Best of Savannah: Eats

Best Waterfront Dining winner: AJ's Dockside. Photo by Colin Douglas Gray

From thousands of reader surveys comes our inimitable Best of Everything list. Categories run from appetizers to desserts, bike shops to barbershops. Here, the year’s best food, including fine dining, outdoor dining, coffee house, brunch and more. 

Best Waterfront Restaurant

AJ’s Dockside

1315 Chatham Ave, Tybee Island

Sandy, sun-kissed patrons arrive at AJ’s Dockside on foot, by car and golf cart, on bike, kayak, boat and even the occasional seaplane. However they make their way, they’re in for a memorable treat at this unassuming harbor house, which offers crab legs, gumbo and key lime pie, as well as the best view of the sunset this side of paradise.

Locally owned by Alan and Jackie Burns, AJ’s is tucked away on Chatham Avenue and 14th Street, its dock perched on the Back River on the island’s western edge. The scenery and neighborhood vibe are what Amy Gaster, founder of Tybee Vacation Rentals and treasurer of the Tybee Island Tourism Council, likes most about AJ’s. Then again, she adds, there’s also the souvenirs: As the “world headquarters” of the Tybee Bomb Squad, which searches for the fabled nuclear weapon lost in island waters in 1958, AJ’s gift shop sells T-shirts, koozies and caps to keep the legend alive.

There’s a good amount of indoor seating, but as the name suggests, here it’s all about dockside dining, even well into the fall season. There are no white tablecloths, just a come-as-you-are establishment where the rum punch hits the spot and the locals shoot the breeze—against a backdrop of nature’s spectacular show.
Runner up: Vic’s on the River 

Chef

Mashama Bailey, The Grey

109 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd.
Mashama Bailey spent part of her childhood in Savannah, cut her teeth in celebrated New York City kitchens, and circled back in 2014 to open The Grey with founding partner John O. Morisano. Since then, the executive chef has elevated our city’s culinary scene with her fine-meets-comfort cooking style.
Runner up: AJ Baker, Sundae Café

Caterer

Thrive

2700 Gregory St. Unite #200
Green Restaurant Association-certified Thrive sprouted from chef Wendy Armstrong’s international travels and love for the outdoors. Her nourishing and eco-minded food, customized by season, culture and dietary preference, is sourced from more than 20 local farms.
Runner up: Susan Mason

Appetizers

Shrimp Factory

313 E. River St.
Housed in a former warehouse by the river, amid heart-of-pine beams and ballast stones, the Shrimp Factory is an ideal spot to spoil your dinner with traditional Southern starters. Popular selections run the gamut from crab cakes and fried green tomatoes, and shrimp lovers can order them drenched in coconut, cocktail or buffalo sauce.
Runner up: Jazz’d

Breakfast

J. Christopher’s

122 E. Liberty St.
Rise and shine with a hearty breakfast skillet, a bowl of smoked cheddar grits or a stack of pancakes mixed with granola—called crunchcakes in J. Christopher’s parlance. The Atlanta-born chain recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, yet some consider its Savannah location (a converted Historic District garage) the restaurant group’s heart and soul.
Runner up: Clary’s

Brunch

Collins Quarter

151 Bull St.
Three cheers for brekkie! Whether your beverage of choice is a cold brew, a matcha latte or a glass of bubbly, you can count on the stylish and sunny Collins Quarter to brighten up your day. Its brunch dishes are prepared with a Down Under twist, including the avocado smash, brioche french toast and an egg, ham, cheddar and maple aioli sandwich aptly named the “G’day.”
Runner up: B. Matthew’s

Business Lunch

Soho South Cafe

12 W. Liberty St.
A former station expertly redone by Daniel Reed Hospitality, Soho South Cafe serves American lunch staples for a lively crowd. Network over classic offerings like a pimento cheese sandwich with tomato soup and a glass of sweet tea, or request a large table for that team-building meeting—the best ideas begin over a basket of crispy tater tots.  
Runner up: Treylor Park

Cheap Eats

Ta Ca

513 E. Oglethorpe Ave.
The hibachi lunch and dinner specials at Japanese fusion restaurant Ta Ca includes enough starters and sides that you practically get two meals for the price of one. Bonus points for the affordably priced rolls at the sushi bar.
Runner up: Jalapeños

Coffee House

Foxy Loxy

1919 Bull St.
Jennifer Jenkins’ empire started here at Foxy Loxy: part bakery, part coffeehouse and part Tex-Mex cantina in the Thomas Square neighborhood. Locals love the café for its art shows, musical performances and events in the ivy-covered courtyard—not to mention the Perc coffee and stocked pastry case.
Runner up: Savannah Coffee Roasters

Fine Dining

The Olde Pink House

23 Abercorn St.
It makes perfect sense that Savannah’s only 18th-century mansion is home to The Olde Pink House, where twinkly ambiance and colonial architecture complement entrées of fresh-caught seafood and elegant Southern fare. Even its cellar tavern feels luxurious, especially when cozied up by the fireplace over a plate of shrimp and grits.
Runner up: The Grey

Outdoor Dining

Wild Wing Cafe

27 Barnard St.
An order of wings, a round of draft beer, and some live entertainment makes for the quintessential experience at Wild Wing Cafe, whose always-packed outdoor tables anchor a boisterous City Market scene. On Saturday nights, you might just forgo your seat to get up and dance.
Runner up: The Wyld Dock Bar

Vegetarian

Cha Bella

102 E. Broad St.
The farm-to-table seasonal offerings at Cha Bella pledge to celebrate local produce—in fact, nearly all ingredients are sourced within a day’s drive. Savor vegetarian dishes alongside homemade pasta and fresh-baked bread in an environment where the décor is as organic as the menu.
Runner up: Kayak Café

Take Out

Zunzi’s

108 E. York St.
Skip the queue that goes around the block by ordering your Conquistador sandwich to go from local favorite Zunzi’s. Unique menu items include charbroiled salmon and homemade sausage, best enjoyed with specialty sauces and a tall glass of rooibos, South African-style sweet tea.
Runner up: Papa’s Bar-B-Que & Seafood

Barbecue

Sandfly BBQ

8413 Ferguson Ave.
At Sandfly BBQ’s pair of locations, Memphis-inspired and Savannah-made pulled pork, beef brisket, Brunswick stew and ribs are piled high on platters with Texas toast and all the finger-lickin’ fixins.
Runner up: Bow Tie Barbecue

Chinese

Wangs II

7601 Waters Ave., Suite A
Popular for both dine-in and delivery, Wangs II is where locals go for their Chinese-food fix. The menu is expansive enough to satisfy the pickiest eater while including all the traditional favorites: fresh vegetables and meats, as well as starters like hot and sour soup and spring rolls.
Runner up: Green Tea Chinese

Indian

Taste of India

401 Mall Blvd.
Taste of India specializes in authentic Northern Indian cuisine, served buffet-style and tableside in an ornately decorated space. Dial up the spice on dishes ladled into silver serving bowls and wash it all down with a mango lassi.
Runner up: Pakwan

Italian

Corleone’s

44 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
With starters like bruschetta and fried calamari, main courses such as baked ziti, chicken parm and mussels linguine, and cannoli and spumoni to finish, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you won’t leave Corleone’s hungry. Take a table inside or dine al fresco beneath the iconic striped awning.
Runner up: Bella’s

Mexican

Tequila’s Town

109 Whitaker St.
Time-honored Tex-Mex recipes and authentic Mexican classics make up the flavorful menu at Tequila’s Town. Order your tacos, chimichangas and fajitas with a pitcher of margaritas and some guacamole, prepared tableside with your preferred ingredients.
Runner up: Jalapeños

Southern Food

Sweet Potatoes

6825 Waters Ave.
With menu favorites like fried catfish, jerk chicken and meatloaf, it’s easy to fill up on the home cooking at Sweet Potatoes. Just save room for the banana pudding—topped with pecans, dusted with cinnamon, and dubbed by Man v. Food as the best on Earth.
Runner up: Mrs. Wilkes

Thai

The King and I

7098 Hodgson Memorial Dr.
Ele Tran’s The King and I restaurant has a strong local following, and for good reason. Its lunch and dinner menus offer generous portions and a changing rotation of new dishes, from coconut-rich Tom Kha Gai to five mouth-watering Thai curry varieties.  
Runner-up: Chiriya’s 

Vietnamese

Flying Monk Noodle Bar

5 W. Broughton St.
The noodle bar craze landed in Savannah with Broughton Street’s Flying Monk Noodle Bar, another Ele Tran specialty. Serving up both hot and cold plates in a slurp-and-go storefront, Flying Monk is beloved for its pho, featuring noodles made fresh daily.
Runner up: Saigon Bistro

French Fries

Green Truck Pub

2430 Habersham St.
Skin-on, thin-cut, lightly salted, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside … the only thing that makes Green Truck Pub’s french fries even more irresistible is a dip in their tangy house-made ketchup.
Runner up: Five Guys Burgers and Fries

Fried Chicken

Sisters of the New South

2605 Skidaway Road
Like grandma’s house on a Sunday afternoon, Sisters of the New South serves up fried chicken with heart, using a secret family recipe passed down for generations.
Runner up: Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room

Hamburger

Green Truck Pub

2430 Habersham St.
Green Truck Pub’s grass-fed, all-natural burgers (also available in veggie form) can be souped up with cheese, bacon, sautéed mushrooms, onions, pimento cheese and even a fried egg. Purists, though, like to keep theirs plain and simple, just the restaurant’s namesake classic pickup out front.
Runner up: B&D Burgers

Pizza

Vinnie Van Go-Go’s

317 W. Bryan St.
It’s cash only at Vinnie Van Go-Go’s, where pizzas come thin-crust and New York-style, with fresh grated Parmesan and Mozzarella melted over a rich sauce. A slice is only $3.50, and best when folded up and devoured quickly.
Runner up: Mellow Mushroom

Salad

Kayak Kafé

1 E. Broughton St.
5002 Paulsen St.
With more than a dozen salads to choose from, eating healthfully never feels like a chore (or a bore) at Kayak Kafé. All made fresh with organic mixed greens, options range from a classic Cobb or Olympic Greek to creative favorites featuring the restaurant’s signature Tex-Mex flavors.
Runner up: Starland Café

Sandwich

Kayak Kafé

1 E. Broughton St.
5002 Paulsen St.
Looking for a healthy lunch that isn’t salad? Kayak Kafé still has you covered, sourcing local proteins like Georgia wild shrimp and Springer Mountain Farms chicken. Most sandwiches are available on a variety of breads, including a gluten-free option, and they also have a full lineup of paninis.
Runner up: Zunzi’s

Seafood

Sorry Charlie’s

116 W. Congress St.
The big neon sign on one of the oldest commercial buildings in Georgia might be the first attraction, but it’s the fresh seafood that keeps crowds coming back. Sorry Charlie’s offers a premier selection of oysters, in addition to fish tacos, shrimp and grits, po’ boys, lowcountry boil, and local snapper and grouper.
Runner up: Tubby’s

Smoothie

Smoothie King

103 W. Broughton St.
Smoothie King whips up standard and special blends in a range of flavors to fuel your healthy eating and fitness goals, emphasizing real fruits and fruit juices along with enhancers from protein powders to probiotics. Our vote’s for the watermelon hibiscus, a refreshing mix of papaya, kiwi, watermelon and hibiscus juices, with a splash of coconut water.
Runner up: Beetnix

Sushi

Ta Ca

513 E. Oglethorpe Ave.
Nigiri, sashimi and a tremendous selection of basic and specialty rolls are prepared fresh and made-to-order at Ta Ca’s sushi bar. Try a variety as part of the Japanese fusion restaurant’s affordable lunch special.
Runner up: Sushi Zen

Steak

Belford’s

315 W. Saint Julian St.
In a turn-of-the-century brick building in City Market, Belford’s features an award-winning menu by chef Larry Balcarcel. Its delectable filet mignon, NY strip steak and boneless rib eyes are truly a cut above.
Runner up: Ruth’s Chris

Tacos

Tequila’s Town

109 Whitaker St.
Get a taste of Mexico on Whitaker Street with Tequila’s Town satisfying street tacos, served three apiece or mix-and-match-style with fish, shrimp, barbacoa, carnitas, veggie or al pastor. Best washed down with a Mexican Coke.
Runner up: Jalapeños

Fresh/Organic Produce Grocer

Lucky’s Market

5501 Abercorn St.
Fresh food at a fair price makes it easy to eat a little healthier on a budget. That’s the ethos behind Lucky’s, a Boulder, Colorado-based chain that specializes in organic produce without the snobbery.
Runner up: Whole Foods

Fresh/Organic Produce Market

Forsyth Farmer’s Market

13 E. Park Ave.
Set up each Saturday beneath a canopy of oak trees, the Forsyth Farmer’s Market is a sight to behold, bringing Savannah the best in seasonal produce from area farms. Bonus points for homemade goods like FraLi Gourmet pasta and Alake’s Pecans.
Runner up: Davis Produce

Specialty/Gourmet Food

Smith Brothers Butcher Shop

535 E. Liberty St.
With gourmet groceries sourced both locally and regionally, Smith Brothers Butcher Shop sells all the accoutrements for a fine meal. The old-world butchery even doubles as a wine and cheese shop.
Runner up: FraLi Gourmet

Seafood Market

Russo’s Seafood

209 E. 40th St.
A third-generation family business, Russo’s Seafood is synonymous with fresh-caught seafood in Savannah. The legendary market carries shrimp, scallops, crabmeat and assorted fish, cut to order to take home or served for lunch in the restaurant next door.
Runner up: Jackie’s Seafood

Best New Restaurant

Atlantic

102 E. Victory Dr.
Last November, Jason Restivo set out to create a neighborhood eatery—and, by all measures, he succeeded. You’ve experienced this firsthand if you’ve put your name in for a table at Atlantic and found yourself waiting with a drink in the warm glow of the patio’s fire pit. When the weather is right, it’s the most pleasant wait in town.

Atlantic is the kind of place where you’re bound to see someone familiar waving at you from across the boisterous subway-tiled dining room, built inside a former service station on the corner of Drayton and Victory. On any given night, you’ll catch Restivo himself greeting guests from table to table, checking on dinners and recommending wines. After all, he says, he didn’t open the spot so everyone else could have all the fun.

Chef Lauren Teague designed the menu with four categories—garden, breads, bowls and plates, all ideal for sharing. Dishes change based on inspiration and the seasonal produce she receives from area farms. From one visit to the next, you’ll likely find something new to enjoy. This evolution represents just what Restivo was hoping for: a constant conversation, a day-over-day opportunity for the restaurant to keep getting better.

Atlantic operates from a solid foundation, namely, Teague’s experience at 22 Square in the Andaz Hotel and Restivo’s time spent at Savannah stalwarts Garibaldi and The Olde Pink House. Restivo says his courage to venture out on his own was bolstered by his collaboration with Teague, his business partner Ida George, and his wife, Jennifer. After years watching Jason help other restaurateurs succeed, Jennifer “pushed me toward the ledge,” he says, “and said, ‘It’s time! I believe in you!’”

The leap paid off: Atlantic regularly fills its 1,800-square-foot space, and Restivo gets to fulfill his dream of coming to work every day in jeans and Converse sneakers.

“This is what I want to do every night for the rest of my life,” he says. Pushing away your empty plate and buoyed by the camaraderie, you’re right there with him.
Runner up: Hitch

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