juan Mora, a Mexican immigrant who arrived in Mississippi’s capital during the Great Depression, opened up shop in 1939. His family has owned and operated it ever since. Its history is almost as impressive as its food, with many well-known figures frequenting the space during the Civil Rights era, including Medgar Evers. Known for their pig ear sliders and crazy good tamales, this frozen-in-time cafeteria-style business has never gone out of style.
The Tomato Place - Vicksburg
The Tomato Place has one of the most unlikely backstories of Mississippi restaurants: this family-owned produce stand and restaurant was formed from a side-of-the-road, pop-up fruit stand that became a required destination for the best BLTs in town. While it may be off the beaten path, stationed on historic Highway 61 (the “blues highway”), this local attraction must be visited to be believed. Make sure to pick up some of the freshest produce in town on the way out—or maybe even a frozen fruit smoothie for the road.
Two Brothers Smoked Meats - Starkville
Right down the street from Mississippi State, Two Brothers Smoked Meats is a multi-story barbecue delight. Started in 2014 in the heart of the Cotton District, Chef Barton Dinkins has been smoking chicken, brisket, and whatever he can get his hands on with the pecan-fueled outdoor smoker (built by Barton’s father), crafting the creative and juicy plates that everyone craves: pulled pork grilled cheeses, BBQ chicken tacos, and shrimp po-boys. It’s a must-visit spot for game days and southern comfort. If you need help finding it, look out for the bright blue and purple mural covering the two-story outer wall.
Fan & Johnny’s - Greenwood
Just a block off the Yalobusha River in the downtown area, this classic booth-style southern eatery is one of the best recommendations in the Mississippi Delta. It is owned by Taylor Bowen Rickets, an artist, chef, and James Beard Foundation Semifinalist for Best Chefs in America, whose own art hangs from the walls. Named after her grandparents who inspired her love of food and cooking, this is the only place to get the primo, contemporary twist on the food of the region: shrimp and andouille ravioli, pan-roasted catfish, and pimento cheese queso—plus every kind of po-boy that you can imagine. Healthy and vegetarian options are as well.
Taylor Grocery - Taylor
Just outside of the venerable college town of Oxford, in the neighboring area of Taylor, this hundred-year-old staple of good country eating is overrun with hungry patrons in need of catfish, sweet tea, and everything in between. Their building was constructed in 1889 and originally operated as a dry goods store before becoming a sought-after restaurant—now so successful that live musical acts play in the space. Peppered with antique decorum and surrounded by a small town atmosphere straight from the 1950s, this homey establishment is equipped with as many filet plates and fried goodies as you can stomach. As the sign out front says, “Eat, or we both starve.”
Elvie’s - Jackson
A restaurant so welcoming, it’s seemingly fashioned from a home, this New Orleans-style spot in the Belhaven neighborhood (home to the university of the same name, and the former home of writer Eudora Welty) also has a nice patio and extensive bar to help make its customers’ night. Serving seafood and produce-centered plates such as redfish almondine, shrimp remoulade, and oysters elveretta—as well as seven-course tasting menus for large groups—Chef Hunter Evans serves seasonal fare that highlights Southern farmers and the fishermen from the Gulf in the business he named in honor of his grandmother.
Mary Mahoney’s - Biloxi
Located on Rue Magnolia, just a stone’s throw from Beach Road, the Hard Rock Hotel, and the Atlantic itself, Mary Mahoney’s Old French House is a true Biloxi mainstay that specializes in locally sourced seafood. It’s run by three generations of family. Soaking in a true Gulf Coast atmosphere with a romantic courtyard and a structure built in 1737, the nightly offerings include crab-stuffed fish, broiled crab claws, and an assortment of incredible filets. Look out for Bob Mahoney, Jr., one of the restaurant’s owners, who goes table-by-table telling jokes to all of the customers.
Doe’s - Greenville
Established in 1941 by Dominick “Doe” Signa and his wife, Mamie, this hole-in-the-wall restaurant is located in an old home with a unique layout—you even have to walk past the broiler and kitchen and to get to your table. The restaurant is now run by Doe Jr. and Charles Signa, but the quality hasn’t changed one bit. The staff serves massive steaks—as large as a dinner plate—shrimp, and tamales. It was named to the James Beard Foundation’s list of “America’s Classics” in 2007. Since then, the business has franchised—but nothing beats the original location in Greenville.