A Culinary Journey
Do yourself a solid and grab a snack because we’re about to embark on a tantalizing journey through a world of epicurean delights.
Below, we cover everything from ambitious barbecue joints to progressive brewpubs to stellar seafood. Prepare to be captivated as we unveil the pinnacle of dining experiences—AKA the crème de la crème—across six distinct categories from various regions encompassing the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia, Delaware, Florida, Tennessee, Colorado, and New Mexico.
4 Rivers Smokehouse | Tampa, FL
A Sunshine State staple since 2009, 4 Rivers is celebrated for its commitment to classics like hand-sliced brisket (30-day wet-aged, rubbed, and smoked for 18 hours), baked beans, and cornbread. It’s owner John Rivers’ pledge to plucky flavor combinations, however, that truly put this place on (and all over) the map and keeps the dining room crowded with customers. The Six Shooter, a mouthwatering mountain of pulled pork, slaw, pickles, and jalapenos on a cheesy grit cake justifies every second you’ll spend in line.
Wiley’s Championship BBQ | Savannah, GA
With numerous competition accolades and media features under his BBQ belt, Wiley McCrary is no stranger to his menu items being stamped as “sought-after southern specialties.” His restaurant’s modest milieu (tucked in a strip mall just off downtown Savannah’s main drag) is no indication of the food’s quality—as the championship ’cue lives up to its title. The slow-cooked pulled pork is miraculously moist, and regulars live for “burnt ends Wednesdays.” Whatever you get, slather on the Better Than Sex sauce or snag a bottle to take home.
Rodney Scott’s BBQ | Charleston, SC
If the name Rodney Scott rings a bell, you likely caught his episode of the renowned Netflix series Chef’s Table. Scott’s Lowcountry-style whole hog BBQ is the icon of the bunch, but the pit-smoked chicken, crispy dry-rubbed wings, and freshly baked apple hand-pies are not to be overlooked. A welcoming staff goes out of their way to make sure customers feel like family, and they move the busy line along like pros. The sharp Eastern vinegar sauce is a must on everything.
Southport Smoke House | Southport, NC
Wood-smoked is where it’s at, and Southport Smoke House’s chow is just as enchanting as the surrounding area. Expect casual counter-style service, quintessential BBQ plates, and a pulled pork sandwich so good it will melt in your mouth. Patrons get a kick out of the restaurant’s t-shirts sporting the words “We like big butts, and we cannot lie,” but take the tender brisket very seriously. As for the buffalo chips—thick, expertly seasoned waffle-cut fries—they have a cult following all their own.
Billiken’s Smokehouse | Fredericksburg, VA
Elevated BBQ is the heart of this happy hour hub in downtown Fredericksburg. And, while trivia and live music are positively part of the patio’s draw, the smoke-kissed provisions keep guests truly satisfied. Essentials include the loaded cornbread skillet and the brisket mac with glorious gouda pimento cheese and twisty noodles. If one pork product per order doesn’t cut it for you, try the BBLT—a superior sandwich piled with brisket, in-house cured bacon, pepper jack, mayo, and LTO. Swing into Sunday brunch, where the cocktails flaunt memorable garnishes like sliders and ribs.
Sweet P’s BBQ & Downtown Dive | Knoxville, TN
What started as a small, family-owned catering company is now one of Knoxville’s most beloved BBQ havens. Sweet P’s sampler is the way to go if your game plan is to try a medley of meat, and the homemade sides (particularly the mac and cheese loaded with secret spices and smashed ‘tater salad) are homeruns. Don’t miss the barbecue burrito— a more moderately sized version of the colossal El Gigante showcased on “Man v. Food.” Enjoy your meal in the homey dining room, or plop down with your pork in the sunlit beer garden.
The FEED Co. Table & Tavern | Chattanooga, TN
Applauded for its downhome Southern favorites with an upscale spin, this southside spot’s menu covers everything from a 20-hour brisket French dip to locally-sourced veggie succotash. FEED’s lineup of eclectic eats screams chic, while the relaxed ambiance of the tavern gives the feel of a friendly neighborhood restaurant. Thanks to an exclusive partnership with Mountain Breeze Farms, you’ll find 100% grass-feed wagyu beef in the form of legendary country-fried steak and meatloaf. An order of the fried Brussels with maple and bacon is necessary for the table.
The Local Restaurant | Naples, FL
Naples’ first farm-and-sea-to-table restaurant, the Local, was originally inspired by Florida’s abundant bounty and long growing season—and it’s easy to see why. The kitchen switches up the menu daily based on what’s delivered, so dive into this bistro with an open mind. With enthusiasm for nutrient-rich foods and healthy cooking techniques, chef and owner Jeff Mitchell is an advocate for all kinds of housemade goodies like cured meats, ricotta, hot sauces, and a majestic sourdough pizza crust. Vegans delight in the tomato basil bruschetta with homemade almond “cheese,” while grass-fed beef entices the carnivores.
The Obstinate Daughter | Sullivan’s Island, SC
There’s no denying that a visit to OD (as the natives call it) is imperative if you find yourself on Sullivan’s Island. One of the leaders in the progressive food movement of Charleston, Obstinate Daughter, is lively, thoughtful, and ambrosial. Though many menu items are unmistakably Southern, the French, Italian, and Spanish influences are equally visible. Wood-fired pizzas are only outdone by the seasonal pastas, and thanks to the support of nearby farmers and fishermen, you won’t want to pass up Lowcountry classics like silky frogmore chowder.
Seasons of Durango | Durango, CO
The farm-to-table notion was a new concept when this American-style tavern surfaced in 1994. Nearly three decades later, Seasons is still serving up wildly fresh fare with ingredients that speak for themselves. The wood-burning grill is the centerpiece of the dining room, while the Chef’s Table seating provides a front-and-center peek into the theatre of the kitchen. The wine list is essential, and menu selections rotate based on the offerings from southwest Colorado farmers and ranchers. You can’t go wrong with the grilled double-cut pork chops, sticky Hoisin-basted ribs, or oak fire grilled flatbread of the day.
Back Porch Café | Rehoboth Beach, DE
Saluted for “quietly cooking slow food for 49 years,” the Back Porch Café is Rehoboth Beach’s answer to seasonal global fusion with a local twist. The fine dining Delaware-based eatery is also a hot spot for remarkable wines, islandy cocktails, and a coffee concoction flamed tableside that’s worth the trip alone. Tucked down an alley off the main drag, this institution is distinguished for its domestic lamb, grilled dayboat scallops, and divine 5-spice duck breast.
Farm & Table | Albuquerque, NM
Farm & Table’s devotion to serving inventive cuisine that’s 80% sourced from area farmers, ranchers, dairies, and food artisans earned it an obvious spot on our list. But it’s also all in the name, as customers adore brunching al fresco on the picturesque patio surrounded by lush farmland. If cozy is what you’re after, pull up a plate of the pork belly inside the historic adobe building. Diners with dietary restrictions will have no problem finding gluten or lactose-free alternatives, and vegetarian assortments (like the blood orange and bleu cheese salad) are artistically plated.
Coppertail Brewing Co. | Tampa, FL
If crushing a craft beer alongside house-cranked sausage and short rib brisket smash burgers sounds like your ideal Saturday, get your tail to Coppertail Brewing. CB has been slinging solid beers, like their piney West Coast-style flagship, Free Dive IPA, in the historic Ybor neighborhood for nearly a decade, and the grub is just as great. Smoky house specialties include massive (whole) dry-rubbed wings and a creamy mahi dip. For a true bar “snack,” the pickled veggies are bright, crunchy, and addictive.
Wrightsville Beach Brewery | Wilmington, NC
While Wilmington has seemingly infinite options for partaking in a pint, not every establishment is dedicated to sustainability. Enter eager environmentalist, owner, and head brewer of Wrightsville Beach Brewery: Jud Watkins. But, aside from the fact that Watkins powers the place through solar panels and sources local ingredients, the man makes damn good beer. The seasonally-available Oysterman Stout is a dark, roasty blend that pairs beautifully with seafood, while the Puppy Drum Pale Ale is a light session perfect for washing down one of WBB’s highly-praised pizzas or the tempura cauliflower.
Cape Charles Brewing Company | Cape Charles, VA
Family-owned, family-run, and built on the premise that quality beer should be served with superior food, Cape Charles Brewing has become a “go-to” location on the outskirts of Virginia’s historic waterfront area. Expect people of all ages to enjoy live music on the spacious lawn or share IPA-battered onion rings in the breezy taproom. Award-winning bites like the brew-house wings and Eastern-style clam chowder are always a smash, and the golden-fried rockfish (in a sandwich or fish-and-chip form) is fantastic washed down with the delicately malty Nor’easter Pale.
Big River Grille & Brewing Works | Chattanooga, TN
A quick walk to the Tennessee Aquarium, Big River Grille is an always-buzzing downtown destination for Cajun-heavy cuisine and bold “tank-to-table” beers like the aggressively rich Iron Horse Stout, a four-time medal winner layered with English chocolate malt and roasted barley. On the lighter end, the Southern Flyer is crisp, floral, and poured into the batter for the fish and chips. Fish tacos with zesty remoulade and pizzas (whose hand-tossed dough is perfumed by the brewery’s Sweet Magnolia Brown Ale) are among other top picks.
Steamworks Brewing Company | Durango, CO
Steamworks surfaced in Durango’s beer scene in the late 90s and has been a bustling locals’ meetup spot ever since. The brewpub’s culinary program extends far beyond traditional bar food with quality items like regionally-raised meats, homegrown produce, and sustainable seafood. If the robust Dirty Burger with bacon stout jam and banana peppers isn’t your jam, go for the Colorado-grown quinoa patty with ale-braised onions, feta, and tzatziki. Couple either with the smooth Steam Engine Lager, arguably the best American-style Amber Lager in the world.
Nexus Brewery + Restaurant | Albuquerque, NM
What helps Nexus stand out in Albuquerque’s thriving craft beer scene isn’t just the beer. It’s the sassy fusion of Southern soul food and New Mexican cuisine (see: hearty gumbo, Cajun chicken chicharrónes, and Frito pie). The outstanding service doesn’t hurt either. Start strong with a frosty pint of the nutty Scottish Ale and finish with the famous fried chicken and waffles, hyped up by legendary Food Network star Guy Fieri. If burnt ends and brisket is what you’re after, spread your love to their second location, Nexus Blue Smokehouse.
Owen’s Fish Camp | Sarasota, FL
Lovingly labeled an “ode to old Florida living,” Owen’s is a casual combination of freshly-caught seafood, cold beer, and bourbon pecan pie. It’s run by the Caragiulo family—additionally famed for their funky-chic sister restaurant, Veronica Fish and Oyster—and their reinvention of the rustic Burns cottage into Owen’s has been a triumph since 2010. The vibrant patio ornamented with string lights, a fire pit, and tiki torches will transport you to old- school backyard parties with friends. The Camp Basket with fried oysters, shrimp, and grouper is a superb way to sample the best the Gulf has to offer.
Savannah Seafood Shack | Savannah, GA
The style of Savannah Seafood Shack may be fast-casual, but make no mistake, the food is fiercely delicious. Featured on Food Network and Travel Channel and with prodigious reviews sweeping the internet, the eatery swiftly earned the title of “best Lowountry boil in Savannah.” Owner Christine Cutlip took this traditional seafood spread, typically enjoyed in a communal setting where dozens dote over messy heaps of shellfish and sausage, and packaged it into a neat single-serve portion. Also worth a mention: waffle cones stacked with savory ingredients and overstuffed po’boys.
The Ordinary | Charleston, SC
Prepare to be pleasantly surprised as you step into The Ordinary, a captivating seafood sanctuary that defies its unassuming name. Nestled within the grand walls of an old bank building on Upper King, this downtown oyster bar sets the bar high with delicacies like stone crab claws and yellowfin tuna pâté. Elevate your dinner by indulging in a double—or perhaps even a triple—Shellfish Tower. The impressive centerpiece is partnered with gourmet garnishes like red wine mignonette and lemongrass cocktail sauce, and will undoubtedly mark your meal in style.
The Shanty | Cape Charles, VA
(757) 695-3853, shantyseafood.com
The Shanty has established itself as the ultimate waterfront dining experience on the Eastern Shore since its inception in 2012. This treasured cottage-style eatery is situated on Mason Avenue and saluted for its laid-back atmosphere, local oysters, and live tunes that fill the air. Also on deck: harborfront outdoor seating and dock space for convenience. Immerse yourself in the breathtaking sunset over the Chesapeake Bay while relishing in the jumbo lump crab cake sandwich with zesty Old Bay aioli. Other top treats include the velvety New England clam chowder and Caribbean-style tacos.
Striper Bites | Lewes, DE
Branded for being a relaxed, breezy bistro, Striper Bites captures the essence of salt life with its nautical-themed décor and charismatic crowd. Upon entering, soak in the sights of the wide plank wooden floors, array of maritime curiosities, and fish tanks perched above the festive bar. Once you’re settled, snag the Maine lobster roll, blackened tuna pasta, or the Nor’Easter—a succulent feast of butter-poached shrimp, scallops, and a broiled lump crab cake. Their span of sublime seafood is only outdone by the community-driven atmosphere that beautifully blends the dynamic spirit of the Northeast with the laidback charm of Key West.
FLAWLESS FOOD TRUCKS
Taco Bus | Tampa, FL
(813) 949-4012, taco-bus.com
Taco Bus takes immense pride in bringing fresh, genuine Mexican flavors to Florida. Their menu showcases all the street food classics like quesadillas, empanadas, and elote (fresh shucked and roasted corn on the cob smeared with smoky chipotle sauce and dusted with sharp Cotija cheese), but there’s more than meets the eye. Well, mouth. Taco Bus doles out specials, vegetarian and vegan options, and gluten-free choices to cater to diverse dietary preferences. The blackened seafood burrito—loaded with cheese and veggies—is worthy of its buzz.
Big Bon Pizza | Savannah, GA
(912) 349-4847, bigbonfamily.com
Big Bon Pizza took the form of a food truck back in 2016, and devouring one of their New York-style pies transcends the mere act of “grabbing a pizza.” From the string lights to the meticulous arrangement of the tables and chairs to the thoughtfully-placed greenery—bellying up to Big Bon is a veritable mobile café experience. That transformation is brought to you by Kaye Heritage and her team, and good news—they also make a hell of a wood-fired pizza. We suggest giving the House White a go—garlic oil, fluffy ricotta, caramelized onions, and sesame seeds for crunch.
Grimmburger | Wilmington, NC
When the Grimmburger truck rolled up in 2021, what they were doing was an entirely different category of food one can only sum up as: sensational smash burgers and epic fries. The chalkboard menu parades a lineup of 4-5 varieties that can all be transformed into a vegetarian alternative via the Impossible Burger. Each is composed of double thin patties nestled within a pillowy soft bun wrapped in parchment for eating with ease. The OG Grimmburger with creamy G sauce and pickles gives Big Mac vibes, while the Gravedigger with pimento cheese and bacon is just as irresistible.
Biscuit Batch | Fredericksburg, VA
(253) 365-1517, biscuitbatch.com
With a notable achievement as a finalist on Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen,” Chef Jessica Wilkins has mastered the art of refining traditional recipes. Since 2014, this Navy veteran and world-traveled culinary extraordinaire has been crafting small-batch biscuits for her mobile restaurant, Biscuit Batch, that go beyond expectations. She uses specifically sourced ingredients, flavoring techniques from around the globe, and an abundance of love. Her expertise extends to her magical jams and preserves, influenced by a diverse international palate. Temptations run high for the smothered sausage gravy creation.
Captain Muchacho’s Food Truck | Knoxville, TN
(731) 446-2180, captainmuchachos.com
Highly-regarded for having some of the best tacos in Knoxville, maybe even Tennessee, Captain Muchacho’s cranks out some seriously good grub. The owners are also UT alum, so there’s no mistaking the regional pride here. The truck’s niche is Korean and Mexican food mashups, and also there’s no question they nail it every time. Meat eaters roar for the Korean beef tacos with funky gochujang crema or the sriracha chicken with spicy honey and queso fresco, while vegans rejoice in the roasted sweet potato handheld with dairy-free chipotle mayo.
Backcountry Gourmet | Durango, CO
(970) 317-8263, backcountrygourmet.net
Amidst the breathtaking landscapes of the San Juan Mountains, step into the cozy seating area at this no-frills food truck, where you’ll be blown away by massive pork belly and green chile breakfast burritos, gourmet sliders, and more. Executive Chef Beau Lindborg and his brother Dillon Lindborg, both native to the mountain town and deeply enthusiastic about quality food, are the showrunners behind Backcountry Gourmet. Their ever-rotating cuisine is crafted from the freshest and locally sourced ingredients, and scratch-made items like sauces and dressings are simply the norm.
The Gathering Café | Ocala, FL
(352) 421-9810, thegatheringcafeocala.com
When Gathering Café’s charming proprietor, Sarah Partee, found inspiration in the idyllic coffee shops of the West Coast, she launched her own café in the heart of Ocala. The result: an aesthetically-pleasing, airy destination where simplicity reigns and freshly-made food is served alongside topnotch coffee. Every customer feels right at home between Sarah’s warm, hospitable nature and the uplifting quotes adorning the walls. Open-faced toasts and breakfast nests are all the rage here—the latter being a homemade hashbrown cup stuffed with eggs and accompaniments like broccoli, cheddar, and rosemary.
Fox and Fig Café | Savannah, GA
(912) 297-6759, foxandfigcafe.com
Brought to you by the Foxy family, Fox and Fig is the epitome of hip plant-based dining. The premier café boasts a brunch-inspired menu showcasing high-end vegan fare and an espresso bar crafted around locally-roasted coffee and teas by Moon by Moon Apothecary. To top it all off, vegan baked goods from their sister café, Henny Penny, grace the pastry case, completing the delightful ensemble. Pair your cashew hemp latte with the chia porridge—a harmonious blend of agave and coconut cream-soaked chia seeds, seasonal fruit, pumpkin seeds, candied ginger, and edible flowers.
Earth Café | Myrtle Beach, SC
(843) 808-9277, facebook.com/earthcafemb/
Two words: truffle fries. Prompt service, exceptional coffee, and a diverse menu brimming with satisfying choices are the norm at this MB gem. Earth Café is not only warm and inviting, but with healthy organic choices like acai bowls and pressed juices—you can grab a light bite and still feel fully energized for a day at the beach. If it’s breakfast you’re craving, try the lox on toast or a goat cheese-stuffed omelet—while the caprese flatbread with heirloom tomatoes and fresh mozzarella is a midday champ.
Bluecorn Café and Mercantile | Montrose, CO
(970) 787-6399, bluecorncafemontrose.com
With its marriage of candle-making and locally sourced cuisine, the spectacle at this artsy boutique is hard to deny. Throw in killer coffee and cocktails, and you’ve got a café that certainly leaves its mark. Expect to find curated gifts and artisanal homewares among Bluecorn’s enchanting market setup. Though the menu may be modest, it’s also mighty. I recommend nestling into one of the plush sofas with the lemon-herb avocado toast on seeded Pullman with pickled radish and house pesto. Partake in the power salad for lunch with local quinoa, seasonal veggies, and tangy lemon tahini dressing.
Rutilio’s | Los Lunas, NM
(505) 565-2055, rutiliosloslunas.com
Rutilio’s has been a Los Lunas mainstay since 2012, and the family-owned establishment is known for being the epicenter of Mexican comfort food and kindness. It may be a little off-the-beaten path, but the crispy chicharrónes warrant the trek alone. If an epic handheld is your preferred way to start the day, you’ll want to opt for the carne adovada breakfast burrito with eggs, chile-marinated pork, and potatoes. For lunch, the tamales are excellent and the green chile patty melt with griddled onions and provolone on rye is perfection.
Grinder House Coffee Shop | Crossville, TN
(931) 707-0440, grinderhousecoffeeshop.com
Grinder House owners Asa and Angela, lovingly dubbed “AA” by their loyal followers, have seamlessly infused their love for the musical arts into every aspect of their shop. The space’s ambiance speaks volumes, pun intended—as their listening room hosts live talent every weekend. The artisanal coffees pair beautifully with homemade desserts like Asa’s esteemed ginger cheesecake. Savory made-to-order items like the grilled breakfast paninis and flatbreads are fan favorites, and the one-pound double-decker burger is sure to fill you up.